Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting kinky with the mop

I have something to confess.  I do something which most people would never do, or even would consider weird.  It's something I never did before I became a homebrewer.

I mop ceilings.

The first time I mopped a ceiling I had brewed an American Hefeweizen and, when the primary ferment was mostly done, one evening I added a bunch of crushed raspberries and went to bed.  Around 5 a.m., I heard a pop loud enough to wake me up.
What had happened is the sugars in the raspberries had kicked off fermentation again and the berry pulp had clogged the airlock.  Pressure built and released with a spray of beer big enough to splatter the ceiling.  The foamy shit also got all over the wall, the door, the carboy, the selves next to the carboy and the floor.  The airlock was laying on the ground and the beer was exposed to oxygen.
Apparently, it had never occurred to me raspberries have fermentable sugar also.

I have noticed a direct correlation between how much mess I make while brewing and the level of my wife’s opposition to the hobby.  This makes one of my brewing objectives to reduce the mess as much as possible.
Something which has substantially cut down on spraying yeast all over the place is a blow out tube.  Basically this is a bored carboy bung with three or four feet of tubing coming out of it.  Stick the bung in the carboy and put the tail of the tubing in a jar with a little water or StarSan.  The foam from the ferment will go down the tube and collect in the jar, which is a lot easier to pour out.
One word of caution, if the temp of the carboy goes down it will create negative pressure and pull whatever is in the jar back into the carboy, which is why I just use water or StarSan, not something poisonous like bleach or iodine.  You probably don’t want this to happen, so if you are crash cooling just change out the airlock.
Before I discovered the blowout tube, I preferred the 3-piece cup style airlocks because they were easier to clean when they filled up with crap.  However, now I never get anything in my airlock so I have switched to the S-style.  They have the advantage of working both ways, so when I crash cool it pulls the air through the vodka or sanitizer in the airlock and kills the airborne bacteria.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sanitizing: A lot bigger deal than the Babylonians made it out to be

As my wife can attest, I hate washing dishes, or in general just cleaning up after myself.
What I love about brewing is creating an awesome recipe and taking a bag of grain and turning it into some great beer.What I hate is washing my shit.
In concordance with this, it took me a long, long time to really grasp how important sanitation was. I figured, "Hey, the Sumerians brewed beer 5,000 years before anyone knew anything about proper sanitation. How important can it be, really?"
The truth is there is nothing as important as proper cleaning and sanitation. It is a point which is  belabored in all the brewing literature but bears repeating. However, sometimes stuff just needs to be clean and sometimes you can blow all the sanitizing you have done with a simple screw up.
Brew days all start the same. The first thing I do is haul all of my brewing stuff out of the shed and wash it.
Something that should never leave your mind is the fact that beer is a food. Would you make a sandwich on a dirty plate that had been sitting in your sink for a week? No, that's gross. Would you leave your lunch in a car until 1 p.m. during August and then still eat it? No, it would spoil. You are asking even more from your beer. If property cared for the beer can last months or even years. That is pretty good for a food item, a lot better than the spaghetti in the back of the fridge.
All your brewing stuff needs to be clean enough to eat off of. You wouldn't leave a plate in the garage for a few months and then eat off it without washing it first. Don't do the same thing with your brew pot. You can use regular dishwashing soap, just try for the stuff without a strong smell and make sure it is rinsed off well.
Sort your equipment into two piles, the stuff touching your beer before the boil and after the boil. All the stuff that is pre-boil is clean enough, the stuff post-boil needs to be sanitized.
Now, before you start panicking and pricing an autoclave just relax, sanitizing is not as hard as it sounds. A solution of bleach water will work fine for most things, but is a little hard on some metals like stainless steel. By far the easiest way to sanitize is with StarSan, a base solution which will kill pretty much any bacteria. It is environmentally safe and will not impart any off flavors to your beer.

What you want to do is just put 2.5 gallons of water in a 5 gallon bucket with water and add 1/2 oz of StarSan. Everything that touches the cooled wort needs to be in StarSan 30 seconds to a minute. If something is wet with StarSan it is protected and you don't have to worry about the bubbles or anything. Because beer is a little acidic and StarSan is a base so it becomes inert and won't add any off flavors so dont rinse it. You don't want to add tap water back into the beer even in small amounts because it has bacteria in it. The DEQ monitors what they consider an acceptable amount of fecal mater in water. I would consider none an acceptable amount but your body has enough antibodies to fight a small amount of bacteria. However, your beer does not and until the yeast really gets going it is pretty susceptible.

What is great about StarSan is it will last a little while in a covered bucket. Once it starts to get kind of cloudy and funky colored, toss it and make a new batch. This is so much easier than screwing around with the bleach water or an iodine mixture. I just have the bucket sitting there and everything just gets dipped and it is ready to go. I even dip my hands before I touch anything.

This took me a long time before it really sunk in. I got lucky the first couple of batches I brewed and had some good beers without a lot of effort towards sanitation. I figured, they brewed in ancient Babylon without any sanitation, why should I care. You can have that attitude and you will get about the same results I was getting. I brewed about 10 batches a year and 2 would be awesome, 5 would be ok, and 3 would suck. If you are serious about sanitizing you may still get the occasional off beer but it will set them on a higher bar.

After a long day of brewing, probably with some drinking tossed in, the last thing you want to do is clean your stuff. However, the hop sludge on the edge of your brewpot is a hell of a lot easier to remove when it is wet. If you leave wort in your transfer hoses it will stain them and build up gunk. The wort also gets all sticky and kind of congeals, attracts wasps and ants and is generally gross. Life is just so much easier when you just clean everything up and put it away.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whoops, I think I just sparged prematurely

Like most brewers, I got into all-grain brewing way before I was intellectually and emotionally ready.  I knew I needed hot water but I didn't understand, or probably care, about the need for precise mash temps, how starch is converted to sugar or sparging.
So I bought a 55 lb sack of 2-row and cracked it by running it through an old meat grinder.  Then I tied it up in a sack and put it in an old church coffee pot.  I thought if it sat there while the water was heating it would go through all of the protein rests.
After a while, I didn't have any consistency to how long I would wait, I would pour the wort into my 4.5 gallon pot until it was more or less filled up and then add DME until I hit the target OG.  God, just writing it down makes it sound even more asinine than it was in my head.
I was getting about 30 percent to 40 percent efficiency and beers with a little more depth than straight extract, but not very much, and no body.  In general, a disaster.
All-grain brewing is the holy grail of homebrewers everywhere.  And it should be.  With all-grain you will be able to dial in a recipe perfectly, turn out awesome and complex beers, get crystal clarity and be able to truly say you crafted this beer from the ground up.
However, before you jump into all-grain you need to consistently make good beer using extract.  To paraphrase Jamil Zainasheff, knowing and understanding fermentation is way more important than knowing how to convert starch to sugar.  The hot side can be pretty forgiving but the cold side won't be.  Otherwise, if your results are inconsistent with extract, you will never know what you are doing wrong when you go all-grain.
 So your extract beers are good and you decide to make the plunge.  To do so, you need to understand what is going on during the process, you need to get used to your equipment and understand how it works.
So what is going on.
A kernel of barley is contains starch, which is a long series of sugar molecules stuck together in a line.  What you want to do is break the long chain of sugar molecules up so yeast can eat them.  It is kind of like going to a movie and sharing a three foot long licorice rope with a friend but you have a cold and so neither one of you can just bite pieces off.  The first step is taking the wrapper off, which is the grind of your grain.  Then you need to break it down in to bite sized chunks though either pulling it apart or cutting it, which is essentially what is happening as different enzymes are activated during the mashing process.  For a more intellectual explanation check out How to Brew by John Palmer. 
This may sound complicated but, as a species, we have been making beer for several thousands of years before anyone understood what was going on at the molecular level so don't worry if the chemistry is beyond you.  What we are doing is making barley soup, then straining the barley out to get the wort.
On the most basic level this is what you do.  Heat around 5 gallons of water to about 170 degrees.  Pour this into your grain, hitting a temp of around 153 degrees.  Let this sit for an hour.  Drain the wort and flush the grains, or sparge, with about another 4 or 5 gallons of hot water.  Gather all the liquid and brew just like you used to with extract.
What you need to accomplish.
An all grain system needs to do several things and requires three vessels.  One vessel needs to heat 5-7 gallons of water to your grain.  Then you need a vessel to hold around 20 pounds of grain and  the 5-7 gallons of water at around 150 degrees for an hour.  I use a cooler with a false bottom I make out of Plexiglas and a drain spout.  For the sparge water I use a church sized coffee pot, which has the advantage of being able to just plug it in and forget about it but the disadvantage of not being able to change sparge temps.  The wort is all collected in my boil pot.
This is not a super complicated system and it has the advantages of working fairly well and being cheap.  Like everyone else who all-grain brews I would love to have a computer controlled Blichmann system.  However, those kind of systems cost over $3,000 and, if you don't know how to ferment a beer, they are not going to make a damn bit of difference, you will still be producing shit beer.
Of course, when adding another complicated procedure to your brew day there is a ton of ways to screw things up.  Here are a few mistakes I have made and how to do it right.
Blowing the strike temp.
You will want to have control over the temperature your mash is sitting at for an hour.  The first time I brewed all-grain I heated my water to 153 degrees, because that is what I wanted my grain bed to be.  Then I put the hot water in a cooler filled with 15 pounds of grain, which was all at room temps.  Had I a basic understanding of thermodynamics I would have realized this was dumb.
Predictably, my mash temp was only 140 degrees and I was running around in a wild panic trying to boil a gallon or two of water so I can raise the temps before I wrecked my beer.
So this is what you should do.  Heat your strike water to around 170 degrees and have a gallon of cold water on hand.  When you mash in take a thermometer reading and add a little cold water, slowly, until you hit your temp.  Stir your mash up really well to make sure everything is wet and leave it alone for an hour.  The malted grains you are buying right now are of very high quality so, for the most part, you won't have to worry about malt not converting.  Just let it be.
Once I make sure my grain is good and wet and don't screw with it any more.  I have found stirring it up, especially during the sparge, will get a lot of chaff and shit in my boil kettle.  While it is true you can get more fermentables if you stir, I site Brewing Maxim #1, "Don't be a cheapass!"  It is worth the extra pound or so of grain it will take to make up the difference in clear beer or chunky stuff.
If you want to hurry things along a little bit, set up your system so your boil kettle is on your burner, after you get a few gallons in there put a little heat to it.  You probably don't want to bring it to a boil, just pretty close, then when the sparge is done you are just a few minutes away from having boiling wort.
To further clear the beer, take the first gallon or two of the sparge, before you start running sparge water, and poor it back on your grain bed.  I even let my water level get a little below the top of my bed.  This allows the bed to set a little bit and act as a filter.  What I am looking for is a stratification of the sparge water and wort, this will help push all the wort out of your mash instead of diluting it.
Once the grain bed is set and you start your spage water flowing into the mash tun start the output into the boil kettle.  This will be pretty slow, at a rate of about one pint a minute and it can take around an hour to get sparged out.  This is annoying but if you rush things you will either not get as much sugar as you want, or get tannins and chaff in your beer.  Just relax and go have a beer.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Don't be a yeast dominatrix

I could probably write a whole blog about my sins against yeast.  I have starved them, exposed them to extremes of hot and cold, overworked them, choked them off from air, made them wear a ball gag and a ballerina outfit, and in general abused them.  I have been the Stalin of  the yeast world.
On about the same level as proper sanitation, I think understanding fermentation is one of the most important steps in quality beer.  With proper fermentation even extract beers can be pretty good.  Before a new homebrewer wants to jump into all-grain brewing, they need to understand yeast. 
Making beer is a multi step process.  While you are actually brewing you are actively doing something.  You are adding malts and hops, and probably drinking beer.  It is fun and engaging.  The fermentation is boring and takes what seems like forever.  But it is as important, if not more important, than the actual brew day in making good beer.  Yeast is a living organism, kind of a fungus, and like all other organisms it thrives when conditions are just right.  Your wort is extremely rich in food and when the yeast come into this buffet they will go crazy in an orgy of gluttony and reproduction.  It's like Studio 54 in there.
 As a defence mechanism against other single celled organisms the yeast protect their feast by producing a chemical which is deadly to the huge majority of bacteria, alcohol.  As they consume sugar and excrete alcohol they will also be breathing the oxygen dissolved in the wort and exhaling CO2. 
The other big yeast byproduct we are concerned about are chemical compounds called esters.  Think of this as kind of like sweat.  In humans a small amount of sweat is OK, it contains pheromones and can be perceived as pleasant.  However, in large quantities it is BO, which nobody likes.  But, different yeasts produce different esters and react to stimulus in different ways.  In beer, esters contribute fruity flavors, like bananas or cloves or almost stone fruit flavors, like a hint of cherry or plum.  These flavors are great in a Hefeweisen and some Belgians, but not what you are looking for in a lager.  
The biggest mistake I have made towards yeast is considering it an ingredient instead of a living organism.  An ingredient you add and it does what it does.  You toss red paint on a wall and it turns red.  You put black patent malt in a beer and it turns dark.  In order to get the yeast to do what you want them to do you have to manipulate them.  Yeast acts just like people in a given situation.
Nobody likes to be overworked.  So you have a vial of yeast, which is around 3.5 million cells or so when fresh, but the cells are all dormant and asleep and pitch it into your beer.  What happens?
 It is an extremely rich environment and they wake from a sound sleep with everything they could ever want and need to flourish.  They just need to work for it.  So of course, about half of them panic, become stressed out and die. This leaves the other half behind the eight ball and they have to work twice as hard to eat and reproduce, which takes time and causes stress, which produces esters. One trick to lessen the shock to the yeast is to make a yeast starter.  A couple of days before you plan to brew take a little DME, I use around 1/2 a cup for 1500 mL and boil it for 10 minutes.  Then cool it down and pitch your yeast.  This will get the yeast colony growing and building before you dump them in your wort. 
For more in depth information on the amount of starter you should make, check out the starter calculate at
Damn it!  Who messed with the thermostat?
Every yeast is designed to work best at a certain temp and you will get hugely different results in flavor depending on temps.  If a yeast is running to warm, it sweats and produces esters, or nothing will happen at all if the yeast is to cold because it is shivering its ass off.  If it gets too cold it will even go dormant. 
Even worse is if your yeast get warm during the day and then cold at night.  It doesn't know what to do.  Just like at work, who wants to be sweating in the morning when the heat is on but have to wear a jacket when the AC kicks in.
This is what I do and it is a bit of an investment.  I have a dedicated fridge for brewing, one I found off of Craigslist for $50.  I also have a Ranco two-way temp switch.  This thermostat is programmable and I just set the temp I want and plug the fridge in the cool side and a 12' wide piece of heat tape, you can get it places that sell reptile equipment, into the heating end.  Then I wrap the heat tape around the carboys and put them in the fridge.  This will hold the fermentation at the perfect temp and you don't have to worry about it.    
Even if you don't have room for a dedicated fermentation fridge it is still worth it to buy the temperature control switch.  You can set the ambient temp of the house a couple of degrees lower than the desired fermentation and wrap the carboy with an electric blanket or set it on a heating pad.  You may have to also tell your wife to put on a sweater.    
So what do you do while saving the $200 to invest on a temp control system?  There are still ways.  One of the simplest is to put the beer in a basement, a closet in the interior of the house or other cool place, around 65-68 degrees for English Ales.  This will work but your fermenting beer will produce a little heat while at the height of krausen and when fermentation slows it will cool down and the yeast will start to drop out early.  This is fine and you will get good results, just not great results. 
If you want to keep your beer a little cooler than ambient temp try this.  Set the carboy in a basin of water and then put an old T-shirt over it.  The t-shirt will wick the water up and keep the carboy 5 degrees cooler, 10 degrees if you set a fan blowing on it and more if you put ice in the basin.  Set the carboy on a heating pad to warm it up some.  This method works, it is just takes a lot of attention.  Something that helps is taping the probe from an indoor/outdoor thermometer to the side of your carboy so you at least know what the beer is doing.
If you don't have the room for a fridge look up fermentation chambers on the Internet.  I have seen chambers which look like an Armour and sit in the living room to someone who just taped a cardboard box over a mini fridge.  There is a lot of stuff you can do, it just takes a little ingenuity.   Putting the carboy in a tub of water will increase the thermal mass and reduce temp fluctuations, or a room-air conditioner will help.
Brew with the seasons.  Without temp control are are somewhat at the mercy of the seasons but you should still be able to make most ales just using the ambient temp of your house.  Tape a temp probe to the side of your carboy and during deep winter you should be able to make scotch ales, and almost any English beers.  As it gets warmer go to Belgian beers and even in the hottest months you can brew saisons.  Not perfect, but it works.
As if you didn't get the point:  I wish I had figured out temp control years before I did, it would have saved me drinking a lot of mediocre beers.  It will also open a whole new world of beers to you.  You will be able to make crisp summer pilsners, lagers,  Kolshs, California commons and saisons.  All of these beers can be made well with extract and correct temps.
I cannot stress how important fermentation facilitation is.  As a brewer you will go through a ton of work developing a perfect recipe and then spend the time and money brewing it.Then you just turn it loose and not care what happens during the ferment?  Respect your beer more than that.  I am even to the point if I meet a homebrewer for the first time, and they don't control their temps, I don't consider them a serious brewer.
I have seen several brewers who look upon brewing as an art and are proud of the fact every batch, even if using the same recipe, is drastically different.  This is just an excuse to cover up laziness.  The art of brewing comes from intentionally manipulating factors to get the exact results you want.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Upon reflection on my last post, it may have come across as kind of jerky. I'm not saying it is wrong to try new stuff, I am just saying don't try to cut corners. One of the great things about homebrewing is the ability to experiment. You are probably not going to find a cactus juice and peanut butter porter on the store shelf, but you could totally make some. There are some very interesting beers out there being brewed by people who are letting their freak flag fly.
However, this deserves a big HOWEVER. I have made some incredibly shitty beer because of off-the-wall ideas. I've put lime juice, fennegreek, maple syrup, wormwood, rum, sassafras, cocoa nibs, chai, scotch, apple juice, and all sorts of other stuff in beer. I even brewed a beer inside of a pumpkin once.
The results of all this weirdness? The cocoa nib stout was awesome and is part of my regular brewing schedule, I make it about once or twice a year. The fennegreek, maple syrup, pumpkin and sassafras were OK but I have never brewed them again. The lime juice, rum, chai, scotch and apple juice were bad but the wormwood was REALLY bad. So of the 55 gallons of beer in question, only five turned out top notch. Twenty gallons was marginal and 25 gallons sucked. That is a lot of bad beer to choke down.
The brewing lesson to take away from this train wreck is not to just brew bland beer. Just experiment in a controlled fashion.
Have a solid base beer. Your chipole stout might have been fantastic, but if it is infected or didn't ferment correctly it will taste bad. It should be drinkable on its own merit. You also need to understand beer and fermentation. Adding some sort of unusual sugar or fruit can make for interesting flavors, but it can also ferment out to the point the elements you want are untasteable. I have found much of the time it works better to add something during packaging. If you are kegging or bottling add the unusual element then. If you can keep the packaging cold sugars won't start fermenting again.
It works the same with unusual grain. You need to know how to check if starches are converted if you are going to brew with buckwheat or spelt.
Use logic. When thinking about making weird beer the most important questions to ask are: "Why am I doing this?" and "What do I hope to accomplish?" Anybody can whip up a pale ale and cram a habenero in each bottle, but why? It might look cool but what is the point? Why not just eat a habenero and drink a pale ale at the same time.
Ideally, you want whatever you are adding to your beer to compliment things and produce something better, not hijack the beer and smack the drinker in the face. Err on the side of caution.
Mix to taste. Start small, then mix in your additives a little bit at a time and taste it. When it comes out just the way you want it, package it. This will take a lot of the guesswork out of things because you can scrap something that is not working immediately. Another trick to using things like cocoa nibs and oak is put them in a keg, put the beer on top of them and taste it every day. Once the beer tastes the way you want, transfer it to another keg.
Start small. Spiced beers are great, but not every day. Brew up a five gallon batch of good stout and then add peanut butter and chocolate to a six pack. You can always make more of something funky but you can't unmake it.
The same goes for trying out new fermentables or found hops. Brew a one gallon batch. If it tastes good then go big. Otherwise you didn't waste much. Just don't go in blind.
Cheat. Once you have an idea of what you want the finished product to be, brainstorm more than one method to get there. Want a Dr. Pepper (tm) lambic? You wouldn't have to cut the beer with soda pop, you could use a small amount of syrup. In my experience, sometimes flavorings work and sometimes they taste like cough syrup. Hmmmmmm, a NyQuil Belgian Strong?
Take notes. Record your experiments and use scientific method. Recently I toyed with the idea of adding bourbon to a porter but was surprised to find at a ratio of a half a teaspoon to 4 ounces of beer the bourbon totally cuts the body of the beer. I took notes which will help in further experiments with adding stuff to beer.
So get out there and come up with freak show ideas for beer. Just control how its done and don't make a five gallon batch until you know it works. If it turns out horrible dump it, or give it to that moocher friend who is always stealing your beer. Just don't give it to me.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Brewing Maxim #1: Don't be a cheap ass!

This one took me years to figure out.

For a long time I dicked around and dicked around. I would buy grain or dry malt extract in bulk, sometimes it took me years to use it all. I would use hops I found growing along the side of the road or in someones back lot. I would build a recipe a little weak and then add a pound or two of white sugar to kick the alcohol up a little bit. I would ride a yeast cake out for three or four brews.

If there was a way to cut corners I would do it.

My results tasted like homebrew. It was stale. The hops living on the side of the road were old Clusters, which tasted kind of like cat piss. My beer was thin and solventy. It was enough to get me loaded but there wasn't a ton of pleasure in drinking it.

Quality in is quality out. Now I order all my supplies from Shit is fresh and I only order what I need. I don't screw around with cheap American two-row. In an English beer I use Marris Otter and with lagers I use Weyerman's Pilsner malt. It costs 30 cents more a pound but the difference is fantastic.

Talking to other brewers who haven't grasp this fact makes me want to scream. The difference between using quality ingredients and cheap grain and found hops isn't a ton, like $5 to $10. I would much rather pay an extra $5 for beer that I don't have to lick my ass to get the taste out of my mouth.

Barley wants to be beer and will do so with fairly primitive equipment. I brew on an incredibly cheap system made up of an $18 cooler, a $100 stainless steel 9 gallon pot and a $20 church sized coffee urn. This is about as cheap as one can go in an all-grain set up and it will turn out great beer, as long as the ingredients are of quality.

If you need to skimp on ingredients in order to brew then you can't afford brewing as a hobby. Stay away from cutting beer with sugar, found hops, cheap bulk grain and trying to malt your own barley.

If you get the urge to go a little cheap ask yourself: "Is this going to make my beer better?"

If the answer is no, then why do it? You may find yourself with your own interesting story to tell. "So I found this moon yeast cheap but a tentacled monster emerged from the fermenter. I had watched enough anime to suspect what was about happen would be horrible. I was right."

On bottles

About the first or second time I started to sample some of my homebrew I noticed it poured kind of chunky. Upon closer inspection there was roping white shit in the the bottles, a kind of mold.
Of course, we were using bottles we had purchased full of beer, and had just drank them and tossed them in the pile to reuse. They had grown mold on the bottom and then we put fresh beer back on top of it. The mold appreciated the food but about half of the bottles were infected and gross.
So the homebrewer is faced with a dilemma. Empty bottle are kind of expensive so the logical option is to buy them full of beer. However, cleaning them is a chore.
This is what I do. When I empty a bottle I, IMMEDIATELY, rinse it out. It is pretty easy, I pour the beer into a glass and then flush the bottle with hot water and let it drain. This way they go into the box clean. If a bottle has sat long enough to get some shit growing in it I throw it away.
When it is time to bottle I wash all my bottles and run them through a soak with Star San. Occasionally I will get an infected bottle but it is pretty rare.
Like anything else with homebrewing, don't be a cheap ass. It is pretty easy to source bottles from a bar, or a friend who drinks a lot of beer, but most of the time you will spend more time cleaning the gunk out of the bottom of them than they are worth.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

How it all started

In 2000, I was in college working mostly on my BAC. A couple of friends and I walked into a little burger joint for lunch and beers and they had scooners of Moose Drool on special. I ordered one, because the name made me laugh, but this turned out to be the beer that changed my life.

Up to this point I had mostly drank Coors Light but Drool opened my eyes to a world of flavor I had never experienced. Soon, I was sucking down oatmeal stouts, octoberfests and pale ales.

Rapidly I figured out I could not afford to drink as much as I wanted of craft beer. I was poor, living in an old singlewide with my brother not far from campus.

There was only one thing to do. I had to start making this kind of beer so we went down to a local homebrew shop and picked out an oatmeal stout, go big or go home.

We had a book on brewing, but of course didn't read it, so we just tossed all of the specialty grains in a pot and boiled them for a little while. Then we strained them through cheesecloth in our bathroom, which was definately the dirtiest place in the house, if not the whole town.

We poured our strained liquid back into the pot and added the extract, boiled, added to the carboy and just waited until it didnt seem super hot. Then we added yeast.

In a couple of weeks bottled and the beer was weak in body, kind of funky but AWESOME. I couldn't get enough and look back on my first beer warmly. It wouldn't win any awards but it opened my eyes to what was possible. I had done nearly everything wrong; I boiled my grains, I didn't wash anything, our sanitation was horrific, I didn't educate myself at all, I pitched warm and I didn't hydrate my yeast but it still turned out ok.

Beer can be forgiving, but it will only forgive so much.