A Brief History of My Time Brewing
My name is Eric Strauss and I’m a homebrewer.
It all started in Summer of 2011. My wife bought me a beginning brewing class with a starter equipment package at my LHBS (Great Fermentations) for Father’s Day. I always told her that with me being an engineer who goes too far with everything, if I ever got into homebrewing it would be opening a can of worms. So she knew what she was getting into.
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I went to the class with two of my neighbors who’s wives also got them the same package. While I was there and started looking around the store at different equipment, I thought “That’s cool, but I wonder if you could essentially do the same thing, with (X)”
I also realized a few things.
1. Bottling looks like a pain in the butt
2. Most of my favorite beers fall into the lager catetories (first batch will be the Brewer’s Best German Oktoberfest Home Brewing Ingredient Kit extract kit)
3. This is going to be fun
I decided then, that I was going straight to kegging and a freezer purchase would double as the lagering cabinet and the keg storage. I didn’t understand everything at the class, but got a copy of How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time by John Palmer and I read it through cover to cover. I also had a good friend from college who brewed, so I had a trusted source for practical information.
First equipment acquisitions:
August 2011: First brew
All the neighbors wanted to come over and see what it was like. I had checklists, everything laid out and nicely sanitized. One of the conversations we had went like this:
Neighbor A: “I was talking to a guy at a tap room and he said that if you want really good tasting beer you will need to go all-grain”
Me: “Oh, I’m sure it will be better, but I’m just trying to keep it simple. This is fun, but I won’t go that extreme”. The fermentation took a while to get going and I wasn’t experienced enough to know what to do, but it fermented.
September 2011: Purchase Kegging kit
The thought of removing labels, cleaning, sanitizing and filling 50+ bottles was not appealing. I wanted to keep it fun, so I got a Ball Lock Kegging System from Great Fermentations. I kegged the Oktoberfest. I had low expectations going in, since it was not only my first beer, but a more difficult fermentation. Wow, it actually tasted decent! At first 5 gallons seems like a lot, but after sharing with everybody I knew, it was gone in 2 weeks. Lesson learned.
March 2012 (7 batches complete):
I bought a Bayou Classic Single Burner Patio Stove and a Bayou Classic 1044 44-Quart Stainless-Steel Stockpot
The beer I was brewing was disappearing much to quickly. I wasn’t ready for 10 gallon batches, and I still wanted to keep experimenting with different styles. I got an additional burner and a slightly larger kettle. I decided that I could brew two beers at the same time spaced 30 minutes apart to use the same chiller. Lots of confusion, panic and ooops! Still, I’m glad I went for it. Two at a time has been my standard brew day since then.
June 2012 (10 batches complete): Intro to all grain / BIAB
I decided to see what the all grain thing was about. The cost of some more equipment and finding a place to store it was not within my budget or space availability. I had heard of BIAB, but didn’t know a lot about it. I did some more research and ended up getting a bag from Wilserbrewer, and tried it out. I always like to change only one or two things at a time so that I can accurately judge what change actually made the difference. Despite my preference for lagers, one of my favorite beers is a Rye IPA and is sort of my baseline beer that I used to judge my development as a home brewer. It turned out great.
August 2012 (12 batches complete): Comparison of extract and all grain BIAB
I brewed both a pre-packaged extract Oktoberfest and an all-grain Oktoberfest kit. Whichever one turned out better would be served at our annual Strausstoberfest party alongside the keg of Spaten Oktoberfest. I even decided to jump in and attempt a step mash with the BIAB. I fermented both using the Wyeast Oktoberfest and used the exact same fermentation temperatures and schedules.
Well, the BIAB Oktoberfest was a hit and I was extremely disappointed by the extract kit. Perhaps it was due to the LME instead of DME as the base, but I decided then that I would only go all grain. In my opinion, all of the DME recipes I did turned out just fine, but the LME based recipes had some sort of different taste to them that just didn’t taste right. I also knew that I would be targeting some lighter color beers that would be better served by all grain.
Brewed 3 in one day. Good thing….
12/30/12: Sledding with family
“What idiot builds a ramp that steep on this hill?”
ok, maybe I’ll crash and burn, but I think the kids will get a kick out of me taking the ramp.
family laughing: check
cracked rib: check
If you have a say in the matter, I don’t recommend cracking a rib.
Most people are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. Me, I’m thinking about how to improve my brewing and what equipment/projects I’m going to take on this next year. Ouch, that rib.
January 2013 (batches 19-21 in progress):
I loved my wife anyway, but with my inability to lift heavy objects she confirmed her love for me by carrying 3 full fermentation buckets up and down the basement stairs so that I could rack to secondary’s. It really helps if your wife like the beer you brew.
March 2013 (21 batches complete):
I bought another Bayou Classic 1144 44-Quart All Purpose Stainless Steel Stockpot with Steam and Boil Basket and a Monster Mill MM-2 (they have a version 2.0 now) so that I could control the crush of my grain and add another level of consistency to my process. I got the basket this time because it gave me extra confidence when lifting large amounts of wet grain and I also balance it on top to squeeze the extra wort out. Everything I do this year, pretty much revolves around me getting prepared to brew and lager 20 gallons of Oktoberfest for our 5th annual Strausstoberfest party in September.
August 2013 (batches 31-34 in progress):
Strausstoberfest beer almost done lagering, the hard part is over.
I decide to document my equipment building and selection experiences here….