Homebrewing: The Unexpected Pitfalls

Here at Man Cave Daily, we love beer. We love beer like Sgt. Kilgore loves the smell of napalm in the morning. Like Michelangelo loves being a turtle. Like Brick loves lamp. So it stands to reason that we love homebrewing. No longer the sole domain of convicts and railway hobos, homebrew is attracting more people than ever with the promise of cheap, clean, and delicious beer made right in their own kitchen and/or man shed. There’s never been a better time to jump on the homebrewing bandwagon, but before you go throwing any old nonsense in a bucket there are some things you should be prepared for. Take heed, adventurer, for the path to beer enlightenment is fraught with unexpected peril. Here are a few inevitable hiccups the amateur brewer is likely to run into…

(all pictures taken by Steve for Man Cave Daily)

Your Brew Might Explode

So you’ve decided to homebrew. You’ve bought your starter kit with your bucket, syphon tube and pressure barrel, and if you’re sensible you’re probably starting with a pre-made wort that comes with easy to follow instructions. What could go wrong?

My first homebrew kit! (chair not include)

My first homebrew kit! (chair not included)

Well, if you thought that homebrewing would be the one kitchen activity you could take part in that didn’t result in explosions then…I’m afraid I have some bad news. Even pre-made worts require you to add your own sugar, and a slippage in the amount of priming sugar you put in your bottles could be the difference between filling your home with tiny fragmentation grenades or- worse- flat beer.

Taste explosion or actual explosion? Only time will tell...

Taste explosion or actual explosion? Only time will tell…

Miscalculating your sugar (or over-priming, if you want to get fancy) leads to an excess build up of carbon dioxide, which at the least can pop the tops off your bottles, or possibly even split your pressure barrel, spilling gallons of precious, precious beer into the ungrateful carpet.

Your Brew will Look and Smell Terrible

Just so you know, you'll have to put that tube in your mouth.

Just so you know, you’ll have to put that tube in your mouth.

Ever notice how that, after a heavy night on the beer, you wake up and your own gastric system is trying to poison you? The beer didn’t smell like refried anus before you drank it, so what gives? Well, steel yourself, amateur brewer, for you are about to meet your beer without its makeup on. You’ve probably noticed that your pre-made wort looks a little like delicious treacle. You’ll quickly learn that it doesn’t smell like delicious treacle. It smells like the farts of a bitter, bitter old man, and so too will your house if you’re brewing indoors. “So what?” You say, cracking your knuckles, possibly. “I’m a fully grown man with a man’s nose and I’m not afraid of you!” Well that’s peachy, but let’s now take a look at your brew. After you sprinkle on your brewers yeast and you wait couple of days before checking on your secret, stinky, beer baby, you’ll notice that your brewing bucket suddenly looks like a goomba threw up in Jabba the Hutt’s spittoon.

Just keep telling yourself this will all be delicious one day.

Just keep telling yourself this will all be delicious one day.

See, the yeast has been eating through your fart juice and pooping it out, effectively making it into condensed fart juice. Fart squared, if you will.

Left at the bottom of your fermenting bucket will be a yeast cake. Under no circumstances must you present this to someone on their birthday.

Left at the bottom of your fermenting bucket will be a yeast cake. Under no circumstances should you present this to someone on their birthday.

If it helps, just think of this as the ugly chrysalises from which the beautiful butterfly of your beer is born. At least, that’s what you want to happen…

You Will Make A Bad Batch and it will be the Saddest Day of Your Life

So you’ve sterilised your equipment, you’ve measured your priming sugar to the last grain, you’ve done everything by the book. Now comes the waiting, the eager anticipation of the birthing of your hand-crafted ambrosia. It’s been weeks, possibly months, of pacing the kitchen floor, a pack of celebratory cigars clutched in your eager hands. Finally, you open up your first bottle, pour it out into a glass and…

No mere photo can capture how truly disappointing this beer is.

No mere photo can capture how truly disappointing this beer is.

…despair that a yeti has broken into your house and peed in all your bottles… What happened? What went wrong? Why would a yeti even be in your home? How are you supposed to get wasted on yeti pee? This was my first personal experience of homebrewing, and I still don’t know what went wrong. All I know is that my thirty-eight bottles of love and care betrayed my trust faster than Lando Calrissian at a strip club. It stung, I tell you. It stung. Even now those awful bottles sit upon my shelf, a poignant reminder of the fickleness of fate. I keep them there in the faint hope that a cocktail of time, optimism and eventual forgiveness might turn them into something halfway drinkable. What to do if you find yourself in this situation? Well, you can always turn to your fellow homebrewers on the internet, right?

All homebrewers Are Bizarre Aliens

At this point we’re strictly amateur, and so it’s kind of expected that stepping into a forum of seasoned veterans is going to be a little strange at first. What you don’t expect is to inadvertently gatecrash a convention for psychotic wizards and guerrilla homeopaths.

The first thing you realize going into a homebrew forum is how little you know about the subject. No pre-made worts and instruction manuals for these beer magi– they moved on to hand-picked ingredients and Walter White-style lab setups decades ago. You’re at the foot of a strange, steep mountain, and the mountain is filled with drunk guys shouting secret recipes at you. The only other amateurs you’re likely to find are just like you–poor schmucks who’ve wandered in off the streets with what they thought was a simple question, only to find themselves backing away slowly as some vets babble at them in their crazy moon language about the time they brewed prison wine with nothing but a boot, a potato and a lactating rat.

Arcane terminology and troubling anecdotes aside, the second thing you’ll notice about the veterans is that they seem to be permanently drinking beer. I clicked on this video in a vain attempt to find out what the hell I was supposed to do with a hydrometer:  Most of the video was spent drinking a huge glass of beer. If I wanted to look at some guy drinking a beer when he’s supposed to be working, I’d look in the damn mirror. The guys in the homebrew forums are certainly as friendly, passionate and accommodating a bunch as you could hope to meet, but it’s going to be a while before you know what the hell they’re talking about.

You Will Become An Insufferable Bore

"Of course I drink my homebrew from a dragon tankard. What do you think I am, some kind of joke?"

“Of course I drink my homebrew from a dragon tankard. What do you think I am, some kind of joke?”

The first time I brewed a successful batch of homebrew I felt like a storied Saint. Forget water into wine, I had transformed fart juice into delicious beer. It was a simple bitter made from a basic kit, but I must have prayed to the right beer demon because it tasted like something vikings would sing songs about.

Me and my tasting buddy got through half a barrel’s worth and- here’s the thing- we woke up the next morning feeling as clear as a bell. No headache, no unstable guts, no hangover at all. Of course, I had to share my findings with the world. And so I did, ranting on about my magic homebrew to anybody who’d listen. And when I ran out of people who would listen, I began ranting at the people who wouldn’t. Pretty soon I was knocking on the doors of strangers, desperate to spread the good word while they hid behind their sofas and pretended they weren’t home. In short, I had made the leap from convert to zealot in a very short amount of time– and you will too.

Remember those crazy guys from the forums with the wild look in their eye and a pint of IPA seemingly welded permanently to their hand? Those people are you, from the future. Homebrewing is your world now, and it will never, ever let you go.

Steve is expecting a fresh batch of homebrew anytime now. He plans on taking it to little league and buying it ice cream. Follow him on twitter or check out his books. Or for more beer related adventuring from Steve check out Judging a Beer by it’s Label.

More from Steve Wetherell

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