Sunday, May 22, 2011

In search of a hobby: Homebrewing.

A while ago, I stopped being a student and entered into the workforce, which is nice in the sense that work tends more to stay at work and I'm not constantly walking by idealistic college students who have yet to be crushed by reality. Also, having to be somewhere early in the morning upon penalty of not getting paid anymore has miraculously fixed my sleep schedule.

It's markedly harder to roll in at noon if it comes bundled with "crippling poverty".

The other half of that, though, is that I've actually got occasional free time now, and I need to do something to fill it. To that end, I've been looking for a hobby after realizing that I've got no idea how people start having a hobby. There are only so many video games I can play before I completely forget how to interact with actual people. There's music, still, but unless whoever's reading this has a guitar and somewhere to play that doesn't have neighbors that'd be bothered by a lot of noise, there's only so many bass solos I can practice. I tried woodcarving for roughly two days and I plan to get back into it, but it fell to the wayside when I realized I need better knives than I've got. I could get better at social interaction, so ideally the hobby should be something with people involved. And rather than separate what I do during the day from what I do in my free time, it'd be nice to try to incorporate whatever skills I've actually gained in becoming a chemist. Without winding up in the plot of Breaking Bad.
Hence, homebrewing.

I've started attempting to make drinkable beer with two other gentlemen, which is another of those things that it seems like you shouldn't be capable of doing on your own in a plastic bucket. Legally, anyway. It is, though, so we've begun. Some things we've figured out so far:

  • Brew and Grow is a paradise

    • I knew that homebrewing had something of a community, but my word there are a lot of options, and I have yet to piece together precisely what it is they all do. Luckily, Brew and Grow on Kedzie has been useful so far in getting supplies and recommendations on what supplies we need (Plastic fermenting bucket: necessary. Expensive wort chiller: not right yet, though it's nice to know what a wort chiller is, I guess) as well as ingredients and some insight on what the hell these ingredients do. Hooray specialty stores. I'm not sure how we'd be doing this if there weren't a place on Kedzie with a freezer full of hops.

  • Checking Equipment is probably a good idea

    • There's a chance we were too ambitious with our first endeavour, a Scotch ale that required, among other things, a secondary fermentation. We bought two buckets, thinking that we could simply siphon the beer from the primary fermentation bucket to the one with a spigot at the bottom. The problem is that the spigot is pretty watertight, but not entirely watertight, which makes it fine for bottling (where the whole process is going to take half an hour) but less fine for fermenting (where we're leaving it in Beau's closet for about a week.) Leakage, followed by necessary sticking-an-arm-into-the-thing-to-tighten-the-spigot-from-the-inside, as well as the addition of oak chips without actually toasting (and therefore sterilizing) them led to a sort of bananas-followed-by-death taste to our first attempt. Terribly demoralizing, but we actually learned a number of things not to do. Which is good.

  • Washing Everything Over and Over Until Every Last Microorganism has Been Sent to Bacterial Hell Where They Will Suffer Eternal Torment for Fun and Profit
    • It turns out that if you're going to prepare something by mixing stuff together and then putting it in a bucket in a closet for a few weeks, it's relatively important to make sure that only the stuff you intend to be in the bucket is in the bucket. We've had one contaminated batch already, so we've double down on our efforts to make sure everything is covered in disinfectant. Which is fine, except that I usually wind up soaked from attempting to rinse everything.

Thus far, we've bottled two batches (Easy Win Hefeweizen, so named after our first ambitious batch went to hell and The Bastard Prince, a sort of cherry stout thing with some oakiness and maple flavors if everything goes well) and are preparing to brew another. Five gallons isn't a ton of beer, but as we get better at this we're likely going to upgrade to some more equipment for quicker turnover and more beer.

Does this whole thing make me some sort of terrible hipster? I hope not. Maybe. Let's pretend it doesn't.

Pictures of the results of this nonsense when I actually get around to writing batch-specific reviews.

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