Homebrewing Roundtable
Sep 28, 2022


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Homebrew roundtable

Part II
Real Beer: Not to discount the gravity of a poor economy or the value of a harmonious homebrewing community, but there are subjects that are much more fun to discuss. Let's start with something really basic: Can you really make better beer at home than you can buy?

Sean Quinlan: I cannot. Some people can.

Ray Daniels: It is certainly possible to make beer at home that is every bit as good as the best beer you can buy. Having said that, homebrewing is not just about getting the best quality product any more than gardening, baking or home photography are. Pride of craftsmanship and the creative process -- leavened with a bit of economic value -- drive a lot of what all these hobbies are about.

For these reasons, I think that homebrewed beer can be, and often is, more enjoyable than any beer you can buy. The opportunity to make a unique beer by your own hand and to be able to afford to share five gallons of it with your friends - that's what makes homebrewing irresistible to many folks.

Lynne O'Connor: Some can, some can't but it doesn't matter much. The process is more important than the drinking.

Andy Anderson: You can make better beer than most commercially available beer and you can also make worse beer than anything on the market. The choice is up to you :)

Seriously, though, you have the potential to make better beer than most commercial beer because you are not tied down to profitability concerns. You can use more expensive ingredients, or be wasteful in certain processes if you believe it makes a better product. I make a pale ale with all English Maris Otter in a no-sparge process. The malt costs more and my grain bill is higher, but I think it makes a better product. However my local microbrewery could not due this, as their profit margin would disappear.

But before anyone runs off thinking that I believe homebrew is always better quality than commercial beer, please keep in mind one caveat: the homebrewer has to fully understand basic concepts such as sanitation and yeast viability if he is to fully realize his potential. Better ingredients alone do not make better beer; understanding the brewing process is the key to success.

Dan Juliano: You can make the beer you want. It's exactly like cooking, where you can make what you want. You decide how good it will be.

Real Beer: When did you brew your first beer, how old were you and what was it? How would you do it differently today?

Ray Daniels: I brewed my first beer in 1989 when I was just settling into my 30s. At the time, I was a dedicated beer drinker with a preference for imports like Beck's and Bass but I survived on a steady diet of Old Style. I viewed brewing as something of a lark: I figured it might be fun to do once or twice, just for the experience. Little did I know where that first can of extract was going to lead me.

In any case, the product of that first effort (it was a simple kit beer) was pretty good - certainly as tasty as what I was buying at bars. In quick succession, I brewed two more beers: a dark ale from a kit and an IPA that included home-toasted grains and some finishing hops. Fortunately I had already brewed the IPA before the dark ale was ready to drink or I might not be writing this today. The dark ale was a stinker of profound proportions. It was so bad that only one of my beer-swilling friends would touch it. Having set the dark ale aside, I tasted the IPA with some trepidation. Fortunately, it was fantastic. To my just-awakening palate, it was the best beer I'd ever had. It was that beer that cemented my relationship with brewing.

Frankly, I wouldn't change a thing about that early experience. For me it was perfect. The early beers were simple and rewarding. As I brewed more beers, I added refinements to the process: I built a wort chiller, switched to un-hopped extract, started proofing my dry yeast, etc. This step-by-step adoption of the hobby kept me interested and helped me develop solid skills and procedures over a number of brews instead of going out and trying to do everything all in one fell swoop. I'm terrified by people who do all-grain brews as their first batch.

Sean Quinlan: I started homebrewing in Tennessee in 1994 because there was no alternative. In California I haven't brewed as much because there are so many choices. I only live a couple of blocks from the Toronado (one of the best bars for beer drinkers in the country). Some friends in grad school and I made a stout. It was so incredibly overprimed and overcarbonated you couldn't hardly pour it. Other than not overpriming it I would change anything. It was really a tasty beer.

Dan Juliano: It was 1991 and my room got a kit for his 21st birthday. We made a bitter ale -- at the time we had no idea what that was but we thought it was great. By my present standards it probably sucked, but it made us happy and got us interested so I wouldn't change anything.

Andy Anderson: My first beer was brewed in the winter of 1987 when I was 24. It was my roommate who actually brewed the beer. I mainly just watched. However, that planted the seed in me. Although it took six years for the seed to germinate, as I did not start brewing on my own until 1993. The first beer I brewed on my own was a sweet stout, or at least I hoped it would be. It was an extract where I pre-boiled all the make-up water and took cares not to splash it when I added it to the wort. The net result was a wort with no oxygen which finished fermenting at only 2% abv. Within 6 months I had 2 cases of bottle bombs when a lactic infection took over.

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