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Out of the Closet Home Brewer

Michael Marsh
Posted: September 18, 2007

It was an offer I couldn't refuse. To announce its 2007 Samuel Adams American Homebrew Challenge, the Boston Beer Co. wanted to send Cigar Aficionado a home brewing kit, complete with equipment needed to make some suds of our own.

A few days later, a box of supplies arrived. The next step was telling my better half that I was turning the apartment into a brewery. The look in her eyes said, "Oh great. There isn't enough beer stocked in the fridge that he has to start making his own."

I also had to deal with something every beer-curious male must inevitably face: coming out of the closet. There's a fine line between being a beer drinker and being a full-on beer geek, and I was walking it. Was I ready to stop living a lie? What would my friends think? Would I be accepted? It is beer after all, right?

After a weekend of personal reflection and pints aplenty, and knowing I had the support and encouragement from friends and colleagues, I decided to go through with it. I was ready to begin a new life as a homebrewer.

Getting Started

Looking back on it now, getting started was the most difficult part of the whole process. I laid out all of the materials -- about two-dozen items -- on my kitchen table and stared blankly. I had attempted just-add-water beer-in-a-bag once in college, but this was a different animal, and it dawned on me that I might be in over my head. It also dawned on me that if I really wanted some beer, why not walk up to the corner store and drop a few bucks on a cold six-pack of my choice?

Not knowing where to start, I researched homebrewing techniques and procedures. I read through Charlie Papazian's Complete Guide to Homebrewing and John Palmer's How to Brew. I watched a DVD called the Art of Homebrewing by Jim Koch, the founder and brewer of Samuel Adams, and scoured the Internet for everything I could on the subject. But I still wasn't sure of myself because I was overloaded with information. Everyone seemed to have differing thoughts and theories on what to do and what not to do, why you should do it, when you should do it and how long you should do it for.

In the end, I realized it was going to be trial by fire. So with bits and pieces from all my research, and some apprehension, I put on my beer apron, cracked a cold one, and set off to make my first ale, remembering Papazian's formula: "Relax. Don't worry. Have a homebrew."

Brew Day

The advice stressed most was sanitizing the equipment to prevent bacteria from spoiling the beer. That means every piece of equipment that was going to come in contact with the beer -- from the fermenter (a 6-gallon plastic bucket) and the utensils down to the bottles and the bottle caps -- had to be sanitized. This isn't the most enjoyable part of the process to be sure, but knowing it could mean the difference between potable beer and beer you pour down the drain was reason enough to make me take it seriously. To sanitize my equipment, I mixed 1 tablespoon of household bleach in five gallons of boiled water and soaked everything for 20 minutes. When it was time to use a specific item, such as the strainer or the thermometer, I rinsed it in boiled water that had been cooled.

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