My First Homebrew

Well it happened. My first brew day came and went! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take any pictures because I think I was too focused on just doing everything right the first time and staging pictures and everything seemed like it would just add another layer of stress onto my first brew day. Now that it’s all said and done though, I think for my next brew I will definitely try and document that process with some great photos.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the process, the brewing day process is fairly straightforward when extract brewing. Bring the water to a boil, throw in the malt extracts (liquid, dry, specialty grains or a combination thereof), add the hops at the specified times, and cool the wort as quickly as possible. Once cooled, the yeast is then added, and violà, beer is born. Anyone who’s ever done anything knows it was certainly not this straightforward.

Lessons were learned, mistakes were made, but hopefully a solid beers comes out of this process 6 weeks later. In this post I’m just gonna summarize my first brew day, including the things I think I did right and the things I could have probably done better. The list for the latter will probably be much longer.

Things I think I did well:

Preparation – I was well prepared for this brew day and I had everything I needed at hand. I had made the necessary arrangements ahead of time, like a method to cool the wort quickly, sanitation needs, a big enough boil kettle, etc. I never had to run out of the house to get something.

Sanitation – I was very meticulous with my sanitation for the most part. Even before the boil I think I was pretty good about it. I made a 2.5 gallon batch of StarSan no-rinse sanitizer and used that for the entire brew day. Pretty much all of my equipment that touched the wort (unfermented beer) was thoroughly sanitized. All this being said sanitation will also be in my “things I didn’t do well” category as well. More on that to follow.

Things I didn’t do so well:

Sanitation – Somehow, despite my meticulous oversight, possible contaminations still happened. When I was trying to crash cool the wort as quickly as possible I had decided to use an ice bath. I put the boil kettle in the ice bath but wanted to put some more ice. As I was pouring in the ice, some of it fell into the boil kettle which had no lid. The wine thief that I used to get some wort to take a gravity reading had been sitting on the counter after the sanitizer bucket, which may have contaminated the wort. Some tap water accidentally fell into it as well when I was filling up the ice bath. Little things like this can have a snowball effect in brewing that can lead to a sub-par finished product.

Pitching the Yeast – “Pitching” is just the brewers term for moving something from one container to another. The directions on the yeast package I bought clearly stated to not pitch the yeast until the wort was no longer warm to the touch. For some reason I interpreted that as “pitch the yeast when the wort is still hot because you’re a rebel and do whatever the hell you want.” Seriously though I’m not sure what I was thinking by pitching the yeast into such hot wort, but once I did it I groaned and began the whole “woe is me…” routine. I just hope this won’t have any real effect on the end product.

Fermentation – It is currently 95 degrees F in Albuquerque, and my house being built in the 1950s, is not exactly a model of heating and cooling efficiency. My fermentation temperature is running at about 82 degrees, which is seriously like 20 degrees higher than what I want from it, so I’m currently trying to jerry-rig some kind of system that allows me to keep my fermentation at a much lower temperature. A hot fermentation can seriously affect the finished product of a beer, so I need to come up with a solution fast. Add to that the fact the fact that fermentation is an exothermic process (gives off heat), and I have a real situation at hand…

Miscellaneous – I cut the dry hopping bag open when I shouldn’t have. I spilled water everywhere! I missed the timing on one of the hop additions (well two actually). I think I may have activated my yeast too early which could stress them before even adding them to the wort. I forgot to oxygenate the wort before I added the yeast so I ended up shaking the yeast around inside the wort trying to get some oxygen in there. I could go on and on but you get the picture.

Wow, I should have ended with the things I did right! I’m sure your confidence in my brewing is thoroughly shaken after that list of screw-ups. However, I am mostly confident a solid beer will be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow here. The first brew day is always learning experience, and I learned a hell of a lot from this one. Next brew day should go much more smoothly, and my beer can only really go uphill from here.

Until next time, brew on.