You may have recently had a chance to meet Andrew Bell, our experimental brewer who oversees what's happening on our pilot system. Andrew has been a fan of The Bruery for a long time, and we were stoked to hire him on two years ago to brew on our team. Before he brewed professionally, he was an avid homebrewer and a bit of a beer geek, (and we like that).
When did you start homebrewing?
A few years before I was legally allowed to purchase alcohol. I started by making ciders and eventually moved on to brewing early on in my college career. I was curious about the science behind fermentation, as well as seeing if I could actually create something good.
What's in your carboy right now?
I do not homebrew as often as I use to, but that said I still have a few things in carboys. At home I generally brew IPAs, lagers and a lot of sours. Most of what I have at home are sours or otherwise funky beers -- a few brett fermented beers, a Flemish red, base sours to be fruited. I also have three year's worth of Lambics for blending into a gueuze when I have time. Non beer wise, I have a buckwheat honey mead, two ciders (one that is spontaneously fermented), and a wine made from peaches from my parents' peach trees. My homebrewing setup is not all that special, except that I have 18 carboy fermenters.
What was your biggest disaster?
I've never used any pre-made kits or other peoples' recipes when I homebrew. This has lead to some very tasty and unique beers but there have been a few speed bumps along the way, especially before I was really comfortable with malt in designing beer recipes. For my second batch of beer (which was a partial mash) I really wanted to make an Imperial Chocolate Stout. I was looking at different types of malt on an online recipe calculator. I saw chocolate malt, and said to myself, "Hey, I want a chocolate-y beer, lets use a lot of this chocolate malt". The recipe had something like 30% chocolate malt, in addition to a somewhat cocoa-butter heavy cocoa powder addition, yielding a completely undrinkable oil slick of a beer.
Do you have a, "Whoa it was super cool this one time this thing happened!" moment you can share?
My first batch of cider, which was the first thing I ever fermented and I started it before I owned a hydrometer. It was four gallons of store bought apple juice, about 8 lbs of turbinado sugar, and fermented with champagne yeast for about two weeks. I purchased a hydrometer before bottling it and it finished at 1.000. The starting gravity had to have been around around 1.110 SG. With only two weeks of fermentation/conditioning, the first few bottles tasted like rocket fuel. About three months later, with all but a few bottles consumed, my friends and I cracked open a bottle to find that this monster evolved into something quite pleasant and elegant; almost champagne-like in its dryness and effervescence and without the fusel alcohol that it use to have. I opened up my last bottle about six years later and it was absolutely fantastic!
What advice do you have for a new homebrewer?
When starting out focus on sanitation and then fermentation. You can try to create something crazy, but without proper sanitation or fermentation practices, you are not going to make good beer.