Sunday, February 8, 2015

2014: My Year in Brewing

My first brew in a 5gal turkey fryer
I was introduced to homebrewing in April of 2013 by a buddy of mine. Initially we had a pretty small setup: mash tun (Gatorade cooler), brew kettle (turkey fryer), fermenter (pail/carboy). We had a separate pot for a hot liquor tank, or maybe it was just a pail? The memory is foggy. Could be that it was so long ago, could be that we were partaking in the goodness that is beer whilst brewing. Either way, the result of our first seven hour session brewing together (my first session, not his) was a potentially delicious Imperial Dunkelweizen. We named it "The Imperious Dunkel Weizenheimer". I say potentially delicious because as the beer was being transferred from primary to secondary fermentation, there was a carboy slip and the brew was lost. We did end up re-brewing a few weeks later, and when all was said and done we had a pretty glorious beer. It was roughly 11% ABV and I remember drinking my last one in May, 2014. It definitely stood up to the test of time.

Apartment Brewing

Apartment Brewing Setup
Fast forward to December, 2013. I was living in a one-bedroom apartment, wondering how I could brew inside without killing myself with CO poisoning. I went out to Canadian Tire one day and picked up an induction cooktop (http://goo.gl/WGH6DV) to do my bidding. I had borrowed the brewing equipment that I had used for my first couple of batches, and wondered why it wouldn't work. I decided to google "Induction Cooking" and found out that you need cookware designed for (or compatible with) induction cooking. Wups. I was pretty bummed out, but on Christmas day I opened up an induction-ready brew kettle! Score. Without further ado, I started re-planning my first solo project: a caramel hefeweizen, the name of which I have forgotten. It was New Year's day, and my brewing setup was quite interesting. My transfer setup was the Gatorade cooler mash tun on a kitchen chair, with the brew kettle sitting atop the induction cooktop on the floor. My hot liquor tank was a series of smaller pots to provide the appropriate amount of water for sparging, all heating up on my stove top. It was definitely an adventure, and the beer turned out to be pretty tasty!

Garage Brewing

Initial Garage Setup
After brewing a few batches in early 2014, I took possession of my freshly built house, purchased way back in 2012. What's the first thing I did? Got my brewing setup back in action, that's what. Having bought a new table and chair set, I put my old chair to good use. I bought a Bayou classic banjo burner, and left my old turkey fryer at my sister's house, so I can brew with my brother in-law without carting all of my gear around. I purchased the borrowed equipment I had been using - at a steal, I might add - as the two co-owners of the equipment now work at Beyond the Pale and Kichesippi breweries here in Ottawa, and now get to play with much bigger kit (the fact that I benefit from their new careers makes me a little less jealous). At this point I had  a pretty small setup in the garage, and I used it to brew eight batches before summer broke through. On the first weekend of summer (the Solstice), and the week after, I managed to get six batches brewed whilst merging my kit and another buddy's kit. This provided us with a whole new level of capability! (Picture of latest brew kit not included, as it is located elsewhere, presently)

Moving Forward

Brewing has become my Zen, and I fully intend to pursue it as a hobby, potentially as a business. Now that I have a decent brewing setup, I am continuously learning more about the brewing process, as well as working on developing a new setup and including as much techno-geekery as I possibly can. I brewed 26 batches in 2014 (my goal was 24), and I'm hoping to increase that exponentially in 2015. I've got a small team of taste testers who give me constant feedback - good or bad, objective and subjective - who I try to keep laden with new beers. I'm always on the lookout for more tasters. I have thought about an Ottawa-based brewery startup, but I am also considering Bancroft, my home town, where I could partner up with my brother in-law, a chef-owner of a local establishment there. For now, I'm just playing with ideas, but the main point is that I love brewing, and plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future - hopefully bringing as many of my friends along for the ride as possible.