To smell the malty, sweet aroma of wort in my own kitchen for the very first time was nothing short of life-changing. I’ve visited countless breweries in the past seven years and the smell of warm wort always reminds me of the magic that is unfolding. To have that same aroma permeate my own living quarters for the first time is a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me forever. I’m sure fellow home brewers can relate and remember their very first batch. I’ve spent a few days reflecting on my first brew day. Here is an extension of that reflection, which should capture the joy, blunders, and ecstasy of my inaugural home brew. Enjoy!
Before Brew Day:
- I spent a few months reading as much as I could about home brewing and also watching countless home brewing YouTube videos. I’ve included the videos that were the most helpful in the resources section below. I first read Charlie Papazian’s classic, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.” It was easy to follow and definitely made a novice like me feel confident about my first batch. Throughout brew day, I kept repeating Uncle Charlie’s words, “Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.” More on that later.
- I like to be over-prepared, so I created a step-by-step list that I compiled from various books, videos, and the specific instructions from my ingredients kit. I’ve also included these steps in the resources section. John Palmer’s “How to Brew” and my local home brew shop owner were both instrumental in helping me craft my own brewing instruction guide.
- I ordered the “Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6)” from Home Brew Ohio via Amazon.com. I am very happy with the kit, although it was far from “complete.” I definitely had to spend at least another $100 on the following to have everything I would need: auto-siphon, hydrometer jar, 7.5 gallon boiling pot, stainless steel stirring spoon, pyrex measuring cup, turkey baster, bottle caps, and thermometer for boil. I purchased my ingredients from the Back Alley Brew Shop in Patchogue.
- I really wanted to do an all-grain first batch. I felt that using extracts was, in a way, cheating. I quickly realized that I was being overly ambitious. Plus, I didn’t have all of the equipment I needed for an all-grain first home brew. I opted for a partial grain and partial malt extract batch. The IPA recipe called for Cascade, Nelson. Sauvin, Galaxy, Amarillo, and Wakatu hops. (New Zealand is represented more than once, so it should have a very interesting hop profile.)
Brew Day Morning:
- I invited my (soon-to-be) brother in law over to help out with the process. He expressed interest in being there for my first ever batch and I knew I would need another set of hands. It was great to share the experience with my brother (and wife when she wasn’t watching our twin daughters and keeping them away from the kitchen.)
- The morning was consumed with getting all of my gear and ingredients in order and sanitizing everything. The important sanitizing step really played well with my OCD.
- I assumed it would take a long time to get 2.5 gallons of water up to 160 degrees, so I started to heat the water before my brother arrived. It didn’t take longer than 30 minutes, to my surprise.
I’m not going to bore everyone with a step-by-step description of my process. I’ll skip to the juicy part, the several rookie mistakes I made.
- My first mistake was picking up a growler of Finch’s Hardcore Chimera, a Double IPA. I was in a celebratory mood and I probably had two glasses before really getting started. Two glasses is certainly not a lot of beer, but it was enough to subvert my ultra anal, follow directions to a T personality. I’ll definitely limit my beer consumption until the main first steps are completed, moving forward.
- I don’t know how I fudged this up, but I poured the Cascade hops right into the boiling kettle. It’s not a big deal if you have a strainer. I didn’t have one and my local restaurant supplier is closed on weekends. After an emergency call to my home brew shop, my fears were assuaged; the siphoning process should filter out most of the hop leaves.
- I was anxious to take my first hydrometer reading, as it’s a pretty crucial step in the brewing process. Experienced brewers will laugh at this one. I pitched my yeast before taking my original hydrometer reading. This is important because the reading gives you a baseline with which to measure the degree your wort has fermented. I had already aerated the wort (shook it up to add oxygen before introducing yeast), so the foamy wort was super difficult to read. I also was worried that I removed a good deal of yeast with my turkey baster.
- The cool down – I decided to cool down the wort with an ice-bath in my bathtub. The only issue was that the boiling pot was floating around the water on the verge of capsizing. I used ice and a dozen frozen water bottles to cool down the water, but the unsteady pot of wort was definitely unnerving. Eventually, we moved the pot to an ice-bath in my kitchen sink. It was a perfect fit and cooled down the wort to below 80 degrees in less than 20 minutes.
I have to be honest. After the third mistake, I felt pretty defeated. I was pretty doubtful I would even have a successful fermentation process. A small voice in my head kept saying, “You’re not cut out for this!” I quickly remembered one of the main themes from a pretty influential book I read last year titled Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Setbacks and mistakes, for those who operate from a growth mindset, are opportunities for learning and discovery. This was my very first foray into an exciting new world. Once again, I borrow from Dweck: “People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.”
A day later, I opened up my closet to observe the fermentation bucket and was very happy to see the airlock bubbling every few seconds. Whether or not the beer will taste great, at least I will have (fermented) beer in a few weeks. Missteps will continue to occur every now and then, but that’s all part of the journey.
We’ll see how it turns out in roughly a month. I’m already plotting my next batch and can’t wait to again have a kitchen full of grains, hops, and eager yeast. If you are a home brewer or are interested in the craft, please feel free to comment on my self-made instruction manual below.