In February, I started a 4-week course on homebrewing, held at Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, NH. The class is lead by Smuttlab’s Head Brewer Charlie Ireland, Smuttynose Master Brewer Steve Schmidt and Earth Eagle Owner Alex MacDonald. Each session has focused on a different part of the process of homebrewing: The equipment, the ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, and water), packaging, and tasting. In between, the brewers have shared their vast background knowledge, experiences and secrets to good homebrewing. The enthusiasm and reassurance that they shared helped get me excited about the prospects of making my own beer.
In class 1, we learned that it does not take a lot of equipment to brew a good beer at home. What’s really important is temperature, water quality, and sanitation. My classmates recommended beginner’s books, such as The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, for particulars.
Class 2 on ingredients was rich with information on different types of malt, hops, and yeast. Yeast is the most fascinating because it’s the ingredient you probably have the least control over as it tends to do what it wants, lending to different flavors (both good and bad). Although beer only includes 4 ingredients, it is amazing how different it can taste if even one ingredient is changed. Earth Eagle did an experiment recently with four other breweries in Portsmouth where each brewery made the same beer but with different yeast – the difference was striking:
Class 3 delved into packaging. The general consensus of the class was that kegging is simpler than bottling because it requires less cleaning, sanitizing, and space. Additionally, you can purchase a “beer gun” to bottle your beer from the keg if you need to. Bottles can be purchased at homebrewing supply shops, or you can recycle used beer or champagne bottles.
For the last class, we will be learning the proper way to taste beers that others have brought in. I am particularly excited about this session. As much as I love tasting and rating beers, I know I do not do it the “proper” way. Nor do I know what is so great about flavors like “catty” or “horse blanket.” These are some things I hope to learn next week!
Now that I have learned some of the basics of homebrewing, I feel excited about attempting my own beermaking. My world has opened up so much after moving to NH; I do not think homebrewing is something that I would have considered trying if it weren’t for opportunities like this class. I look forward to this and future adventures in this land of possibility.