It happened! Two months shy of my 40th birthday, I finally lost my brewginity. Yes, I was nervous and a little scared. I wondered if I’d be any good at it. I felt awkward and unsure of myself. But, I ended up really enjoying myself, and it was relatively painless. To think, I could have been doing it all along! What was I so worried about? I guess I just had to wait for the right time.
Aw, the days when I was just discovering beer. I loved it, I really did, but there was always something so mysterious about it. I didn’t really know all that much about why I liked one beer more than another or what part of the process made it that way. Just knowing that there were so many factors and so many facets to beer was enough. Like a gorgeous stranger who walks into your life bringing excitement and intrigue. You can allow yourself to be swept away by the romance of it, but when you scratch the surface and dig a little deeper, the rewards are significant.
Evolving from beer enthusiast to brewer can be a long road. It was for me. I always said, “I’d rather just drink beer.” I pointed out the fact that plenty of others make great beer, so why bother? It seemed like a lot of hassle and investment, and I wasn’t sure I was really up for it. The truth is you don’t have to brew beer to be passionate about beer. However, your passion can only deepen if you do. It’s sort of like the difference between a committed relationship and marriage. You tell yourself there’s no real difference, but that level of commitment and dedication will certainly take things to another level you never knew existed.
Only so much can be learned through a book. At some point, you’ve got to get hands-on. Joining Hop Bombshells Homebrew Club really got me started down that path. Our monthly educational meetings filled my brain with all sorts of beer knowledge, but it wasn’t until I attended a Big Brew Day that my fire was lit. Even surrounded by other women brewers, I was very intimidated. Teaming up with a more experienced brewer at Big Brew Day was an option, but I struggled even committing to that so I just showed up to watch. It was like showing up to beer church for the first time and realizing that there was an empty glass in your soul waiting to be filled. The smells, the steam rising from the brew kettles, the laughter of people enjoying themselves on a lazy Sunday; all testified to the truth that I needed to brew.
For more on Hop Bomshells Homebrew Club, read my previous post, Brew Like a Girl with the Hop Bombshells
The first thing I did was purchase the book How to Brew by John J. Palmer. It offers a fairly simple crash course on brewing as well as more in depth instructions on each of the elements. Then I took a trip down to my local homebrew shop (Salt City Brew Supply) to buy ingredients and equipment. Brewing equipment can be quite expensive, although you can buy a starter kit for a fairly reasonable price. Since I have access to the Hop Bombshells’ equipment library, I kept it simple. The fermenter seemed like a good place to start so I splurged on a Big Bubbler 6.5 gallon wide-mouth glass carboy and bought some cleaning supplies, a siphon, and an airlock.
Buying ingredients was the easiest part. Shops usually have ingredient kits ready for purchase with malt extracts, hops, yeast, and other grains all pre-measured and ready to go. The instructions inside show you how long to boil and when to add each ingredient. The most difficult aspect was choosing which recipe to make. I decided on a Rye IPA. When I get a little more comfortable with brewing, I’ll try partial-mash or all-grain, but for now the extracts will be just fine.
When brew day came, I was nervous, but it went pretty smoothly. One of the Hop Bombshells, Kelsey, offered to let me come over to her house to brew so she could help me. She walked me through everything and let me use her equipment. The brewing part is like cooking. You boil water, time it; add ingredients, stir, wait, and drink. I love the smell of the hops each time I add more to the pot! When the boil is finished and it’s time to cool the wort, things get a bit trickier. Everything the beer touches has to be sanitized. Successful cleaning and sanitizing is really half the battle.
Once cooled, we pour the wort into the fermenter. It sloshes in the glass carboy as I drive home oxygenating it and preparing it for the yeast, which I add when I reach my destination. Because my basement isn’t quite cool enough, I put it into a water bath with ice to help keep it cool during fermentation. Since then, my beer has been my baby. I check on it morning and night, change the ice packs in the water bath, and watch to see what it’s doing. It really is a miracle! During primary fermentation, there’s a lot to watch. Foam forms on the surface while little particles can be seen moving around in the beer. For this reason, I’m glad I went with the glass carboy instead of the bucket. I feel like a kid with a science fair experiment!
My adventure in brewing has left me in awe. I thought I knew what loving beer was, but I had no idea! I’m looking forward to the day when I can crack a bottle open and drink my creation. If you see me skipping down the sidewalk with glee, know it’s because I finally lost my brewginity.