Making The Leap

Like most college aged guys (and girls, for that matter), I used to think, “Man, I should really brew my own beer!” For the longest time, that’s as far as it went. A friend of mine brewed a couple batches, and the beer was great, but he never really talked to much about the set up or process, so home brewing was still shrouded in mystery.

Our home brewing kit

The kit that started it all

Eventually last Summer, Tim just made the executive that we were going to go buy a home brewing kit today! In eight hours we went from idle chat to having everything we needed to brew our first beer. We have never looked back from that initial step. I can’t imagine what the past year would have been like had Tim not had that impulse or we as a group didn’t follow through.

Some of you reading this may have some apprehension about starting down the home brew path, but I hope to show that home brewing is really something almost anybody can do.

It’s Just Too Expensive!

There is a fairly significant initial capital investment for home brewing. Nate took an inventory of what you need and came up with a total cost of about $105 . An average recipe kit is usually somewhere between $25-30, so you may end up dropping about $140 on your first visit to the homebrew store. $140 dollars is a good chunk of money, but let’s drill into this a bit.

We can figure out our total beer cost by adding our hardware costs ($105) to the product of software costs ($25 for 55 beers) and beers. So the equation looks like:

Costs = 105 + .455*(Beers)

Since we’re doing a cost argument, let’s say you drink exclusively Pabst Blue Ribbon which you buy in 30 packs. This leads to a simpler equation of:

Costs = .667*(Beers)

These two functions hit an equilibrium at 495 beers (i.e. 9 batches or 17 cases). Beyond your twelfth batch, home brewing is actually less expensive*. This is completely disregarding the fact that the beer you will make will almost certainly be more enjoyable than any beer you could get for $20/case. Once you make that initial investment, home brewing can be fairly inexpensive.

* I’m ignoring the whole discount rate thing here; it probably wouldn’t make that big of a difference.

I Don’t Know The First Thing About Brewing!

Nate thoroughly reading before we start our first brew

Nate thoroughly reading before we start our first brew

In all truth, we didn’t know that much when we started. In the build up before actually buying or kit, we each read online at the many excellent resources (e.g. homebrew talk), and talked about different hints and advice we’d seen. This may have actually complicated things, because we had so many different inputs during our first brew day. Honestly, for your first time brewing, read the instructions that come with your kit through several times, make notes of what you’ll need at certain stages and then follow them meticulously. Being a tabula rasa may actually be a benefit in this case. There aren’t very many steps to brewing, and most kit instructions spell them all out very clearly.

What If I Screw Up?

Using our makeshift funnel

Using our makeshift funnel

Our first brew day, things went swimmingly until we were supposed to add sterile water (boiled/distilled) to our wort. Well, we didn’t have any distilled water and my stove couldn’t handle another pot boiling water, so Tim and Nate went to another apartment, microwaved water until it boiled, poured into our sanitized carboy and brought it (imagine them struggling down the street carrying a 6.5 gallon glass bottle half full of 180º+ water) back. We added as much as we needed to our wort which was still in our brew pot. We then needed to pour from our pot into the carboy, but we didn’t have a funnel, so we cut the bottom off of a plastic liter of rum and used that. We probably tossed the yeast in when the wort was about 110º and the carboy itself was heated from transporting the water.

Our first beer!

Our first beer!

Why am I telling you this? We were a comedy of errors for a large section of the brewing process and we still made beer! It wasn’t the best Pale Ale I’ve ever had, but it was definitely the most satisfying. Beer is actually fairly forgiving if you’re not going for perfection. Accidentally add hops early? Added too much malt extract? You’ll still have beer.

The one exception to this concept is sanitation. If you’re going to be obsessive about anything, make it sanitation. Everything that comes into contact with your beer at any phase should be clean (washed, free of any visible particles), and anything that comes into contact with your wort after you take it off the stove has to be sanitized (using OneStep, StarSan, bleach water, etc.). Other than that, while you should try to follow the instructions, if you mess up, in the words of the immortal (at least so far) Charlie Papazian, “Relax, don’t worry and have a home brew!”

All images come from our first time brewing. The full gallery is available here.

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