Michael Quonce, marketing manager at Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center, has been brewing beer out of his home, which he’s dubbed West Grandin Bread and Brewing Company, with brew partner Jeremy Hardison for more than six years. As our featured guest blogger today, he has agreed to share some of what he knows about home brewing:
It’s time to brew your first beer: There is nothing like the smell of steeping grain in the morning, the anticipation of a brew day and the satisfaction of pouring each beer to realize you just brewed your own and … it’s absolutely fantastic!
If you are a craft beer fan, have been wanting to try it for a while but keep pushing it back, or were fortunate to receive a brewing kit over the holidays, here are a few pointers to get you in the right direction and ensure that your first batch competes with any commercially available beer on the market. Trust me. Take the leap. It’s easy!
First things first: Study up, learn the basics. There is a plethora of great information out there, from detailed books breaking down mash chemistry and fermentation to the finite details of the lovely yeast. My library consists of more than 10 books that are constant reference manuals when approaching brew days and lying around to stimulate the mind. Brewing is an evolving process, and learning is never ending. It’s what makes it fun. Before embarking with your first batch, it’s important to understand the basics of each step of the process, and a book that gives a general overview of the entire process, ingredients, brewing components and recipes is vital.
Books I recommend are: “How To Brew” by John Palmer (available online for free), “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian, or Dave Miller’s “Homebrewing Guide.” There are great podcasts online such as Basic Brewing Radio and The Brewing Network that feature great interviews with brewers and home brewers alike, and you can also check out Zymurgy, Brew Your Own and All About Beer magazines.
Equipment: This is an area that is very budget dependent and varies from brewer to brewer. Initial start-up to home brewing can be expensive but doesn’t have to be. Kits are a great way to go as they include almost everything you need to get started. They range in price from $70 to $300 but gets you your start-up home brewery in one purchase. The most vital piece of equipment you shouldn’t skimp on is the stainless steel brew kettle. Go as big as you can afford. I recommend a 7-gallon kettle and wouldn’t go smaller than 5 gallons. Of course you can go smaller, but when the brewing bug hits, you’ll wish you invested on the bigger kettle.
The absolute basic essentials you’ll need on your first brew day is a 3-gallon to 7-gallon kettle with a lid, a thermometer, ingredients, a hydrometer, cleaners and sanitizers, an 8-gallon to 10-gallon plastic bucket and a fermentation lock. Once fermentation is complete, you’ll also need priming sugar, siphon equipment, a bottle filler, a bottle brush, bottle caps and a bottle capper. There are a ton of bells and whistles you’ll come across in your research, but the above should get you through your first brew day.
There are three great places in southwest Virginia that sell kits, ingredients and equipment that will help you get started: Eats Natural Foods in Blacksburg, Pints O’ Plenty in Forest, and Blue Ridge Hydroponics & Home Brewing Company in Roanoke. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips, and talk to other brewers while you’re there. Also look to the Internet on Craigslist and eBay for used equipment that may come at a cheaper price.
Brew on, my friends. You have your first recipe picked out, and you’ve probably envisioned the brew day in your head. You’ve learned the process and the basics, you have all the equipment, now you are ready to brew. If possible, it’s helpful to find someone who’s done it before and have them help you with any questions along the way. Mis en place is a culinary term that comes into play every brew day. Have everything ready to go before you start. Follow the recipe, practice good cleanliness and sanitation, and have fun! Plan on the day taking anywhere 4 to 8 hours (depending on extract, partial mash or all grain brewing). If there is one thing I learned through brewing, it’s simply that patience is a virtue, and stressing out doesn’t help anything. I’m still not that skilled in either area, but if you prepare accordingly you’ll make it through the first batch and it’s going to be great.
I remember my first brew day like it was yesterday. Nervousness, excitement and stress were emotions that ran high that morning, but really I needed to just relax. In hindsight, it’s easy!
Ryan Worthington, a fellow home brewer and a brewmaster at Parkway Brewing Co. in Salem also shared some great advice for those getting started. “Be diligent with your cleaning and sanitizing. By doing so you are setting yourself up for success. A beer free from infection can give you a much clearer view of the beer’s true flavors that reflect your processes and will help you identify other problem areas of your processes that may need tweaking,” he said. “Make what you like, explore the world of beer and don’t be afraid to try something new. ”
Practice makes perfect. Congratulations are certainly in order after completing your first successful batch. Home brewing is a great club to be a part of. Now, the beer world becomes your oyster. Keep brewing, take good notes, try other recipes, visit breweries and explore the world of craft beer and home brewing. If you enjoyed it, you’ll dive deeper, try different techniques, experiment and get creative. I quickly went from extract to all-grain after three brew days. The more I brew, the better the beers are.
To get you moving further along, my advice is to get involved with a brew club. There are plenty right here in Southwest Virginia, such as the Star City Brewers Guild and the New River Valley Brewer’s Guild. Also, the American Homebrewers Association is a national organization with perks and resources. But most importantly, visit your local breweries, talk to the brewers and support the local beer scene. We are very fortunate to see the rise of craft beer hit Roanoke with full force this past year, and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch and take part in.
Remember: Great beer is easy to make. Homebrewing is a richly rewarding hobby that hooks all types of individuals, from gardeners and science fanatics to do-it-yourselfers and the curious of mind. I owe a huge thank you to Lindsey Nair for letting me try to pique the interest of those on the edge of their first batch and hope that this quick entry is enough to give you the push to try home brewing for yourself. Please feel free to email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!