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A homebrewing n00b

Homebrew Ingredients

Home Brewing

“Everyone who uses plastic fermenters has pushed the o-ring through the top and into the filled fermenter at least once. Don’t worry, your beer will be fine. Keep an extra o-ring handy for the next time.”

— From the “n00b” thread on

I really don’t need one more hobby; it’s not as if I am looking for things to do. I am backlogged everywhere in my life, from work to personal writing to Sandy’s Christmas present (a jumper cloned from a favorite old jumper of hers) to, I don’t know, STUFF and THINGS and EMAIL and READING and WHATEVAH.

But for over a month I’ve been mooning over the basic homebrew kits at Homebrew Den, Tallahassee’s homebrewing store. I didn’t really know why. I’ve always liked good beer, but we have a lot of that in Tallahassee. It’s not as if I have ever seen myself as Free Range Brewgal.

But I kept mooning and thinking about it. With a couple of small checks that floated in I felt it was ok to treat myself, so yesterday I  supported the local economy by taking home a kit of beermaking geegaws and a nice box mix (though that’s not what they call it) for a beer called 3 in a Bed Bitters, which reminded me of some of the great brews I drank in last fall’s visit to Oz.

Sandy was out of town, so this project became my Saturday night. I cooked and stirred and strained and sanitized and poured. (See the routine on Flickr.) It was largely relaxing (except for dropping the o-ring into the wort), somewhere between jam-making and sewing. Lots of attention to detail, lots of little steps.

Like writing, the payoff is slow and iffy (though I suspect it’s easier to make drinkable beer than get published). Like most skills and hobbies, it has its own special language, with new words such as wort (the liquid made from cooking malted barley, water, and other ingredients such as hops and flavorings) and words with new meaning such as pitch (the action of adding yeast to the wort).

Then on Sunday, between writing and some work-stuff and laundry and groceries and the cat-box, I browsed some more through The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, and on got a little acquainted with the homebrewing community, whose denizens share recipes left and right, swap sanitation tips, and work hard to be welcoming to newbies.

The homebrewing n00bs, in turn, have strangely similar experiences with home brewing. We all seem to drop the grommet in the wort. We all agonize that we didn’t sanitize well enough. We all worry that our beer is not working its mysterious magic off there in the dark corner where we have stowed our five gallons of hope.  Even the anxiety is comforting in its universality, and the typical response is RDWHAHB — “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Home Brew.”

(The worst that could happen is I have five gallons of liquid to pour down the sink. Whereas my IRAs… well, let’s not talk about that.)

The part I like the most, at this point, is that homebrewing is different.  It’s a break from the rest of my life — not work, writing, family, cats, Publix, laundry-folding, exercising, or WHATEVAH. But it’s also an easily-compartmentalized break, one I can plunge into on a Saturday night, and it’s highly accessible; you don’t need thousands of dollars or years of study or many painful hours staring at a monitor just to get in the door.

(It’s also a very male craft — I was greeted with an enthusiastic “Hi, Bro!” when I introduced myself on the beginner’s board — and I really don’t get that, since homebrewing feels so haimisch. But overall they seem to be pleasant enough guys, and I can think of worse things to call me than Bro.)

Plus, I realized, since I can cook, bake, sew, and garden, if I add “brew beer,” and throw in a goatherd or two (surely weaving and cheesemaking would be achievable), then Sandy and I can move off the grid and become Feral Women. 😉

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