IPA, Stout, and hefeweizen yeast starterclick for big pic
We started brewing in April 2004. My friend Mike Matteson and I bought a kit from The Beer and Winemaker's Pantry after doing a lot of reading on the Internet's and still feeling kinda lost.... If you are thinking about brewing, my whole-hearted recommendation goes to How To Brew by John Palmer. You can read for hours and learn more than you ever thought possible...
Our first recipe was a John Bull kit named 'bavarian lager', it came in a big blue can, and we got our first experience in what malt was and what hopped wart smelled like boiling, what it was like trying to cool that much hot liquid to 80 degrees, and what cleanliness was all about. We fermented in the bucket in the shower of the spare bathroom, because it was in the center of the house with no windows and would be temperature stable and one of the coolest parts of the house. That changed when we started thinking if someone actually used the bathroom, there would be lots of nasty germs, so I moved it to the spare bedroom, which did have windows, but the blinds were shut... it was about 75-80 degrees which I did not think would be too bad... (I was wrong) The beer was named Bavarian Lager, but of course it was an ale, well, we checked to make sure, because we were beginners after all!
It was like magic watching it turn into beer, after a day of slowly bubbling every ten
seconds and we moved the fermenter, it took off to a much faster burbling through the
airlock, and we let it go for a week and I bought a glass carboy because we thought a
secondary would be better after reading about that autolyzing thing the yeast did.. well,
that and the carboy looked cool! After two total weeks, I transferred it to a Pepsi keg
that I got from the pantry along with a couple of the ball-lock fittings, this seemed easier than
bottling, since I had a CO2 setup for my kegerator, and did not want to go through all
that bottling effort if it tasted like nasty feet ;-) The specific gravity got sown to 1.006, ]
which everyone said was good, and boy was it high in alcohol!
But all was not the effortless liquid alchemy we thought it would be....
It had an aftertaste, similar to that of a band-aid, ( yeah, "ewwwww"). We did some research,
and some places say is from using chlorine, but I used the c-brite on it that came in
the kit. (Looking back it could have been chloramines in the water, or using water softer
water) Aftertaste and all, I drank 1/3rd of the batch, as a pint or two would have you
Following the band-aid episode, Mike and I made two more batches, thinking that only contamination was our problem, that was the only thing the folks we talked to said... We went to the Pantry and picked out a Munton's Cerveza kit in a can that I added honey to for Cinco-de-Mayo, and Mike picked up a wheat kit that he also added honey to because we did not think to get corn sugar that the can said to add, that and it was Sunday.
The Cerveza came out much like the Bavarian lager, strong and with an aftertaste.... I only had about 10 pints before giving up and tossing the contents of the keg. The honey wheat was kind of low in alcohol and taste.... Mike and I bottled it by using priming sugar to the bottles straight. It was the best of the brews so far. To confuse us us more, Mike had one of the first batch band-aid beers at his house that I had put in a grolsch bottle (without any priming sugar) and gave him, he opened it with a loud *pop* and proclaimed the aftertaste was not there... So we were thinking either the taste went away, or never occurred.. We were still lost... Could it have been that his house was cooler, or that my Pepsi keg was not clean, or that my regulator was putting dirty stuff in the CO2 that was going in it? Thinking that freshness, dry yeast, and contamination were our problems, I decided to use a recipe with bulk malt extract, steeped grains and a smack-pak of liquid yeast... The recipe was for a Sam Adams Summer Ale copy... This first experience with hops resulted in a boilover, as many of you seasoned brewers could probably expect, LOL....
The fermentation did not start for 36 hours or so, and had me real scared, until it took off so violently that it blew the cap off the airlock and put spots on the ceiling! I know know that a smack-pack should be put in a starter if you want it to take off right away, which is good for making sure the good yeast is in sufficient health and numbers to outgrow any other stray organism... During this brew, I heard of the local beer club, Dunedin Brewer's Guild, from Butch, a friend of my roommate Joe. Not only did I meet some cool people, but I sampled beer that renewed my faith that good beer could be made at home... WOW, was there a good variety and quality! I learned that the fermentation temperature was most likely our problem and decided to do something about it. The guys in the club all recommended a chest freezer, but I was thinking the cheap way would be a small window unit to keep my computer room as cold as a data center, 68 degrees. The room was 80 degrees at the end of April, and by May was creeping towards 85... That temp had the yeast making funny flavors, but a LOT of alcohol!... cooling it 20 degrees sounded easy to do with a small unit. I finished that batch and bought a $90, 5000btu window A/C unit and brought the room to 68 degrees very quickly, I sealed the door and the window that was opened for the unit. I got an electronic control one, but probably would have been happier with mechanical control, as the power outages here in FL cause it to reset and once a week I have to turn it back on. I got the electronic one because I thought it might turn off the fan and all when it was below the set temp, but it does not, why can't they make it operate like a central A/C unit? I bottled the SA summer ale, and it sat(some still sits) in the nice cozy 68 degree room. Most bottles are good, once in a while we run across a weird one, maybe capping? Thinking we just may have had it licked, Mike bought us a couple TBBC copies from The BrewShack in Tampa on Waters. He got the Old Elephant Foot IPA and Iron Rat Stout . We brewed those, (I boiled over the hopped wart again :-) The stout smelled real strong during the first day or two but that faded quickly. They fermented really well and we are hooked on the WLP yeast that the kits came with as an option.
At my first DBG meeting, I tasted an awesome Belgian Wit and met the brewer of it, Chris Wilson. At the second meeting, which I also brought a couple (non-brewing) friends to. I hounded Chris about getting together so I could watch or participate in an all-grain mash, and we made plans for a big 3 fermenter batch of all-grain wheat beer on Saturday, June 26, 2004. That day, and even the events leading up to it are truly the stuff of beer-geeks! Countless emails regarding mashing and equipment ensued, I was lucky enough to have a friend (Thanks KC!) that works a lot in Orlando, so he was able to pick up the ingredients and a few cool 'tools' at heartshomebrew.com without me having to take a whole afternoon off. I was able to make a small run by The Brewshack to get a few odds and ends, and to Home Depot to get some hardware for our soon to be ultra-cool boiling kettle and lautering tun. Between the stuff Chris had, the stuff I had bought and the ability to fabricate, we turned what could have been a disaster into an awesome 9 hours of learning and crafting 15 gallons of wheat beer! On that Saturday, Chris also racked the two TBBC beers from the week before into secondary fermenters and we harvested a half-dozen or so WLP tubes of each of the WLP013 and WLP051 yeasts.