by Mike Micalone
I'm not sure when my love for homebrewing really started; but, I can tell you that what started me down the path was a love for craft beers and a feeling that I can brew beer that was just as good as (if not better!) what some microbreweries were brewing.
My adventure in homebrewing started 10 years ago when I bought a Mr. Beer kit because I thought it would be a fun way to make some craft beers (which from what I can remember was just starting to get its legs under it as an industry) on the cheap. So, there I was in the kitchen of my first apartment after college, trying to brew this batch of beer using the stuff that came in the kits with no clue what I was doing. Did I pay attention to proper sanitation (a must in the brewing process) or that I got the beer to a proper temp to pitch the yeast for good fermentation? Not at all! But I had fun and despite drinking beer out of 2 liter soda bottles, I made some half-way decent beer.
Many life circumstances led to the 9 years I spent away from homebrewing. Thanks to Adam (and an increased passion for craft beers) I was led down a path that has brought me more joy, frustration, and anxiety than I would ever imagine. From clearing out the kitchen of any passersby to make sure no foreign agents infected my beer to watching in wonder as the fermentation lock first started to bubble (indicating my beer was fermenting and turning from a pile of sugar into awesome alcohol), I have been borderline obsessive about brewing. I purchased a basic setup to start brewing 5 gallon batches of beer and got started again.
My first brew, PMB (Post Mr Beer), with a true homebrewing kit went as well as can be expected. I was making an all extract version of a German Light beer from a kit I bought online. Seemed fairly simple: clean everything really well with a bleach type solution, boil some water, add the extract and hops to create a wort (the base of any beer), boil for 60 minutes, put it in a bucket, fill it up to 5 gallons, pitch the yeast, put the lid on, sit and wait a few weeks, bottle it and then wait a few more weeks to drink it. Ok, maybe not as simple as I thought once I write it down, but still not rocket science! Everything went perfectly up to the point when I needed to get the wort to a temperature so I could pitch the yeast. I waited 2 hours for the beer to cool (it started at a boil so I'm not sure why I would think it would cool that quickly) and eventually had to MacGyver it to bring it down in temp in a reasonable amount of time.
The beer came out well enough to make me want to try it again. This time it was an Oktoberfest for the Boston Brewin' homebrew club meeting being held at my house.
To add another level of complexity I decided to try and experiment with the hops I put in as well as add some actual grains rather than just doing an all extract version. Everything was going smoothly up to the very end when I went to put an airlock into a hole in the lid (this is used to tell when the beer is fermenting) and the rubber grommet used to hold the airlock in place fell right into the beer I just brewed. A little ingenuity saved the batch of beer (which came out surprisingly good!) and led me to keep brewing.
In the past year since I started to brew again I've brewed 10 batches of beer, each one increasing in complexity and with their own share of trials and tribulations. With this I have added more and more equipment and built a good relationship with my local brew shop, so I could get timely ingredients for my latest concoctions. I’ve read books, magazines, and forum posts on different brewing techniques. I've switched from bottling my beer to putting them in kegs and serving them off a dual tap kegerator. I've reused yeast that helped make a batch of beer to help ferment my next batch of beer. I converted a 5 gallon water cooler into a mash-tun (used to steep grains when brewing beer) so I could brew beer without extract (known as all-grain brewing). I planted two different types of hops on the side of my house and might try planting more depending on how this goes.
Through all of this my love for good quality beer continues as I strive for the perfect brew.
**A special thanks to Mike Micalone for his guest blog post! You can look forward to more posts by Mike in the near future. He can be found on Twitter under the handle @Mickle623!