I got into bed around 2300 last night. Anne followed a few minutes later, and was asleep a few minutes after that. I stayed awake reading until about 130, which is something I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. I can’t fall asleep before 130, no matter how hard I try, so rather than fight it, I just read until then, turn off the light, and drift off to the Dreamlands for 8 or 9 hours. Last night, I finished Mike Doughty’s Book of Drugs, which gets 5 of 5 stars from me.
But that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about beer. Specifically, the making of beer with my wife this weekend.
Last summer, my son Ryan spent a couple months with Anne and me between graduating college and starting his job. One day, he said to me, “We need a father/son hobby that we can do together while I’m here.”
“Yeah, that would be awesome,” I said, “what did you have in mind?”
“Let’s make beer together!”
Almost one year later, I’ve made 23 batches of homebrew. I’d say 17 of them have been good, 3 of them have been great, and 3 of them were... learning experiences.
I’ve learned a lot about brewing in a year. I’ve learned about the history of beer, the science behind brewing, and why certain styles of beer are the way they are. I’ve shared my passion with anyone who cares to listen, and I’ve found something that will be a life-long hobby.
Oh, also? About every five weeks, I have some new beer to drink and share with my friends and neighbors, that I made myself.
When I started brewing, I used extracts and very simple kits to make some tasty beers. I was happy with that for several batches, but eventually, I wanted to try my hand at brewing with grains instead of grain extract, so I could make my own version of Stone’s Pale Ale. I studied my homebrewing books, read hundreds of posts on forums, and eventually felt like I could give it a try. It wasn’t difficult at all, was actually a lot of fun, and ended up giving me one of those 3 great batches I mentioned.
Since then, I’ve done a mixture of extract and all grain brews, always following someone else’s recipe, or using a recipe kit I bought from Austin Homebrew Supply. I’ve spent a lot of time playing with software like Brewtarget 1.2.4 and Beersmith, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to design and brew my own recipe. That all changed when I was talking with Anne about beer, and she mentioned that she was very fond of IPAs that had a citrusy, piney hop character. I thought to myself, “You know what? I bet I could make my wife a beer that she’d like. I think I need to do that.”
But could I really do it? Could I really come up with a combination of grains and hops that would make good beer? What if it sucked? What if it was a waste of time and money?
As Charlie Papazian said, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” So what if it didn’t work? I’d keep good notes, make changes if necessary, and try again another time. I know it sounds silly, but it took me a few months to come to this conclusion, to have the courage to just go ahead and do it.
About two weeks ago, I sat down with some of my favorite books, opened Brewtarget, and got to work. It was easy and fun, and I came up with something that I thought was pretty decent I shared it with the Homebrewing Subreddit* and on my G+ thing for feedback from other homebrewers. I listened to everyone’s feedback and ideas, and tweaked and modified my original recipe until I was happy with it. On Wednesday last week, I went to my homebrew supply and bought 15.25 pounds of grains, a whole bunch of hops, and some yeast.
“I made your IPA recipe,” I told Anne. “I’m calling it #VandalEyesPA.”
“When are you making it?”
“Saturday. Want to help?”
“Yeah, that’ll be fun.”
So Anne and I spent Saturday afternoon making beer together. I explained to her what each step did -- doing so helped me stay focused on what I was doing, and seemed to deepen my understanding of the process -- and we took tons of pictures of the whole thing. There was even some live-Twitter-blogging (isn’t all Twittering “Live Twittering”?) of the afternoon, using the hashtag #VandalEyesPA”**
It was a beautiful afternoon, warm but not hot, with just a tiny breeze to keep us comfortable. Our dogs played on the patio while we sat out there, our cats chased bugs and birds and each other around the yard. All the while, we stirred the boiling wort, made sure we weren’t boiling off too much, and documented the entire experience for each other and anyone in the world who wanted to follow along.
The entire process took about 6 hours from the time I heated water for the mash until we pitched the yeast, and they were 6 of the happiest hours of the year for me. Anne and I spend a lot of time together, (we are absolutely the best of friends in addition to being married) but we’ve both been so busy this year, we haven’t had a lot of time to actually do something together like this, just for the sheer joy of it.
When we were finally finished and I was putting the fermentation bucket into the guest bathroom (where it stays cooler than any other room in the house), I said to Anne, “I’m so glad that we did this together.”
“I had a good time,” she said.
“And now this is our beer, which makes me feel a lot happier than I thought it would.”
“When will it be ready?”
“It should be done fermenting in about 7 days, so I can rack it to clear when I get back from Toronto.”
I started to explain what that meant, but she cut me off. “I know what that means,” she said. I guess I talk about this stuff a lot; I'm nerdy that way.
“Anyway, the important thing is that it should be ready to drink about 6 weeks from today.”
“Eat all the sugars, little yeasties,” I said as I double-checked the blowoff tube and settled the fermentation bucket into a tub filled with cool water. I looked at Anne. “I talk to my yeast. You know, because I’m not crazy.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
I dried my hands and we walked out, closing the bathroom door behind us.
“You want to watch Game of Thrones?” Anne asked me.
“Yes. Yes I do.”
A perfect end to a perfect day.
*I love Reddit for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason I spend more time there than any other site is the small communities of awesome people in the smaller subreddits. If there’s a thing you love, there’s probably a subreddit for it, and the odds are very good that the signal to noise ratio doesn’t suck.
**Anne puts googly eyes on everything, and calls it “#VandalEyes.”