Monday, March 25, 2013

Talking with the Bristols about Brewing at Home

Our dear friends Clark and Jessie are very knowledgeable about beer. They have been brewing at home for over a year now. Here they share some tips for getting started and also suggest a few of their favorite craft beers for your next get-together!

We got started home brewing when we got married. A few of my coworkers gave us all of the necessary equipment as a wedding gift. Specifically, they gave us the 'deluxe' kit from Northern Brewer, a great home brew supply store and website. 

The first few batches of beer that we made were based on kits (recipe+ingredients) that we ordered from Northern Brewer. Recipes are definitely the way to go at the beginning because the results are guaranteed to be good (assuming you pick a kit that is highly reviewed) and the kits are always cheaper than buying the ingredients separately. After making a couple of recipes you develop a pretty good sense of the typical ratio of ingredients, the flavor contributions of different types of yeast, and how variations in the ingredients will affect the result.

We have come up with a few recipes of our own, some good, others "interesting." I have a tendency to go overboard with certain ingredients when making up my own recipes.

The three best beers that we have made have all been from Northern Brewer kits: Caribou Slobber, Rye Stout, and Farmhouse Bierre de Table. Caribou Slobber is intended to be a clone of a beer called moose drool, which I have never had. It is a caramelly brown ale with a little extra hops. Rye Stout is exactly what it sounds like, and quite delicious if you don't mind a dark beer. The Bierre de Table is a French-style pale ale that has a great peppery flavor to it resulting from the yeast.

The main challenges of home brewing in a small apartment are related to temperature. One challenge is chilling the wort after brewing and before fermenting. The goal is to cool 2.5 gallons of sugary liquid down from boiling to 90 or 100 degrees as quickly as possible. The only method that we currently have for doing this is to put the pot in an ice water bath in our sink, which can take as long as an hour depending upon how much ice we have. The other temperature-related issue is fermentation. Our apartment is small and old, with hot water heat, so we have to ferment all of our beers at 70-75 degrees. If we had a basement or a dedicated refrigerator we could use different varieties of yeast that work better at lower temperatures.  

The best part of brewery tours for me is learning about nontraditional techniques that a brewery may use in the beer-making process. For example, we recently went on a tour of the Jackalope brewery in Nashville and learned that they add maple syrup to one of their beers post-fermentation. This circumvents the problem with using things like syrup and honey in beer, which is that these ingredients are almost entirely fermentable and will normally be consumed by the yeast during fermentation and converted to alcohol, losing their unique flavors.

Buy an equipment starter kit and try it out! I have seen some small-scale starter kits (to make 1 gallon of beer) available online. One problem with these kits is that they only allow for making a dozen 12-oz bottles of beer at a time.  They are a great way to test the waters to see if you enjoy brewing, but probably not an efficient way to replace store-bought beer in your life, unless you plan on brewing relatively frequently or drinking your home brew relatively infrequently.

 1. Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien (from BFM Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes). This might be the best sour beer that I have ever had. Unfortunately, it might be hard to find. I recently discovered it and have seen it available only twice, once at Meridian Pint, the other at Churchkey in Washington, D.C.

2. Rogue Dead Guy Ale- An ale in the style of a German Maibock (traditionally a lager, not an ale).

3. Hop Slam- This is a winter seasonal from Bell's.


  1. A wonderful hobby for scientist/artists!!! Wait till you try Icelandic Beer...there is something good going on up in that north country. Not sure if its the long nights (drinking) or the midnight sun (brewing)!!!