Press "Enter" to skip to content

Misadventures in home brewing

pSo I recently turned 40, and of course, I’ll accept your condolences./ppIt’s not really that bad, but there’s a psychic violence to accepting that your age begins with a 4 that I expected and yet wasn’t prepared for. I think I’m still in denial, really. Telling myself I’m the 30s equivalent of a fifth-year college player who’s taking that extra year of eligibility at ’Cuse to sit on the bench, even though I’ve already graduated. I’m an 11th year 30-something. It’s fine./ppWell for some reason, Christina took this momentous birthday as a sign that I need some projects. Maybe it’s about self-improvement or trying new things. Maybe it’s about keeping my mind off my graying beard and advancing years./ppBut she got me two presents this year, a simple, terrific Korean cookbook, “Cook Korean!” (I’ve discovered that I make pretty good kimchi jjigae) and a home brew kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop./ppI’ve always wanted to brew my own beer, but it’s just one of those things I’d never gotten around to./ppSo one Sunday morning some weeks back, I woke up early with the kids and got to work./ppWith the kids suitably preoccupied with tall glasses of water, scrambled eggs, toast and Pokemon-themed coloring books, I poured myself a tall cup of black coffee and a tall glass of Matt Brewing Company’s Cold Brew Coffee Lager, and I got to work./ppAnd it’s work, man. I mean, it’s not brain surgery or building a house, but it takes up pretty much all of your morning./ppI spent an hour on the mash, cooking the grain at 150 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes and monitoring the temperature with the obsessive, stalking attention of my kids when I’m not getting them a bagel or slicing an apple fast enough for their tastes./ppThe Cold Brew (5.2%, 20 IBU) was getting me through all that time hunched over boiling grain. Nice coffee notes in a light but bold lager that paired very well with my coffee and the forkfuls of eggs I keep stealing from the boys’ plates./ppMy grain suitably cooked, I came to the sparge, straining hot water through the grain mash and collecting the wort. Man, this takes some time. Pouring 4 quarts of water, slowly, into what is essentially a coffee filter, and not all at once, takes time./pp“If you’re familiar with brewing coffee,” the instructions from Brooklyn Brew Shop told me, “you should have an idea how the sparge works.”/ppRight, man. I don’t have the patience to watch my coffee maker work either./ppI cracked open another morning beer (don’t you judge me) — the excellent Milk Stout (5%, 14 IBU) from Lancaster Brewing Co. in Lancaster, Pa. Creamy, rich, notes of coffee and chocolate, gorgeous — and I went about my sparge. /pp“I want a bagel,” John said while I poured scorching hot water through the mash. “Toasted, with cream cheese.”/pp“OK …”/pp“I want toasted with cream cheese, too!” Ben shouted from his current spot, dangling his head over the back of the couch, presumably clinging to the couch with his feet like a bat./ppOnce I had the kids suitably bageled and my filtering was done and my wort at a nice, rolling boil, I stirred the broth occasionally and added my hops. A packet of Cascade hops at the beginning and the Columbus hops a bit at a time every 15 minutes for the 60 minutes of the boil./ppBy now, I had moved on to the All-Day Session IPA (4.7%) from Founders, and I’d placed my pot of hot wort in a nice, cooling bath of ice water in the sink./ppOnce it was cooled, I strained the beer, to clarify it and get out all the sediment and other nonsense and pour it into a glass, 5-gallon jug to ferment./ppChristina was awake now and she asked me what’s next. “I have to pitch the yeast. Pour it all into the jug, shake it pretty aggressively and add the screw top and blow off tube.”/pp“What does that do?”/pp“Lets out CO2, I guess,” I say. I’m tired and, by virtue of that and the beer, a little buzzed. I barely remember anything other than the directions. No room for whys, doll./ppWeeks later, with the beer fermemted and now bottled in a couple of growlers, a 48-ounce with a swing top and 64-ounce with a screw top, we were ready to drink the beer./ppThe Giants game was on. They were playing the Washington Racist Nicknames, who are very bad. And the Giants were starting young Daniel Jones, 1-0 to this point in his career as a quarterback. I’m irrationally pumped for a team whose best player (Saquon Barkley) is hurt and which has won eight games over the past two seasons./ppThe Giants started strong with a quick scoring drive. Jones hits Wayne Gallman for a 6-yard TD to cap a 68-yard drive, and I pop the swing top and … there was this alarming lack of that fizzy POP sound when you crack open a beer./ppI looked at Christina. She was concerned./pp“Maybe it’s fine. Pour it.”/ppI got out a Giants Super Bowl 46 pint glass, the logos long since faded to oblivion, like the franchise itself, and I poured a tall, flat pint of what is supposed to be Brew Shop’s Everyday IPA (6.8%). /ppIt had a nice, light amber color and the smell was piney and hoppy It was good on the nose, but it just didn’t look right. /ppIt was cloudy, like it was supposed to be a haze, and then there was that alarming lack of head./ppI took a long first sip and I took my time with it. The beer tasted as flat as it looked. There was a small buzz of hoppy goodness in there in the finish, but it was like an echo. /ppAs Christina put it, choking down a few sips and trying to look supportive, “It’s not bad. It’s just kind of flat./pp“It’s like a decent glass of beer that’s been sitting out on the counter all day.”/ppWell this was pretty disappointing. The kimchi jjigae turned out really well, and I had less than no idea what I was doing. What did I screw up here?/ppBut I kept drinking. I made the damn thing, and the Giants were rolling Washington. I was having a good time with my flat beer. Then I reached the dregs, that final pint./ppIt was … something./ppIt wasn’t cloudy. It was a cloud./ppI poured out this chocolate milkshake looking monstrosity of a pint of beer, and I was immediately worried that drinking this would kill me./ppRight away, I knew I didn’t do a very good job of filtering this sucker, and, really, that’s being kind./ppI told Christina I was going to drink it. /pp“Not a great idea.”/ppI took a long sip, and I regret ed it./ppIt was this yeasty, bready kind of awful. If we’re talking mouthfeel, I want to say this was somewhere between drinking pepto bismol and putting a few slices of wheat bread in a blender with some water as some kind of carb shake./ppThen, at about the start of the fourth quarter, I cracked open the 64-ounce growler, and immediately, I jumped in the air, excited. There was an almost audible breath of air that escaped the mouth of the growler, and that smokey CO2 waft escaping./ppI knew before I poured it that this thing was going to have a pretty decent head on it./ppI showed Christina. She, without hesitating at all, took a glass and tried it with me./ppIt’s good. /ppThe flavor is there. That sharp, hoppy bitterness. That pop that you want. The beer tastes so much better than the first batch, and I’m left wondering what the heck I did differently./ppChristina and I do some Googling. I already know I didn’t filter very well. That’s a real beer sin, and just plain sloppy./ppBut what’s with the air? Did too much C02 get out of the swing top? Wouldn’t that be more likely with the screw top?/ppI kept the growlers in the laundry room to ferment. Was it too warm? It’s only recently gotten cold, so even a poorly-insulated utlity room might have been warmer than I’d have liked./ppTemperature is so important, and maybe that’s what I screwed up./ppI don’t know./ppI’ll have to figure it out when I make the next batch. And there will be a next batch and more after that./ppFor right now, I only know that, as Christina told me, “You actually made drinkable beer.”/ppYeah, I did./pp class="mwc_blurb-editors_note"emDennis O’Brien’s column runs on the second Tuesday of every month. Follow him on Instagram at beernerddennis and on untappd at or email him at


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply