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Estranged Brew: Beer-making for the Obnoxious, Pedantic Prick* **

January 15, 2010

I was the last one left after the nuclear holocaust, eh. The whole world had been destroyed, like U.S. blew up Russia and Russia blew up U.S. Fortunately, I had been offworld at the time. There wasn’t much to do. All the bowling alleys had been wrecked. So’s I spent most of my time looking for beer. –Bob McKenzie

Have you ever felt this a-way, dear Brother and Sister Reader and Tweeder? Like all your options are blown, no bowling to live for, and all you desire is to languish in sweet repose with a nice cold one in hand? Well, your Good Reverend is here with an Effervescent Evangelism that’ll tickle your taste buds and goose your imagination! It’s Jay, coming at ya with (possibly recurring column) Estranged Brew!

It was some kind of epiphany, really (Epiphanies for Dummies? See footnotes below). But, it was the dim-bulb kind that should have occurred to me a long time ago. It required a no-look dish-pass in the last seconds of viability. But that comes three paragraphs away. (They couldn’t cut the tension with a knife.)

I’d been  trying to think of a way to incorporate my homebrewing interest into a TBTS post. I knew I could safely apply one rule nearly all the way across the board: our readers (the kosher salt of the earth that they are) probably like to drink on something from time to time (why else would they end up here?). When they do, quite often, I hedged, they probably choose the ole Oat Soda.

Going a little further, I’d also heard a few of my homies express interest in brewing beer themselves, based on (I’m guessing here) more than one heavy-bevvy session where I talked too much about homebrewing. I guessed that the reason they hadn’t tried it themselves was that they assumed it took too much time, required too much special skill, or necessitated a large financial outlay to undertake. “After all, I’m just,” Homer counts on fingers,”One man.” Having brewed more than a half-dozen beers (and one hard cider batch), I could only sit back and think that everyone who loves beer (and cooking…and washing many fragile things fastidiously) should try their hand at at least one batch, as it is so damned rewarding. And, that shit will get you c|r|_|n|<, bruh.

But, I had no hook to hang this idea on. How could I make such an idea relevant to these aforementioned oft-inebriate readers and the more temperate and crafty amongst our lot? How could I link my idea to larger pop-cultural or high-visibility culinary issues? I kept humming Blues Traveler’s “The Hook.”  I considered how much I loved that song, how many folks *I* loved that loved that band when I *didn’t*. But I did love that song, and a few others. Why was i using facebooks-speak on The Brown Tweed all of a sudden? Temporarily paddle-less, I canoed a river of productive and unproductive tangents, much like this last paragraph.

Then, my Good Lady Wyfe connected the dots for me so easily that it reminded me why I love and admire her so much:

Sam Adams commercials

Maybe you’ve seen the commercial. Apparently–and to its credit, in my slightly bloodshot and jaundiced eyes–whenever Samuel Adams Brewery hires a new employee, they require this novitiate to brew his or her own batch of beer as part of the initiation process into the Sam Adams fold.

How cool is that? That means that chatty Cathy in Accounting, with her Hunky Firemen calendar (and Grishams; hat-tip, David Cross. Shine on, you crazy ski bum!), has to see  what I assume to be an entire 5-gallon batch of delicious beer from grains to destroying her brains, one superflu…uh, not-needed brain cell at a hoppy, aromatic time. That’s pretty special. How often have you had to make your own widget before assuming your role as mid-level producer of or describer of the benefits of your widget use in some kind of concern? Exactly.

So, I’d like to salute Sam Adams for both revitalizing the craft beer industry in this country and encouraging the appreciation of its craft within its own ranks.

I’d also like to strongly encourage that the Brew-Curious amongst you take the next, wobbly step. Brew your own beer. Just do it once. Then tell me that you don’t love it, even if you fuck it all up and it tastes like Pepé Le Pew’s arsehole after a night of mad-chasing some seriously skunked-up cattail.

I’m here to try to help you try to avoid that offensive outcome, for one, if you finally man- or woman-up and do what you keep saying you want to do. Mainly, though, I just want to encourage you to get your brew on! Join me!

Resources

Much like I opined in a recent episode of Jay’s Music Exchange, regarding the resource-rich environment that musicians find themselves in these days, I must also posit that it’s never been a better time to be a homebrewer. Resources are everywhere: online forums, end-to-end instructions, and info from every perspective under the sun. Books crammed together on your favorite bookstores’ shelves, I’ll wager.

Here are a few books I recommend, in order of importance, all featuring instructions catered to all experience levels:

  • Homebrewing for Dummies by Marty Nachel (ISBN 10: 0-7645-5046-2): I make fun, but I also give love. This book has been my general go-to reference since my first tentative, weak-kneed tryst with Lady Homebrew in the back of an old…apartment kitchen. It has everything you need to get your learn on, and quickly (for the handy-but-impatient, like yours truly). It has all you need to know and little you don’t. (Ed. note: It could use a little more info on brewing cider. It’s a growing homebrewing segment.)
  • The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian (ISBN 10: 006-053105-3): Written by the Godfather of Homebrewing in this country. Very informative, and a fun read.
  • How To Brew : Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time by John J. Palmer
  • Radical Brewing : Recipes, Tales, & World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher
  • Clone Brews: Homebrewing Recipes for 150 Commercial Beers by Tess and Mark Szamatulski (ISBN 10: 978-1-58017-2): Great book for trying to imitate your favorite beer styles, from Guinness Extra Stout to Sierra Navada Pale Ale, and many tantalizing others!

Jay’s Friendly Advice©

If you love beer, don’t mind doing some basic cooking, and can keep stuff clean, you can be a successful homebrewer. I promise. Here are a few bits of parting wisdom, humbly offered from my limited experience (and in no particular order, except the first and the last):

  • The most important thing to do is keep your equipment clean during every step of the process. If you do this, you have a fantastic chance of brewing good-tasting, personally rewarding beer, with no consequences (other than those presented by over-consumption). To put it another way, 90%+ of the time, good sanitization works every time.
  • Read up on contemporary practices for building patience. Having any of it becomes a challenge when you brew your own beer. The temptation to drink it too early–say, boiling in the brewpot, fifteen minutes after starting–may overpower you once you inhale its rich aroma and consider its curative properties.
  • Join forums like homebrewtalk.com (where you can read my meager contributions as sudsy alter-ego HarmonKillABrew). Get out there. Discuss with your brethren and sistren.
  • Brewing beer doesn’t have to be expensive! Places like Liquor Barn, bless ’em, have been at the forefront when it comes to offering homebrewing supplies (including budget-friendly all-in-one beginner kits) before anyone else. But, I hate to say it, their prices are quite high; in this day of proliferation of homebrewing-specific physical stores (like regional faves My Old Kentucky Homebrew and Louisville Beer Store), the larger chains need to take notice and watch prices. Not only do these new “Mom and Pops” often offer lower prices, they also consistently provide knowledgeable service and broad product. One more thing to consider: those homebrewers who aren’t afraid to follow schematics and wield power tools have even wider options when it comes to lower cost via elbow grease (hop trellises, hand-bent wort-chillers, drying racks, other arcane chicanery).
  • Don’t be afraid to move up quickly after that first batch succeeds! Move on to secondary fermentation and the intermediate techniques (largely a matter of aging vessel), and consider larger bottles or kegging as part of your growth plan! Trust me! Ask me questions later!
  • I have to let Charlie Papazian send us out with the final point to remember: Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew! Or, to adapt a cherished Sobchakianism: Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go brewing.”

Cheers!

* And any interested party, prick or no. The title was partly just for gits and shiggles. All those “Idiots”,”Dummies”,” and “Incompetent Fools” books crack me up sometimes (and frustrate me in terms of some of the larger implications of books with such titles). I’ve always wanted to name an article or book something like this. Viola!

** Special thanks to Snake “Aaron Conley” Conrad for input, research, recommendations, and drinking all of my goddamn Hopslam the other night.

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16 Comments
  1. Keith permalink
    January 15, 2010 9:30 pm

    good shit. I’m down

  2. T. Stump permalink
    January 16, 2010 2:54 am

    As much as I would find brewing to be a wonderful source of happiness, I’ll outsource my tasting to local pals.

    Maybe someday, I’ll venture in the creation direction.

    Hopslam was released in a local pub, and daaaaaammmmnnn!

    Although, I must admit, I might enjoy Avery Maharaja a tad more. Give tht a try, if you get the chance.

    If anything, the mad dash to get Bell’s Hopslam might convince other breweries to

    a) grow more hops
    b) place more of them into a new version of their IPA
    c) create an IPA if they do not already have one

    Could you imagine a world where Miller, Coors and Budweiser’s main beeer is a double-IPA? If freakin’ only.

  3. T3h F0OL permalink
    January 16, 2010 11:46 am

    And so sayeth St. Orts The Wise.

  4. Jay St. Orts permalink
    January 16, 2010 4:54 pm

    Keith–
    Rock! If you have any questions or concerns about brewing, please feel free to ask me. I might not know the answer, but I will enjoy finding it. And talking about it. Ad nauseam.

    Slainte!

  5. Jay St. Orts permalink
    January 18, 2010 9:12 am

    Dear FoOL,
    Although I know not who you are or what your interests might be, I’ve a strong hunch that my article was written for folks just. Like. You.

  6. Jay St. Orts permalink
    January 18, 2010 10:37 am

    Here’s another neat craft beer site and blog: http://www.singingboysbrewing.com/

  7. January 29, 2010 11:37 am

    The fourth paragraph after the bold type would do Laurence Sterne proud.

    If enough pricks could be so moved to brew their own, I would propose a home brew exchange project. Or better yet, a regularly scheduled gathering featuring a home brew “around the world.”

  8. Jay St. Orts permalink
    January 29, 2010 6:20 pm

    mf,
    that’s a fantastic idea! glad to hear you’re a fellow homebrewing prick! who else is in? i’m all for it and all about it.

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