Northeast Times

So you've got a home brew kit…

In this week's edi­tion of Think Beer…Drink Beer, the Star's res­id­ent beer ex­pert Tim Pat­ton shares secrets for how to make a bet­ter batch of brew us­ing a pur­chased home brew kit.

I’ve dis­covered that a lot of friends found home-brew kits un­der their Christ­mas trees.

Well, it seems they got a gift that will keep on giv­ing.

Winter is a great time to get star­ted with a home-brew­ing hobby — es­pe­cially be­cause the cool­er in­door tem­per­at­ures make some com­mon mis­takes easy to avoid.

Even so, there are a few simple things every new home-brew­er can do to make that first beer come out even bet­ter and en­cour­age one to con­tin­ue brew­ing.

To help brain­storm ideas and solu­tions to com­mon pit­falls in brew­ing, I vis­ited Barry’s Homebrew at 1447 N. Amer­ic­an St. — and on­line at www.barry­shomebrew.com — and spoke to own­ers Nick Less and Jimmy Mc­Mil­lan.

“It’s easy to make good beer, and hard to make really hor­rible beer,” said Less, provid­ing a bit of en­cour­age­ment for first-time home-brew­ers.

The most im­port­ant thing to re­mem­ber is to take very ser­i­ously everything you’ve heard about clean­ing and san­it­iz­ing your bottles, buck­ets and oth­er in­stru­ments.

Why? Be­cause why would you want to spend hours brew­ing a batch and then weeks wait­ing to sample it, only to have to dump the batch of beer down the drain be­cause of in­fec­tion?

But as long as you are di­li­gent, this should rarely, if ever, oc­cur.

An­oth­er point Mc­Mil­lan made was that the brew­er should read all of the doc­u­ment­a­tion with the kit be­fore start­ing to brew. He has re­ceived many calls and ques­tions about kits he has put to­geth­er — and the an­swers already were spelled out. He em­phas­ized that he doesn’t mind tak­ing ques­tions from new brew­ers, but the pro­cess will go smooth­er if you don’t pan­ic halfway through, he said.

Both own­ers re­com­mend reach­ing out to the com­munity of brew­ers around you, wheth­er it is through a home-brew store or club, on­line for­ums — a site like www.homebrewtalk.com is a great place to start — or simply through friends who brew.

The book How to Brew, by John Palmer, is an ex­cel­lent re­source and can be found on­line for free. There also are books and Web sites to teach you how to clone your fa­vor­ite beers, which can be a good way to have something to com­pare to your home-brewed batch. Less said brew­ers who bring a bottle of beer to the shop can get ad­vice on what to im­prove.

Also, a few simple up­grades in equip­ment and in­gredi­ents in a premade kit can have a dra­mat­ic ef­fect on your beer. In my ex­per­i­ence, switch­ing from the li­quid ex­tract that comes with some kits to the dry-malt ex­tract will rid much of the “home-brew af­ter­taste,” as well as be much easi­er to man­age.

The li­quid ex­tract is like maple syr­up and can be­come quite a mess. This goes double if you have a Mr. Beer kit, in which the ex­tract is de­rived from corn and not bar­ley malt.

Con­versely, switch­ing from the dry-yeast pack­ets that are of­ten in­cluded in these kits to li­quid yeast can im­prove the qual­ity of the beer and also open up styles that you can­not brew with dry yeast.

The dry yeast is suit­able for an Amer­ic­an IPA or brown ale, but for a Bel­gian ale or a Ger­man Hefe­weizen, the yeast mat­ters as much as the in­gredi­ents.

Also, try to take ad­vant­age of the sea­son when you brew. If your base­ment is cold, try brew­ing a Kolsch beer. When the weath­er gets warm, brew a Bel­gian Triple or Sais­on. These will end up bet­ter than a Double IPA. These styles work bet­ter in the vari­ous sea­sons be­cause the dif­fer­ent yeasts are very sens­it­ive to tem­per­at­ure.

Mc­Mil­lan, at the home-brew shop, also sug­ges­ted up­grad­ing to a lar­ger buck­et than the ones sup­plied with many kits. If you are try­ing to brew two gal­lons of beer in a two-gal­lon buck­et, there will be over­flow as the yeast fer­ments.

For less than $10, you can get a three- or five-gal­lon buck­et and you will not lose any beer.

Fi­nally, the biggest threat to any home-brew­er’s ca­reer is dis­cour­age­ment.

But even if your first batch (or first few) doesn’t seem very good, keep on try­ing. You’ll soon fig­ure out how to brew a batch to suit your taste.

For more in­form­a­tion: Barry’s Homebrew hosts its Homebrew Club, which meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Fri­days of the month at the shop, 1447 N. Amer­ic­an St.  Batch tast­ings, brew talks and, of course, so­cial­iz­ing will en­sue.

Call­ing all homebrew­ers – Philly Beer Scene is spon­sor­ing a two-stage “Battle of the Homebrew Shops” with eight area homebrew shops, in­clud­ing Barry’s Home Brew and Home­sweet Homebrew (2008 Sansom St.). Two win­ners will be picked from each shop. The first stage is all ses­sion beers (beers 4.5% ABV or un­der). The second is cof­fee beer, but the beer can not be a port­er or a stout.  More de­tails at philly­beer­scene.com ••

Tim Pat­ton is a Fishtown res­id­ent, beer afi­cion­ado and brew­er. His column is ded­ic­ated to show­cas­ing everything that is great about en­joy­ing beer in the river­wards. He can be con­tac­ted at: tim@stben­jamin­brew­ing.com

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