Brewing with a Friend… or Adopta’Brewer™

Mike prepping to batch sparge

One of the joys of home brewing is sharing the results with friends, and even better, making new friends through the experience. Just over a year ago, a new home was built across the street, and I took some beer over to introduce ourselves. He realized just how deeply I was into the hobby/obsession with the tour of the garage brewery! I invited Mike to come and help brew, delighted as he dove in and has become a good brewing assistant. I have been very appreciative of my brewing mentors, both commercial brewers and accomplished home brewers from the Austin Zealots. It is nice to pass along the knowledge.

So it is common to get a text Friday evening to ask, “Are we brewing tomorrow?” And in just a few brewing sessions, he has come around to understanding the basics. Mike is an engineer, and the attention to detail serves him very well! I think he was sold on brewing when we kegged up the first batch we brewed together – a light Belgian Blonde ale – and served it at their housewarming party for about 40 people, paired up with spicy crawfish boil. It was a major hit and a nice treat on an otherwise very hot evening. 10 gallons tapped out in about 2 hours.

Mike is an Auburn alum, and a big supporter of the Packers and Saints. Saturdays and Sundays are somewhat sacred, so brewing is an early venture to be finished in time for the game. And Mike’s further investment in a dual-tap tower kegerator keeps the beer flowing for the friends and neighbors that swing by for the games.  In most cases, Mike will get a corny from whatever is ready to serve. The real challenge is that Mike’s friends can quickly kill a keg or two.

He decided he needed to learn to brew with his own system AND wanted to do all-grain. Brought a tear to my eye! This was also a great way for me to pass along some spare gear, and we put together a short list of needs. Ultimately, he headed to the new SoCo Homebrew shop in South Austin, and walked out with a much lighter wallet, a pretty nice cooler/kettle combo with fermenter and a first recipe. He will inherit some carboys and various spare parts. Mike also repurposed a refrigerator that now does duty as a fermenter.

Two weeks ago, Sunday, was the inaugural run. I had one of my mentors over brewing with me on the Brew-Magic, and Mike wandered over with tables and gear and setup outside my garage. Having Neil, from ScottishBrewing.com, brewing with me was a real blessing. Things got very chaotic at times, and Neil was able to swap in and out helping between our brew and Mike’s. There was an invasion of Packers fans, all sitting around drinking beer and laughing, and then came the Saints fans.

All in all, the day went very well until I was showing Mike how to batch sparge. His mashtun is a cooler with a false bottom, and I didn’t check before mash in how the hoses were connected and I knocked loose a hose from the false bottom’s nipple. I ended up dumping the mash into a homer bucket while we reconnected the hoses and secured them with hose clamps. Dumped the mash back in, a quick stir, a rest, vorlauf and finally ran off the last of the wort into the kettle. Emergency averted… cool heads prevailed, and this guy felt pretty dumb for causing the problem!

The saison Neil and I brewed went into the fermenter just as Mike’s boil was nearing an end. He used my immersion chiller, cooled the wort and we knocked out to the fermention bucket, making great pains to aerate the wort. He also shook the fermenter for about 5 minutes. I got amusing and frantic texts about when to pitch the yeast that evening. It all worked out. He was so excited to see bubbles in the airlock!

Tomorrow we check FG, and will have him check again on Friday. Will also be the first taste of the near finished beer! If all is good, will give him tips on force carbonating and preparing the beer for serving by Sunday. It’s a session IPA – so should be good to go and quite fresh. Might even dry hop in the keg for an extra kick.

So an introduction to brewing, returning to my roots on a cooler mashtun and helping someone enthusiastically jump into the hobby has been very cathartic. In hindsight, I wish I had a mentor that could have gotten me past so many stupid little mistakes early on. Keeping things simple, and seeing that you don’t need advanced gear to make great beer is refreshing.

Postlude: I intentionally didn’t take Mike through the gravity readings, mash pH or thermometer calibration. I pre-calculated his water requirements and we brewed with my RO water and salts. He bought a single vial of WLP001, and we didn’t make a starter. The hope was to remove variables and confusing metrics that ‘might’ cause disappointment. We will focus on efficiency and other topics as we brew together more. The goal is that Mike and his son-in-law can brew together and I am confident that will happen very soon!

Now I need to figure out a gift for the virgin brewer… mash paddle?

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Update: Last night we checked gravity. Shockingly low at 1.002, with an expected FG at 1.012, especially when he missed his volumes by about a 1/2 gallon. Not sure why WLP001 super attenuated, but the sample was very tasty, dry, no off flavors, no DMS or diacetyl that I could pick out. Checking again tonight for stability – then will force carb for the weekend.

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