Charlie Papazian is famous in song and story for having written, in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, the phrase “Relax. Have a homebrew.” If you read any edition of his book it becomes clear fairly quickly that this is a mantra of sorts for Charlie, and it’s a good one. It’s just that I’m not sure it applies to my current situation. In announcing my entry in to the Toronto Beer Week Homebrewing Competition, I have created two problems:
Firstly, I have to actually do it. If ever there was a significant motivator, it’s the idea that there are a huge number (read couple of dozen) people reading your blog who are likely to laugh at you if you don’t carry through with your stated goal of brewing a beer to subject the judges to. I don’t want to walk in to Volo at some point in the near future and have folks ask “how’s that going for you” while tittering under their breath. It’s a reality of the situation that I’m now committed to actually doing the thing, and if nothing else I have to brew a beer in order to avoid the mockery of the Biergotter fellows and other local enthusiasts.
Secondly, there’s the preparation. As I see it, there are a number of things that you need to do in order to prepare to brew a beer. You need ingredients, equipment, some kind of plan and a sterile working environment.
Some of these things are more time consuming than others. Getting ingredients for homebrewing can be difficult in Toronto if you don’t have a car. It seems to me that the best supplier in the area is Canadian Homebrew Supplies. They have a huge number of products for homebrewers both experienced and just starting out. The main problem seems to be the fact that they’re in Brampton. If you’ve got a car, this is not worth commenting on, but if you’re like me and you have to order the products online and have them shipped using Canada Post, there’s a significant niggle at the back of your mind. The Wyeast Activator packs, (basically a package of yeast and nutrients that activates upon being hit hard enough to release the yeast into the nutrients) are meant to be refrigerated until they’re used. If you’re in the middle of a particularly hot stretch of the summer, do you really want to risk having your yeast sit in an unrefrigerated warehouse for two or three days? I mean, ideally Canada Post will deliver within 48 hours, but if you miss the initial delivery, it could be longer. It won’t kill the yeast dead, but it might stop them performing to the best of their ability. You don’t want to drink an under attenuated beer just because there was a mishap with a scanner.
Fortunately, I was in Buffalo anyway, and I was able to visit Niagara Traditions Homebrew Supply. I’ve got to say that it’s a very different experience standing in an actual store while shopping for homebrew ingredients. If you’re shopping online, you need to know exactly what you’re going to do before hand and you’ve got a checklist that you’re working from. If you’re on the ground in a store, you’ve got people who know what they’re doing to help you. The guy who helped me was pretty well informed and even suggested a couple of kinds of specialty malts for use in my beer. I had a loose idea of what I was going to do, but it’s always good to have a professional opinion backing you up. Plus, because the yeast was refrigerated, or at least unceremoniously dumped in a cooler with an ice pack during transit, I don’t have the option of claiming that it was the yeast’s fault if I end up with an undrinkable mass of hops and pure evil.
If you’re going to brew beer, you also need a recipe. If you’re just starting out, it’s excusable to buy a kit, but this is Toronto Beer Week, so I needed to put together something that’ll actually make an impression if it comes off. One of the strictures of the Toronto Beer Week Homebrewing Competition is that your beer has to conform to BJCP judging criteria for the style that you’re creating. Fortunately for hacks like me, there’s a website called Hopville that allows you to design recipes that will conform to those criteria. All you have to do is choose a style and then plug your information into the recipe form in order to avoid looking like a complete doofus.
I have chosen to compete in style 14B: American IPA. Partly this is because I’m curious about the Ontario market and how hard it can possibly be to create a drinkable American IPA, and partly it’s because I haven’t seen anyone else announce that they’re aiming for this category on Bar Towel. I figure that in a category of one, I should at least be able to come in third. After playing around with the recipe generator for a while (and getting some advice from Russ from Biergotter) I have decided on a title for my brew: St.John’s Wort Shameless Publicity Grab IPA. The recipe is over here. It contains both of the hops of the moment: Citra and Sorachi Ace, so it should contain slightly more citrus aroma than Florida.
Finally, and most importantly, if you’re going to brew a beer at home you want everything to be sterile. My attitude to housekeeping can most charitably be described as somewhat Laissez-faire. Given that the state of my kitchen is usually somewhere between “health code violation” and “AGH! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” it seems that I’m going to be forced to spend this afternoon in a hazmat suit scrubbing violently away with bleach and steel wool.
I kid. It’s not really that bad, but I do have to get all the equipment ready and break out the Star San and get ready to explain to the neighbours why the hallway smells funny.