08 Jan 2010 @ 9:33 AM 

This will be a little outside the realm of my usual posts.

Tomorrow I’m hosting a little gathering of homebrewers and beer lovers to make beer in my backyard. It’s a club event for the burgeoning Chapel Hill/Carrboro Home Brewing Club. We’re making a Dry Irish Stout that we’re going to serve, as a club, at the upcoming Carrboro Homebrew Fest.

It’ll be a good time, and I’m really looking forward to it, even if it’s going to be something like 30 degrees outside. It’s always nice to freeze your ass off spend time with a bunch of people who enjoy beer, and I’m under the impression that a lot of these guys haven’t done – or maybe even seen – an all-grain brew, so it’ll be fun to teach them how to expand their hobby. But! Some of them have, and most of the others are – like any homebrew geek (like myself) – well-read enough to know their way around the concept pretty well.
Mmm.. mashing in.
In this comes my terror. Here’s what this post is. It’s a confessional:

I’ve never watched somebody else homebrew.


I have my system, and I’ve read every damn book under the sun. I know the brewing process inside and out, and I feel pretty confident that if you dropped me on a commercial system without a deadline I could eventually make you a batch of beer in one incredibly long brew day (no promises on cleanup), but I have no idea what my process looks like in comparison to other people.

I’ve got a pretty standard ghetto-brew system. 7-gal stainless steel pot, mangled orange cooler with a false bottom, copper coil wort chiller. No pumps. I still siphon by mouth, because I’m too lazy to do anything else. I mill my own grain. I’ve got a rusty el crappo outdoor burner, that leaves my kettle covered in awful black carbon that it takes me forever to scrub off and I think I make some pretty great damn beer.

But I’m going to be taking people through my process – like my weirdo continuous sparge that I actually do slowly with a ladle instead of any sort of automated fly sparge system or even batch sparging – and part of me is almost kind of embarrassed. Like.. I should be so much less ghetto than this. I should have some 3-tier brewing sculpture made of shiny stainless steel. I should have this incredible system, but y’know what? The ghetto-brew setup works so well.

I can just envision me being halfway through the brewday before someone says, “Wait a sec! Don’t you do some-incredibly-important-step?” and I look blankly at them and say, “I’ve never heard of that.” Probably not. But it could happen! It’s like stage fright. I haven’t felt like this for years. I’ll probably get nervous pees and everything. Ugh.

So, I’m excited to hang out and drink beer with beer lovers all day. I’m excited to show people a little bit more about brewing if they don’t know about it, and excited to maybe help people take the step to all-grain. Having all of those people watch me all day while I do this scares the ever-livin’ crap out of me. And even better, I’m pretty sure some of them will read this blog post before showing up. Hi guys. Now you know my terrible secret: like everything else I’ve ever done in my life, I’m guessing my way through it. Enjoy!

Here’s the one guarantee on the day: I open my first beer at 10 AM. It’ll be a great day.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Jan 2010 @ 09:33 AM



Responses to this post » (20 Total)

  1. Nate says:

    You stole the words out of my mouth…I have never seen anybody besides myself brew whole grain. I’ve never even watched videos…just read books and hit up Mike for advice. I am also embarrassed by my ghetto system. All of it is homemade and looks like hell, but it produces good beer.

    I wouldn’t worry. With as good of a writer as you are, if some does point out an “all important missing step,” I bet you could go esoteric and convince them that in your sage wisdom your method is superior.

  2. christopher says:

    My system is more basic than yours but it puts out decent beer so I haven’t bothered to change it either (I feel like I do little more than guide it on its way). You want embarrassing, I sparge thru a large colander; also hand fed. Imagine showing that off to folks.

  3. Nate says:

    Christopher, I thought I was the only one who sparged through a colander. I make my 7 year old boy control the out flow while I control the inflow of sparge water. Ha!

    • Aftab says:

      The forecast for the shin-dig is prtaly cloudy with temperatures ranging from the upper 70s to the low 80 s with low humidity, no rain, and an 80% chance of Bob. (Still catching up on work.)Being from Louisiana, I’m born and bred to drink coffee 24 7 no matter how warm the weather. I recently roasted the last of a stash of Sumatra beans that I scored last fall. Due in part to the used, as well as their size, these beans do quite well on a darker roast, and are tasting pretty good. I’ll try to brew up a pot and bring it if anyone else is interested.

  4. Chris Shields says:

    See ya there Erik!
    I’ll try to come up with some terrifying question to get this thing off to a good start.

    • Tufan says:

      Jeff,Thank you for your detailed coenmmt about National Brew Day. An ingredient list will help us stock what we will need in order to live up to our side of the bargain.Regarding the number of slots still open, we have been moving so fast, I can’t really answer that right now. I am hoping we can accommodate every one who wants to brew, but that might not be practical. My suggestion is to tell your friends to let us know of their interest by posting a coenmmt here.We should have a better idea about slot capacity by the end of next week.BTW, I agree with your coenmmt about hanging out with a bunch of good folks. We had a great time at the Covert Hops Society meeting last night.Gerald

  5. erik says:

    You know, I tried sparging through a colander (also, weirdly, a vegetable steamer) for a while. I found it was messy. I just slowly pour straight in.

    @Nate – one thing that my degree in acting has done for me is given me the ability to spout total bullshit on the spot in any situation. Externally, I’ll be okay. Internally, I’ll be dying.

  6. Big Tex says:

    I brew with buddies all the time. We share a similar process, while maintaining several batches. But, never have I ever submitted my beer for judging. It scares the crap out of me, much like what I’m seeing here in the comments as well as in the original post. On Christmas Eve, my wife made quite the observation: that this is our art. It is a craft that we pursue. We put our passion and creativity into this, and it’s something incredibly personal… down to our soul. It’s an expression of ourselves.

    She said this, because I was planning on serving my latest batch of beer the very next day to friends that would be celebrating Christmas with us. But much to my consternation, I checked the CO2 pressure on my keg, and the cylinder was empty! I was rather upset… steamed was more like it, but that’s when my bride stepped in and made that observation.

    But back to the brew… if what I know about the brewing community (including home-, nano-, and micro), there’s camaraderie. The more experienced brewers, may offer advice rather than criticism. This camaraderie drives many within this brotherhood to want others to succeed. It is our craft; .

  7. darknova306 says:

    I thought I was the only one who used a weird continuous sparge. :p I use a Pyrex measuring cup to slowly add sparge water.

    This post echoes exactly my own thoughts about my setup. Some friends of mine on the other side of the state have talked about doing a brewday together, and I’ve got that same feeling of dread about showing my process to other brewers. Glad to see I’m not the only one that feels that way.

  8. erik says:

    Yeah! Continuous sparging! It’s a pain in the ass, but man is it flexible.

    A Pyrex measuring cup is a much better idea. Why haven’t I thought of that?

    • darknova306 says:

      I only started using the Pyrex measuring cup cause it was the only thing I had on hand that would work for the job. Turned out to be so useful I’ve just stuck with it.

  9. LTS says:

    You start out in brewing, or at least I did, with two buckets, a pot, and a can of syrup. You just dump the wort into the bucket and go. It’s crazy. Then you move along into the next steps and so on and so forth. Along the entire way you can make beer that will suit your needs. It may be great to you, it may not be in comparison to others and if you don’t care, then it doesn’t matter.

    There is no right or wrong answer in terms of process. There are tips and recommendations on improving the process, either to save time or increase efficiencies, or improve quality etc.

    In most cases brewers are really open about things. Those who aren’t usually end up drinking alone and where is the fun in that. There is certainly an art to brewing and there is a satisfaction in fabricating equipment and processes and then getting beer out of it. There’s even more satisfaction when people see your frankenstein process and they tell you, “Crap, you made this beer doing that? That’s it? Just like that?” It’s cool.

    Don’t sweat it.. brew it up. I’ve never had the perfect brew day. Every single one has faced some kind of mini-crisis that demanded quick thinking. I start every session happy about brewing, end every session questioning why I even bother and then in a few weeks I wake up with a hangover, I realize I’ve killed the brain cells that remember exactly how horrible the brewing was and I start over.

    Oh, and stop siphoning by mouth. There are much better ways to siphon that are cheap and reduce possible contamination (even if you use Listerine or Vodka first!)

  10. erik says:

    Yeah, as soon as someone’s willing to buy me a pump I’ll stop siphoning by mouth. Siphoning canes are terrible. I’ve had a few and I’ve never had good luck with them at all. They’re either inefficient, or won’t start, or difficult to sanitize.

    On the other hand, I can count the number of contaminations I’ve had over the past 10 years of brewing on one hand.

  11. erik says:

    Indeed. I have owned two of those at one point or another.

  12. darknova306 says:

    When I first started brewing I would fill the siphon tubing with water and get it started that way. Still had to cap each end with a thumb, but never had a contamination issue. I grabbed and auto-siphon a couple years ago and have been very pleased.

    • Antonio says:

      Okay, OleTimer has told me that he has a trailer with linvig quarters that he can bring (until about 5:00 pm or so), but I’ve checked with the park and he’ll have to park it at the equestrian area. There is some open area there, but it’s not near any restrooms. As long as OleTimer doesn’t mind us using his facilities and we can hold it if’n we want to stay after he leaves, we can meet there.Otherwise, we’ll probably have to meet somewhere along Westheimer Parkway and/or lower Barker Cypress area. Those of you with kids, the southern part of the park is probably more appealing. Ideas? Feedback? Pie throwing?

  13. jim says:

    Hi guys, just now came across your site here erik – saw you on facebook in the Tyler’s event for tonight.
    Anywho – I just recently decided to start trying to brew my own. I’ve only made two batches – first one was flat and had a hint of yeast taste to it (disappointing). The batch in the bucket right now I am hoping will do much better.
    I totally skipped extract brewing and just jumped right into all-grain. So, I am probably doing lots of things wrong. My gear is similar to yours though you have some things I don’t (false bottom). I have a rectangle cooler – so my grain bed is spread out (might be one of my problems).
    Anyway, glad I found your site. I actually signed up at 5thSeason for the homebrew club but have not had a chance to make a meeting. I definitely need to though so I can get some advice from you guys. Any idea when the next meeting is?

  14. erik says:

    Jim –

    There is no wrong way to do it. You’re fine. If you skipped extract, you skipped more expensive ingredients (in favor of more expensive equipment!). A rectangle cooler is fine (and in many ways awesome), but you need some sort of false bottom or something to filter the particulate matter from your wort.

    Let me hook up with you via e-mail about meeting times and more information. I’m not in charge (yay!), but I can put you in touch with those who are.

  15. jim says:

    Ya, I didn’t want to put too much detail in these comments. I put together a ball valve for the cooler. Inside I have a stainless braided hose (water supply line) working as the filter. It does pretty well (esp. for the cost), it hasn’t collapsed on me yet. However I can see that a false bottom for this thing would not only eliminate the worry of the stuck sparge, collapsed hose – but also seems like it might make cleaning out the cooler a little easier.
    Anywho – thanks for inviting me to the Google group. I signed up and am looking forward to chatting with you all.

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