First Time Homebrewer – Christy
Posted on February 28, 2011 by mike
What is your name?
Where do you live?
San Jose, CA
I’m 28; a newlywed originally from the Washington, DC area. I quit my job of 5 years last August to follow love and adventure to the west coast. My husband works at a tech startup. I write, raise our puppy (Herbert, the cutest little blue-nose you’ve ever seen), and dabble in hobbies of varying degrees of ridiculousness.
Do you have a blog? Tell us about it. (ex. name of it, why you decided to start it, what’s the blogs goal)
I started the blog for a few reasons. First, I knew that homebrewing was going to require a lot of record-keeping, and figured that a blog would be a better place to keep these records than say scraps of paper towels, old notebooks and the backs of Christmas cards. Second, I (rightly) assumed that taking up this hobby would lead to a fair number of misadventures, and figured my friends and family are always looking for a good laugh at my expense. Finally, I don’t think I fit the stereotypical image of the homebrewer. For one thing, I’m a girl. Furthermore, I’m a girl who loves pink, reads romance novels, and spends a ridiculous amount of time applying makeup just for the sake of sitting around the house and looking pretty. So yeah, I wanted to bring a little girly perspective to the craft, and let people know that chicks like beer too.
What is your favorite style of beer?
Do I have to pick one? I almost always have an IPA and an Irish Stout in the fridge (Lagunitas and Guinness being the go-to’s, respectively). But then again I almost always have some brand or style I’ve never tried before in the fridge, too.
There is almost always a story behind why you get started homebrewing. What’s your story?
I guess it started as an off-hand comment to my husband back when we were still engaged. I’ve always wanted a job with a really cool title. You know, the kind of job where people ask, “What do you do?” And you say, “I’m a professional whistler.” And they say, “Really? I didn’t even know people could do that for a living!” So anyway, we were having dinner at a brew pub one night, and I decided that the job Master Brewer fit the bill of Awesome Job Title perfectly. I didn’t (and still don’t) actually intend to pursue brewing as a career, but the comment turned into a discussion of how much fun it would be to learn how to brew. And since I like to dabble in hobbies, I started to do some minimal research into what it took to become a homebrewer.
But here’s the thing with hobbies. The start up costs tend to be very high, and the follow-through (at least for me) tends to be very low. For example, the amount of money I’ve spent on scrapbooking supplies is mildly embarrassing; but the fact that I’ve only made one and a half scrapbooks with all those supplies is downright humiliating. So, I pushed the whole homebrewing thing to the back of my mind and figured that maybe it would be something I’d try someday.
Fast forward to last Christmas, our first as a married couple. We decided to stay out west, so we had the entire holiday to ourselves. We were planning to get our puppy that weekend, so I figured that was our big gift to each other. I wasn’t really expecting to have much under the tree. But lo and behold, we woke up Christmas morning, and there were boxes EVERYWHERE. Big ones. My husband had gotten me all the necessary equipment along with two extract kits from Northern Brewer. It was the perfect Christmas gift. I was completely surprised, and it was exactly the kind of thing that I wanted but never would have gotten for myself.
Of course, everyone thought it was one of those gifts that my husband really wanted for himself. My mom was all, “What, no jewelry?” and my friends were all “Well at least he’ll enjoy it.” But that’s just proof that my husband knows me better than my mother or my friends.
For the Prospective Brewer
If there was one piece of advice you’d like to pass on to a prospective homebrewer, what would it be?
Consider your first batch a practice run. Even if you’re 120% sure you’ve messed it up beyond any possible repair, keep going. At the very least, you’re learning how to use all the crazy equipment and figuring out a workflow that’s best for the space you’re in. And you may be surprised at how not messed up that first batch turns out.
Before you started brewing where did you look for information in regards to your questions about brewing? (websites, books, clubs, friends, etc)
"How to Brew" by John Palmer has by far been my biggest resource so far. I also frequent my local homebrew store, and find the guys there to be really helpful. I’d love to join a club, but so far my tendency toward shyness has kept me at home.
Did you start with a starter equipment kit or did you put something together yourself?
I have the Deluxe Beer Starter Kit from Northern Brewer, which has more than everything I need (really, there are still a couple pieces I haven’t figured out a purpose for).
Was there anything unique about your initial equipment setup?
Not that I can think of.
Your First Brew Day
What was your first recipe? (Extract, partial mash or all grain)
My first brew was the Northern Brewer extract kit for a Czech Pilsner. I learned, too late, that this is not an ideal brew for a beginner.
Describe your first brew day, as much as you can remember. Were you nervous, did things go right, horribly wrong, forget something?
It was mid-February. Yes, I let my beautiful Christmas gift sit in boxes for a month and a half because I was so nervous about starting out. What finally gave me the guts to get started was deciding, “whatever, I’m just going to ruin this first batch and get it over with.”
I started with a trip to the brew store. I needed yeast and sanitizer. I brought the instruction sheet that came with my extract kit with me, and told the owner of the store that this was my first brew ever. He seemed surprised, and that’s when I learned that most beginners don’t start with lagers. They’re evidently more temperamental than ales, and take longer to finish. I asked if I should just buy a simpler kit to start with. This is where the store could have made a quick few bucks off of me. Sell this poor, dumb girl a bunch of really expensive ingredients for a really simple beer and send her on her way. Instead, the guy said, “Nah, go ahead and challenge yourself.” Then he spent a good 15 minutes printing out recipes, tips for beginners, and step-by-step instructions on lagering for me, and told me to call or come in if I had any questions or problems. He also told me to bring in a bottle of the finished beer if I wanted any advice on how to improve future brews. This is when I realized that homebrewers are a pretty humble bunch who are really interested in sharing their craft.
For the actual brew, I think the things that made me most nervous were timing and sanitation. Boiling the wort actually went pretty smoothly. It was cooling it that gave me a fit. I vastly underestimated the amount of ice I’d need for the ice bath (FYI-the contents of your ice maker is Not. Enough.) To add insult to injury, lagers need to be a lot cooler than ales before the yeast is pitched. All together it took about an hour and a half of cycling cold water in the sink to get it down to 80 degrees, which still wasn’t nearly cold enough. I think I had it in my head that I had to pitch the yeast as quickly as possible, and I eventually lost my patience. I probably killed a good bit of yeast because I pitched it too soon.
Did your yeast start right of way or was it lazy, making you a nervous wreck?
My yeast took forever to start. I was convinced that I’d burned it all to death in the 80 degree wort. It finally started after 3 days, and active fermentation only lasted for about 48 hours. I left the beer in primary for almost 3 weeks, but probably could have moved it along a lot sooner.
Did you know what that hydrometer do-hicky did and how to use it?
Not even a little bit. Supposedly the OG of my Pilsner was 1.000. I know enough about the hydrometer to know that’s incredibly wrong. Obviously, taking the reading when the wort was well over 60 degrees was part of the problem, but the bigger problem was that I didn’t know what all the little numbers I was looking at meant.
Your First Bottling Day
What did you use to siphon your beer? Did it work?
Auto Siphon. Beautifully
Describe your first bottling or kegging day. Everything go as planned?
Yes. The first bottling day went much more smoothly than the first brewing day. I would say this was my favorite part of the process so far. There’s something very satisfying about watching each bottle fill with beer you made yourself.
Finally, Your BEER!
How long were you actually able to wait before you decided to open a beer and drink it?
Well, I just bottled it yesterday, so I’ve made it this far. Honestly, I don’t plan to open it before the full two weeks are up. I think flatness takes a lot away from a beer’s flavor, and I want my first taste to be the real deal. I did sneak a sip of the sample I used for the hydrometer reading, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not the disaster I was expecting.
Was that beer good?
How did it make you feel to taste a beer that you brewed for the first time?
Will you make beer again and what would you do differently?
Absolutely. I’ve already got my second brew in bottles as well, and I have 3 more kits waiting in the wings. I’m planning to brew at least one of them this weekend. I’m already considering getting a couple extra carboys so I can have a few beers going at once.
What will be the first “toy” you’ll be adding to your brewing equipment setup?
Well, I already purchased a chest freezer. Lagers need to condition below 40 degrees, and winters in Northern California just aren’t cold enough for that. I do want one of those fancy-schmancy wort chillers, and I have fantasies about expanding to an all-grain system…but I think that will wait until next Christmas.
Do you already have dreams about taking your homebrewing beyond a hobby or are you satisfied with just making yourself some tasty brews?
I don’t have any designs on making money off of it, if that’s what you’re asking. I would like to get more involved with local homebrewing groups, and I’d love to expand the blog into something useful, but I think that all still falls under the hobby category.
Do you have a beard? (Just taking a survey!)
Ha! I told you I don’t fit the stereotypical brewer image!
I’d like to personally thank Christy for participating in the First Time Homebrewer questionnaire! Thanks Christy! I know its been a while, but how are the beers coming? Make any more stellar pilsners?
Also, remember you can Get Started Brewing Extract Beer, just by following the link!