One of my favorite things about craft beer is that the enjoyment of it offers something for each of our five senses; it can be a completely sensory experience.
Of the five, though, when it comes to beer, I believe smell is the one that brings me the most satisfaction. And that’s not only true when drinking it. In fact, it’s even more important to me when brewing. Truth be told, one of my absolute favorite things in the entire world is the smell of warm malt in wort. It’s sweet, earthy, and as comforting to me as any bowl of chicken soup a grandmother ever made.
It’s ironic, then, that I haven’t made any beer in a long time. I made my first batch of home brew in the spring of 2001, shortly after I got married. My neighbor and I didn’t have much idea what we were getting into, but we liked having an excuse to enjoy a few decent brews and dove in, head-first. Surprisingly, somehow, our first batch was one of the best I’ve ever had a hand in making. I concocted the recipe myself using an online tool, and to this day I’m still not sure what style of beer it belongs to. When I’d buy ingredients for it, the guys at the shop would ask what I was brewing. Not being sure how to answer, I would often just say, “an amber”. I guess there is an American Amber nowadays, but a decade ago that earned me a chuckle and the response that amber was a color, not a style.
Well, whatever it was, I loved it. The Rusty Nail, the beer born of that first recipe, was, in fact, deeply amber. It was also hoppier than just about any beer I’d ever had to that point. Of course, that was years before I fell in love with IPAs, but that’s beside the point. What really made me happy was that I’d produced something I’d never found in a store. And it wasn’t just floral and bitter; it had the perfect strength of malt to bring everything into balance. In retrospect, I think I’ve always thought so fondly of the Nail because for my palette, it was just the right balance of sweet and sour, somehow all at the same time.
That’s not to say, of course, that my home brewing career was always sunshine and unicorns. For our second batch, we’d decided to run before really walking, which meant trying our hand at a chocolate stout. Not knowing any better, we used real, actual melted chocolate. Chocolate contains fat, which I now understand doesn’t get along too well with a thick foamy head. Our stout came out of the bottle flatter than a pancake. Pouring it was a disappointment. Drinking it was even worse. But you can bet we drank every last pint of it.
It just took us a while.
Over the course of my brewing experiences, I’ve had different homebrew partners, and different successes and failures with each. My original home brew buddy and I used to laugh at how we’d “pan for hops” with every brew, because we used leaf hops and would have to push the hop bed around in a colander to get the wort to drain through. Another of my brewing pals and I made the best porter and brown ales of my life, respectively, but also saw a batch nearly ruined when a glass brewing thermometer shatter mid-boil.
And I still can’t talk about that one boilover. The Puddinette was pretty sure we were going to have to move, or at least completely remodel the kitchen.
Sadly, I haven’t made any home brew for a long time. Between the kids and school, work and writing, giving quality time to the Puddinette, and trying to squeeze in an hour or two of entertainment for myself every week, it’s tough to put together enough time and energy to do it and make sure it gets done right.
But I’ve had myself a hankering, lately; I need some Rusty Nail. And then, to give me the push I needed, Josh, a twitter acquaintance of mine (who also happens to be Hoperative #245), recently brewed his first batch at home, and even blogged about his trip to pick up supplies. His experience (including the harrowing risk of boilover) brought back fond memories for me, and seems to have given me inspiration.
So, then, I’ve decided. It’s time I made myself some beer.
Sometime in the next week or so, I’m going to brew 5 gallons of Rusty Nail. But, you know what? If I’m going to do that, I might as well share. Consider this, then, a call to all home brewing Hoperatives: let’s have some kind of swap meet for home brew. Who wants to get together and exchange a few sips of their homemade beer? I don’t know when, where, or how, but if you’re interested, I am too. So leave a comment, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or one to Tom and Carla at email@example.com, and we’ll cobble together some manner of homebrew event.
In the meantime, it’s time to get my equipment out of storage.
I can’t wait until my house smells like malt again.