Birthing and Raising My First Homebrew

Posted in Homebrewing on June 28, 2011 by talkingpints

I have never fathered a child though I now have a sense of what it feels like. A bold statement I know, but bear with me in this comparison. My first batch of homebrew was a harrowing experience, so much doubt and trepidation over my possible missteps mixed with an overwhelming excitement over the final product. In retrospect, the stages of brewing beer feel very much as I imagine the same as an expectant parent would experience from pregnancy onward. This is the tale of my Kolsch.

Cooking my wort went relatively smoothly. I had done lots of reading beforehand (like any nervous parent with access to on the subject and had a timetable ready to go. I hit a snag when my wort cooler turned out to be the wrong shape and it took about an hour for me to get it down to the right temperature to pitch the yeast. This being my first brew, I tried to be super cautious about accidentally infecting the cooled wort. Got to keep that baby healthy right?

Primary fermentation carboy

During the fermentation stage, I would sit down on the floor next to my carboy and watch the bubble escape the airlock and the krausen (foam produced during primary fermentation) fluctuate from day to day. Seeing the bubbling increase in rate was much like feeling a baby kicking in a woman’s stomach. It was a reassurance that something was in there and that it was working. Since this was my first attempt at making my own beer, I would run out of fingers trying to count the possible ways I could rendered my wort inert to the powers of yeast. Assuming of course that I pitched the yeast right in the first place.

Learning to practice good sanitation was a must. In retrospect is was not that difficult but the veritable library of literature I consumed before even getting my wort boiling emphasized the importance of maintaining sterile equipment. This made moving my beer from the primary fermentation carboy to the secondary one a little unsettling. I did not want a metaphorical dingo to eat my baby so I fussed like a mother hen and probably used a lot more sanitizer than was needed. Not knowing how to use my siphon did not help. Once again, 20/20 hindsight upon discovering how easy it was made me laugh at myself but at the time I was ignorant of my own devices.

Bottling day came and went, which was kind of like birth. I was racked with nerves about accidentally oxidizing the beer as I filled it by hand or some infection befalling my scion. Also, sticky liquids got everywhere. But there it was, my proverbial baby was in its proverbial crib. All I had to do now was wait for it to mature so I could do father son activities with it, like drink it.

Finally enough time passed and the priming sugars had done their work, Carbonation was a go and it was time to see what kind of a man my beer had grown up to be. Choosing a fittingly ornate glass for the occasion, I opened a bottle and poured. The head was bountiful and lasting and the hue a perfect golden amber, slightly darker than expected but not unappreciated. Light floral notes eschewed from the glass as I raised it to my lips and the first sip confirmed what I was desperately hoping for. Not only was my beer free of any of the odd tastes that are telltale signs of infection or a misstep in the brewing process, it was actually much better tasting than I would have ever had expected it to be.

Oh ya, drink it in

I was a proud papa. Bringing the glass away from my mouth, I marvelled at the carbonation held within the glass. For some reason I could not stop thinking I made this, these bubbles are my creation. This beer is delectable and it is the product of my hand. Like I said before, I am not a parent but these seem like parental thoughts. At least they strike me as so. And given time, if cellared properly (and for not terribly long, I know its a Kolsch), my beer will grow even better as time progresses.


Broken Glassware

Posted in Beer Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2011 by talkingpints

I have come to the conclusion that one of the most ephemeral things in the world is a beer glass. My friend was recently lamenting to me that all of the glasses I had given him after college were being slowly decimated by his room-mates. Every now and then he would come home to that find one less of the herd remained.  Thus is the circle of life for a beer glass. They come and they go. The beer gods giveth and the beer gods taketh. Its hard not to have a favorite glass. Perhaps there is a special memory behind it, or maybe its emblazoned with a really cool logo. Nevertheless, it was not meant to last forever and, to keep perspective on what is important about drinking beer,  we must let go when the time comes.

Proper glassware is a must for the beer aficionado. Its common knowledge that beer should be decanted before imbibing. Some would even take it further and say that each style of beer demands a specific shape of drinking vessel to fully showcase color and retain carbonation and bouquet. Even if you don’t invest in a cabinet full of high-end Belgian stemware, chances are that you at least have some tumblers clandestinely acquired from the bar or from a brewery tour.

Photo By: Rockin Rob

After a while you start to become emotionally attached to these things. No shame in admitting it. But that just makes it all the harder when your friend fumbles it, sending it plunging to the ground in the deadly dance of gravity. Your beloved lay there shattered like Humpty Dumpty on the floor. And there is no putting him back together again. Predictably, a feeling of anger rises as an apology is proffered. This meek supplication will not do though, he or she does not know the bond you and that glasses formed. All of the memories you shared together and all of the good times that will never be.

And therein lies the conundrum from the way I see it. Beer is about gemutlichkeit as the Germans would say. We don’t have an equivalent word, it kind means “coziness” but we can interpret it to mean “friendship through good times”. We get together to drink not to generate animosity, but rather to bond and make merry. Treat your glassware like a lover you met on vacation, enjoy it while lasts but be prepared to let go when the time comes. Also, is drinking not about the beer rather than the vessel? The glass is merely a means of conveyance in the end, so let us not attribute to much to them.

There are few certainties in life: Death, taxes and the breaking of glasses. Once we have accepted the inevitability of these seemingly cataclysmic events, we can begin to cope our losses and focus on what really matters.