Last week we released our long awaited Homebrew Special in which we discussed and reviewed Monarch from Still Thinking, Black IPA from Andrew Drinks, Red Snow Rye from Crema Brewery and Simcoe Citra Big DIPA from Elusive Brewing. But that’s not enough for us, no. Having four homebrewers talking about their beers and passion for homebrewing simply wasn’t enough! So in this special version of ‘Wallowing’ we’ve asked three more homebrewers to share their passion for homebrewing with us.

Jim Chaney is a homebrewer from the states and shares with us how his homebrewing journey began with a desire for good beer, a thirst for feedback and eventually to beer judging and homebrew clubs…

I really don’t remember why I got into home brewing, more than likely just like everyone else, I wanted some good beer. I have been brewing for about 3 years or so and my first kit was a Wit. Of course it was the best beer ever, but what did I know? I brewed a couple of more kits, an IPA and something else. That was pretty much the time when I wanted some feedback and to improve. I found a homebrew club in Pittsburgh, Penn. TRASH, a great group of guys and girls. I learned a lot the first year so I figured I wanted to learn more. I started to enter competitions and wanted to learn more on that so I started to study for the BJCP judging programme, took the test and wow, that was a real tough challenge! I didn’t score high, but high enough to be a apprentice judge.

During the next couple of years I brewed quite a bit of beer, entered more competitions and judged as many competitions as I could, I Also started a local homebrew club, HOOCH, in my litttle neck of the woods, Steubenville, Ohio. We have a great bunch of brewers in this club and really have a good time getting together.

Just about a month ago I took the BJCP test over again. I am trying to up my ranking. It is a new format now, the first part is a on-line 200 question 1 hour time limit true/false, multiple choice, multiple answer test. Failed the first one, took it again the next day and passed with 8 seconds to spare. Then the following weekend was the tasting part of the test. We had 6 beers to evaluate in 90 minutes. That is 1 beer every 15 min. It was a nice challenge. Now I am waiting for the results, so we will see.

I am always wanting to see whats around the corner. To do different things and have fun doing it. I really have a good time making beer, drinking beer and sharing beer.

In contrast, Connor Murphy finds if difficult to pinpoint his exact inspiration for his homebrewing odyssey and how his passion for beer has developed into an obsession…

I’ve always had a passion for good beer and was usually the odd kid at school who insisted on supping pints of cask bitter while everyone else loaded up on pints of Stella.

The older I got, the more that passion developed into a full-blown obsession, so I eventually got to the stage where it made sense to start making the stuff myself. As much as anything, it was a good way to develop my knowledge and understanding of beer even further. I’ve always had a good grasp of styles and flavours but it’s been extremely interesting to learn more about the actual processes and ingredients that shape those flavours.

In that way, it’s helped me to refine my palate, better understand the subtleties in different beers and better identify off-flavours – although, being pretty self-critical, I’m probably a bit quick to identify off-flavours in my own beer, which is a constant source of irritation for my friend who I brew with.

Ultimately, it’s great to be able to create something you can call your own. There’s so much crap beer out there it’s good to try and create something that restores a bit of balance to the world. That moment when you try your first creation and realise that, however bad it is, it’s better than the majority of bottles on the shelves in your local supermarket is more than a little satisfying.

The great thing about making beer is that, no matter how badly you screw up, you’ll usually end up with something drinkable at the end of the process.

Throughout my first brew I was consumed by irrational neuroses. But what if it doesn’t ferment? What if I didn’t sanitise enough? What if I didn’t cool the wort quick enough? What if it doesn’t carbonate when I bottle it? So it was a bit of a surprise when friends and family drank the stuff and actually liked it. That gives you the confidence and reassurance you need to go on and do more.

That’s not to say the process is an easy one though. Even though there are two of us, our brewdays are usually pretty chaotic and more often than not end up resembling a sketch by the Chuckle Brothers.

So far I’ve managed to flood the garage, scald myself while trying to fit a hop strainer AFTER starting the boil, smash my only hydrometer minutes before starting to brew and begin bottling without actually having any bottle caps.

The golden rule of homebrewing is ‘if something can go wrong, it will go wrong’ but that’s part of the fun. I’ll keep making mistakes but I’ll also keep improving with every brew and hopefully get to the stage where I can begin properly experimenting with the styles and recipes I’m creating.

To anyone considering taking the plunge, I can’t recommend it highly enough. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get after receiving the first positive feedback from something created with your own blood, sweat and tears (often quite literally).

So for these guys, homebrewing is about learning from your mistakes and having pride in what you produce at the end of the day. It’s about developing a passion (obsession?) for beer.

Andrew Hobbs (why are all homebrewers called Andrew?!?) takes this a stage further and tells us how his homebrewing was born out of looking for something new to learn and also about what is good (and bad) about the process…

I suppose I’ve always been interested in beer; right from the 70s when my dad used to boil wort and hops after I went to bed (it smelled awful – the taste wasn’t much better), through my teenage years exploring real ale pubs of Hampshire and West Sussex. But it was experiences travelling after sixth form and university when I began to sit up and really take notice. I’m talking about beers like Redback or Dogbolter by Maltilda Bay in Western Australia in the late 80s or tasting brews in California in the 90s that just weren’t anything like the Home Counties ale I knew. These were an entirely different drink from outfits like Sierra Nevada, Pete’s Brewing Company, Anchor from San Francisco, Redhook etc. They were much more interesting and dare I say it edgy – as if those making them had torn up the rule book. If there was one. What did I know?

The noughties were fairly quiet. There were a couple of trips to the GBBF. I was along for the ride and I spent more time at the American and International stands leaving my mates at the UK stands where they were content to drink pints of what I would now probably call “boring brown beer”.

But my interest really got piqued in the early part of this decade. I began to notice that British brewers had started making beer that, wow, reminded me of the West Coast IPAs I had drunk in California 10 years ago. It was a bottle of The Kernel’s Pale Ale one evening after work that I remember most vividly. Yes it was expensive but yikes….this was something altogether remarkable.

How did I get started with homebrewing? Over this whole time I had no desire to make my own. Probably because all examples I had tried in the past were a poor imitation of commercially made brews. The smell of sulphur, the lifeless taste. I also didn’t really have the space or the time.

So what changed? I’m not exactly sure. I was looking for something new to learn I guess. It was around this time last year that I stumbled across a review of IndyManBeerCon. I watched a video or two and thought, this looks like an interesting scene – and multiple references to homebrewing. A late night tweet or two asking about home brewing quickly resulted in a recommendation that I buy Charlie Papazian’s book and read it which I did.

Now some will say Papazian’s book is a bit cheesy, but one of the best things is how he encourages you to give it a go and not to stress about any step in the process. It’s all about getting on with it and seeing what happens. What did I have to lose?

Shortly after that I bought a basic Coopers kit of Aussie Pale Ale. 40 bottles appeared in time for Xmas 2012. What was it like? Not bad, not great but not bad. Next two pale ales made with extract; the second with 100% Galaxy hops including some hefty dry hopping. Then onto two IPAs, two steam beers and three stouts: moving progressively from 100% extract through steeping grains, partial mash to my first all grain brew last month. All of them very drinkable if not always on style. I also managed to brew 60 bottles of my own recipe American IPA for my in-laws golden wedding anniversary party. Made with Cascade I used grapefruit peel and juniper to give it a twist. It went down a storm – more juniper next time I think.

What’s good about homebrewing?

1. The smile on faces of friends and family when they taste my latest offering – they too remember homebrew of the 70s….euggh

2. The homebrew and wider modern UK beer community (I’m intentionally avoiding using the word “craft”): the brewers, the bloggers, the cicerons, the bottle shop owners, the grain suppliers etc: a very welcoming crowd and on the whole a downright nice bunch of people. Everyone has been supportive of my endeavours as a newbie – happy to try my efforts and give feedback.

3. Twitter – I’ve made a whole group of new friends. People like (the guests that appeared on the recent show) @tabamutu, @crema_brewery, @femtobrewer, @andrew_drinks and others including @dredpenguin, @garethharries, and @dedken to name but a few; all of whom have patiently answered my dumb questions, shared thoughts and egged me on.

4. Art meeting science. It’s an inherently creative thing although there’s lots more driving blind than my other passion in life, cooking. On the technical side I’m learning loads about how enzymes convert starch to sugars, the life cycle of yeast and the effect on brewing of pH levels in water. I’m still not convinced whether the latter makes a material difference at my level *ducks*. It’s like going back to school.

What’s not so good?

1. The time it takes. I have a hard job in the City working 50-60 hours a week. Although I have a wonderful wife who is supportive, I also have four young kids; all five of whom I want to spend some time with. Fitting in a brew can be tricky and takes some concerted forward thinking. Most times it starts at 7pm on a Sat night and continues until I’ve finished, usually in the wee small hours. One way is to involve the family of course. My ten year old is a great bottle washer – she enjoys it but says that it’s like working in a factory! She’s right, the pay and hours are terrible.

2. The infinite variables and the wait to find out whether the masterpiece you thought you’d made turns out to be drainpour. Of course this anticipation is also part of the excitement.

3. The kit everywhere – where’s my hydrometer? Which box is the crystal malt in? I live in a house which isn’t exactly small and in less than a year I’m running out of space. A coal cellar full of bottles and buckets.

4. The lack of homebrew shops in London – there’s one in Brixton now near me which is a godsend.

5. The glazed look on people’s faces when they ask politely about my “hobby” and 20 mins later I’m still enthusing about the merits of WLP810 (it’s a yeast – which makes great lagers without a fridge in case you were wondering).

What’s next for me? Who knows? I’m only just getting started with all grain. A lot to learn in the next phase. Beer ideas are starting to flow – what about this with that? Next I’m going to do a Saison which I’ll split after primary and pitch a bag of fruit tea into one half. This was inspired by Buxton’s superb version at this year’s IndyManBeerCon – one of the many highlights of that superb event. Haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the other half yet – but it will involve something unconventional.

Longer term, I’m keen to participate in some commercial brews and look to see just how far I can take it, a sort of contingency plan in case I get fed up of the day job.

Things I’ve learned that I like to think are few tips to increase the chance of you turning out great brews every time. They’ve worked for me…

  • Cleaning and sanitation is really important
  • Fermentation temps – monitor and keep it within the desired range if you can
  • Get some brewing software – I use Brewsmith for iPad/iPhone – it’s cheap at half the price. There’s a lot of maths involved in manual recipe design. Get it wrong and the results could be undrinkable.

If you’re already a homebrewer and reading this, I hope you recognise elements of your own journey. If on the other hand you’re contemplating getting into it, I hope this hasn’t put you off. It’s been a great adventure, learning new stuff, meeting new people – I’m really excited to see where it goes from here. It may seem daunting but it isn’t really – go for it – just start simply and see how you go. The very best of luck to you all.

So there we have it. Coupled with the Homebrew Special, the journeys that the guys above have taken, and the invaluable tips that have been offered throughout, we hope that this has given you an insight into the world of homebrewing.

Many thanks to all those that have been involved in this epic venture with us, if you want to investigate the musings of our blog contributors even further or ask any questions/tips of them, you can do so at…

Jim Chaney
Connor Murphy
Andrew Hobbs

And make sure that you listen to the Homebrew Special featuring

Michael McGrorty
Chris & Emma
Andrew Drinkswater
Andy Parker

We’re hoping to have at least one Homebrew Special per season now, so if you’d like to be involved in our next one (planned for some time in 2014) please get in touch by leaving a comment or via Twitter @beeroclockshow

Cheers!