Homebrewing Milestones And Anniversaries
February 4, 2012
When I was brewing my Belgian pale ale last week, it slipped my mind that it was actually a milestone day. It was the sixth anniversary of the day that Dave and I brewed our first beer together in the apartment on Congress Street in Troy. I try to have a brewday on that anniversary every year, but things have been so hectic lately that I completely forgot. Fortunately it coincided with a perfect day for me to brew this year.
Six years. A lot has happened in that time, some of it good and some of it bad. I still remember that Christmas of 2005 and January of 2006 pretty clearly. My parents got me The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, the book that so many others have started with, for Christmas as my interest was piqued by some homebrewing friends in the Capital District. This was also a time when my love of good beer was taking off at a crazy rate, typically visiting Mahar’s in Albany twice a week with a bunch of friends, and dropping tons of money at the Finger Lakes Beverage Center whenever I was in Ithaca.
Before my winter vacation from RPI ended and I headed back to Troy, my dad and I took a Saturday and got everything together that I’d need to brew my first batch of beer. He runs an analytical chemistry lab at Cornell University, so we picked up almost all the equipment I needed right there. He neutralized a 6.5 gallon glass carboy that had been used to transport acid, and this turned into that first fermentor. I got an old scale for weighing hops and grain, a lot of plastic tubing, a contact thermometer for liquids, a hydrometer, an aluminum pot, etc. We went to the Ithaca Brewery, as they were the only homebrew supply point in town, and grabbed a bottling bucket, capper, caps, and ingredients for the first batch. When we talked to the guy behind the tasting bar, he was excited to hear I was getting into brewing and gave me a simple extract brown ale recipe to start with.
That first batch, brewed on 29 January 2006, was a huge learning experience for Dave and I. Even after reading obsessively and perusing homebrewing forums constantly, we still didn’t really have any idea what we were doing. Nothing really went all that wrong, now that I think about it, as the only two things we really had to figure out on the fly was cooling the wort after the boil and transferring it to the fermentor (the pot had no spigot). We wound up putting the fermentor in a large plastic bucket full of ice water and snow, then poured the wort in through a funnel by using a cooking pot as a ladle. It went pretty smoothly and the beer came out pretty good. I was completely hooked once we were finished.
Over the next six years many things happened. I acquired an Igloo cooler in the summer of ’06 and converted it to a mash tun for partial mash recipes. Grad school also ended that summer for me, so I moved out to Rochester to start my first real job. This turned out to be a great move, as it gave me a really nice income to start upgrading to an all-grain brewing system, and I met a huge and highly enthusiastic craft beer loving community. Between Kim and Lance, Jeff at Quimby’s, Seth, Jeff Wible, Jason, and others at ITT, and lots of other people too numerous to list, I know tons of great beer lovers in the Rochester area. They’re also a great group of friends that will keep me visiting Rochester for years.
I would call my time in Rochester “The Dark Years”, except that all my great beer loving friends and my obsession with homebrewing kept me sane and gave me lots of great memories. ITT laid me off in the first of four rounds of layoffs starting on 31 March 2010. I walked out of the Hawkeye building for the final time with a HUGE smile on my face as I yelled obscenities at the company. I would spend four months in a half-assed job search trying to find something in the defense industry, then I finally got a response from Custom Brewcrafters, started my unpaid internship there and met Bruce (one of the best brewers I know), and took the first step into the career path I had wanted for several years.
The really funny and unexpected thing about all of this is that, after all the hard work I put into getting involved in the brewing industry, I now work at one of my favorite craft breweries that helped spawn my initial interest in good beer. Six years after that first batch of homebrew in Troy, and I’m happy with life and living my dream right down the road from the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s absolutely incredible how things work out sometimes.
In all this time homebrewing, I’ve produced 95 batches, a couple of which are fermenting right now. The next four are basically planned out: Belgian Dubbel, English Dark Mild, American Brown, and a revised version of the Mocha Porter. I’m planning to spend some time over the coming weeks thinking about what to do for the 100th batch. Input is always welcome.