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Out of the Closet Home Brewer

Michael Marsh
Posted: September 18, 2007

(continued from page 2)

Bottling Day

At this stage, the sanitation laws of homebrewing are again of the utmost importance. I boiled several gallons of water, added a tablespoon or so of bleach and let the caps and bottles sit in it for a good 30 minutes. I also sanitized the siphon, which I needed to get the beer from the fermenter to the bottles. On the kitchen floor I laid down several beach towels as I was expecting this step to get messy.

Before bottling, one more step was necessary: adding primer, which gives the beer its carbonation once it's bottled. To do this, I boiled 3/4 cup of priming sugar with 2 cups of water. I let it cool, then gently added it to the fermenter trying my best not to stir up any lingering sediment and let it sit for 30 minutes.

With the bottles, caps and siphon sanitized, I took a deep breath and was off. I began filling the longneck bottles to about an inch from the top. The beer was flowing and plenty of it was spraying on the kitchen floor and on myself (giving my wife another reason to say I smell like a brewery). I filled 30 bottles (I didn't make it through both cases in three days) then capped them. My first homebrew was almost finished.

At this point, I took my first taste. The hoppy aroma was very enticing. It was amber in color and had a cloudy appearance, but tasted flat and thin. There was a hoppy character to it, and the dried malt flavors were obvious. While it looked good and there were some aspects to its taste that gave me hope, I was still wary.

I kept the bottles in a cool, shaded place for one week, when I couldn't resist another taste. This time, the carbonation was better and the conditioning added some body to the beer, but the character was still a bit thin. The flavors were more balanced, however, and my initial concerns were suddenly gone. For the first time, I knew I had a beer that was not only drinkable, but also tasted pretty good. My transformation from beer drinker to full on beer geek was nearly complete.

With the July heat starting to bear down, I decided to move the beer to the refrigerator. I was advised to keep it room temperature for two, but the rising heat forced me to act. A week later, I tried the beer for the third time. A smile came to my face. It was good enough to pass out to a few friends and when I did they agreed that it was indeed beer and, better yet, it was beer you could drink. My hopes were up. Now for the last hurdle.

Judgment Day

Jim Koch has been to the Cigar Aficionado offices several times, but on this occasion I was especially excited and a little nervous too. He arrived to lead us through a tasting of the 2007 bottling of his Sam Adam's Utopias, but before we got into it, I presented him with my homebrew. He was genuinely happy to see that I had attempted what he has been so successful at, and immediately cracked one open. His first impression was encouraging. From the aroma, he was surprised that it was my first homebrew. He noted hops, citrus and a flowery note.

Jim Koch (left) sharing a bottle of his Utopias with the author/beer geek, who returned the favor with a bottle of his own home brew.
Then came his first sip and it was back down to earth for this homebrewer. It wasn't that it tasted bad, in fact, he said, it tasted very good compared to thousands of homebrews he'd sampled in the past, just that it was lacking carbonation. He questioned if I had properly sealed the caps as he felt gas might have escaped. It should be more carbonated, he said, and suggested that adding an extra teaspoon of priming sugar could help, but most likely it was because I hadn't crimped the bottle caps tight enough.

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