Ryan is going to be 22 at the end of the month. For those of you who have been here since I wrote the 13 on 31 post, you now know how I feel every single day. The rest of you can get off my lawn before I call your parents.
So the other day, he and I were having a beer together, and Ryan said, "We should make our own beer while I'm home this summer."
I tried homebrewing once when I was about Ryan's age, and it ended … poorly … I've wanted to try again, but I've always been intimidated by what I remembered was a complex and peril-fraught process. When Ryan suggested that we do this, though, the excitement and joy of doing something together gave me a natural 20 on my Save Versus Fear. Besides, even if it's a spectacular failure, it's still something we did together, something we can bond over, and something that will stay with us — success or failure — for the rest of our lives.
"That would be the most awesome father/son activity, ever," I said. "Plus, we get beer when we're finished!"
The next morning, we did a little research online, and the entire process actually looked a lot simpler and more straightforward that I remembered it being coughmumble years ago when I was 22. As long as we could follow a recipe and do our fermentation in a place that was temperature-controlled, we'd probably be able to make some beer that didn't suck.
We found a local homebrewing supply store, and went there yesterday to get our kit and ingredients.
The late afternoon had given way to early evening, but it was still 90 degrees as we parked the car and walked up the sidewalk toward the shop.
"I'm really excited about this," I said, partially because it was true, and partially because I needed to calm the nerves that were working themselves up. What if they laughed at us when we walked in? What if whoever worked there wasn't interested in helping a couple of noobs get started? What if I said something stupid and embarrassed my son?
"Yep," Ryan said.
'Yep'? That's it? 'Yep'? Not "Me too dad this will be awesome!" Not "Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, too." Not even, "Don't embarrass me, dude." Just 'yep'. Okay, Wil, don't blow this.
We walked into the store. It was cool inside, and smelled delightful from all the different types of grain that were in tubs along the walls. A man sat behind a counter at the far side of the room, reading a computer screen. I took a breath, and decided that it was go time.
"Hi," I said, "I tried homebreaing once about 15 years ago, and it was a disaster. My son's home for the summer, though, and we wanted to make our own beer together. Can you help us get started?"
He looked up at me, and smiled. "Sure, just give me one minute."
For the next twenty minutes or so, he literally and figuratively walked us through the entire process, showing us equipment and ingredients, and explaining in simple and precise terms exactly how the whole thing worked. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this guy could cast Dispel Fear as a free action, because by the time he was done, I felt like I was ready to go home and start brewing right away.
"Is there one type of beer that's more difficult than another?"
"Not really," he said. "Most of the beers you're going to make are pretty simple and forgiving. The hardest thing to make, honestly, is something like Budweiser."
Before I could say, "I said beer," he continued: "That's a very pale lager that doesn't leave much margin for error."
So they make that shit taste that way on purpose? And it's difficult? Wow, I learned something today.
"What about a California-style Pale Ale?" I asked, hopefully.
"That's very easy," he told us, "it's one of the most popular styles." He gave us a recipe to follow, and helped us pick out the various ingredients to make it. I thought it was really cool that he didn't just show us where things were, but also explained to us what made each specialty grain unique, how different types yeast worked, and the benefits and risks associated with each one. I never felt like he was trying to sell us anything, but that he was educating and truly helping us. It was really great.
Ryan and I gathered up all our individual ingredients, including Caramel 10L, Caramel 40L, and Columbus and Cascade hops. We paid for everything, and I thanked the guy on our way out.
The whole way home, we talked about what we'd just learned, and I may have repeated several times that I was excited to get started and do this together.
We're going to do our brewing on Sunday, so we can continue to research and learn about the proper way to make it go. I asked Twitter for advice on forums, and here are the most frequently-recommended sites:
- Homebrewtalk, especially the beginner's forum.
- /r/homebrewing at Reddit.
- Midwest Homebrewing.
- Alton Brown on Homebrewing. (For the record, I <3 Alton Brown. He's my favorite.)
Are you a homebrewer? I'd love to hear any advice/warnings/stories you have.