Last weekend, after a dinner with friends, Bill (one of the previously mentioned friends) presented me and Steve B. each with four bottles of his first batch of home-made beer, an amber ale he titled “Taste the Joy.” Bill was quite proud of his beer making achievement, telling us in detail the tale of the brewing process over dinner. To be honest, I was skeptical, but when I tried one of the beers after getting home that night, I have to say I was impressed. Considering it was a first effort and such, I thought it was pretty darn good beer.
This reminded me of my on-again/off-again curiousity about home brewing. I suppose it’s something most beer drinkers have contemplated, especially after drinking a few beers. When we lived out in Oregon, there were a number of people we knew who home brewed, and every once in a while, I’ll see one of these brewing kits in a catalog or something and I’ll say to Annette “hey, I think I’ll start brewing my own beer.” To which she generally responds “yeah, whatever.”
Generally, I guess I would say that I am torn about the whole idea of home brewing. On the one hand, it seems like it might be a kind of fun hobby, and one where you get to enjoy the labor involved more than, for example, collecting snow globes. On the other hand, it seems like it might be kind of a pain in the ass, especially balanced against the ease of just going to the store and buying it from the pros. On the one hand, it is a fairly cheap hobby since you can get the fixings to make a batch of beer (five gallons, which is a shitload of beer) for about $25-30. On the other hand, it is not really cheap enough since you have to spend $80 or so on the equipment (which you can reuse, of course) and it involves several strategic hours spread over time.
Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood to go spend $100+ on beer making equipment and fixings only to decide that the whole thing wasn’t worth it– and, besides that, my wife/head accountant wasn’t crazy about this idea either. So Bill generously offered/was convinced to allow me to observe the process of making the next batch. Brewing-by-proxy. Beer watching.
According to Bill, home brewing is a four part process, five if you count drinking: shopping for the beer fixings, brewing part 1, brewing part 2, and bottling. Had we planned better, we probably could have combined shopping and brewing part 1, but the rest of the steps require two to three weeks of waiting. In any event, we started with the shopping yesterday.
Bill’s beer supply store is “Things Beer,” which strikes me as a gramatically incorrect or problematic name– shouldn’t it be “All Things Beer?” Anyway, it is in the same warehouse complex as the Michigan Brewing Company (we’ll get to that in a moment), both of which were located on the outskirts of Webberville “middle of no where”, Michigan. It’s right off the Interstate, disturbingly within walking distance of a truck stop.
The store was basically three rooms of, well, things beer. There were lots of glasses, posters, lights, and other beer drinking paraphernalia, but most of the store was devoted to the stuff you need to actually make beer: all the tubes and tubs and hoses and pots and stuff, but mostly bags of different grains, and hops, different kinds of malt, refridgerators of different brewing yeasts, flavorings and extracts you might add to beer if you’re inclined, etc. Things Beer conveniently has pre-made recipes for different kinds beers– they measure stuff, give you caps, the whole nine yards– which is definitely a plus for beer novices like Bill and mere watchers like me. We decided on a mix that is called something like “Trout Stream IPA,” which, according to the guy waiting on us, is supposed to kind of like Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.
We learned much more from our overly friendly and chatty home brew salesman. He and Bill exchanged words about some home brewing book, and our new found friend told us again what a fine choice we had made in our pre-made recipe. Alas, our beer master was no longer able to drink much beer himself. “My wife and I are on one of those low-carb diets. I’ve lost a lot of weight, but I can’t drink beer because the sugars in beer go right to the gut. There’s a reason they call it a beer gut. So I can only drink one beer a week. Jeesh, it’s killing me.”
“Too bad you don’t make wine,” I said.
“I do make wine,” the beer/wine master replied. “But I can’t drink too much of that. Makes my gout act up.”
“Yeah, and my gout has been acting up a lot since the holidays. I guess I drank just a bit too much, had a little too much fun. Usually my gout only acts up for a day or so but it’s been going on for a couple weeks now. I guess that’s what happens when you have too much fun.”
In any event, after a little too much “sharing,” Bill and I went over to the brew-pub portion of the Michigan Brewing Company next door to and associated with Things Beer. It isn’t really much of a “brew pub,” at least not in the way that I think of a brew pub, places like Grizzly Peak, which is really pretty nice restaurant that happen to make and sell beer. No, this was a brewery that happened to have a small, hole-in-the-wall styled bar connected to it. There was a meager menu (we both had the Reuben– good and straight-forward food) and a wide selection of Michigan Brewing Co. beers. I had an IPA and I believe the Porter (both of which were really good), and Bill started with some kind of desert beer or something that tasted like some kind of syrup. Icky, IMO. But he followed it up with a “real beer,” and all was well.
So, next week, we brew. By the way, Bill– I don’t have that big pot after all. Let me know if you want me to hunt one down or not.