The “Perils” of Homebrewing: Shadow(brew)ing Papazian

When we first began homebrewing, my buddy Matt (an official Shadow Brewer) brought over a book that he had received from a friend as a gift. He left it at my house, as my garage had become the defacto brew-cave, and it was promptly tucked into a corner and forgotten as we stumbled our way through our first few brew sessions. The results of these early sessions were good amateur beers: Red Ale from and kit, Pale Ale from the homebrew supply store’s recipe, and a few other randomply downloaded recipes from here, there and everywhere on the web. Then one day, having run out of sit-down toilet-time reading, I turned to the forgotten text: Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. The book is nothing short of awesome. Papazian – the “pioneer of beer” – is one of (if not THE) major driving forces behind the homebrewing movement. He founded the AHA – the American Homebrewer’s Association – and the Great American Beer Festival. His mantra, which he repeats throughout his book is as calming as it is appealing: “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

Needless to say, my on the toilet time increased as my knowledge of basic homebrewing began to grow. I started learning actual terms for things that we had been referring to as “the not beer yet” (wort) and “that crap at the bottom” (trub), and started reading through delicious looking recipes, which went on for pages.

While reading these recipes, I had an idea… What if I were to brew my way through Papazian’s book? It would be like the blog basis for that Julie & Julia movie, except not boring, and with beer! Then I considered my process. Could I brew them in order? Should I start with something easier? What if I couldn’t find the right ingredients? Would I have the patience? What if I wanted to brew a pilsner or lager, but I couldn’t maintain temperature? Those were all questions that I didn’t answer… mostly because I got bored asking questions. Instead, I started to thumb through the recipes, and landed on one that looked delicious, the Vagabond Black Ale on page 214. Go ahead… flip to it. Ok, truthfully it was the picture that first drew my attention. Like many suburban upper-middle class males, I have a weird obsession with the hoboes of yore, and a beer associated with a picture of a dude with a bindle full of brew was too good to pass up.002

On the way to the store I decided that one brew would not be enough. I mean really, when is one brew ever enough? So I added another one: a German Alt (Osmosis Amoebas German Alt from page 199) that looked like a straightforward brew.

So the problem with me going to Larry’s, the closest homebrew store to my house, is actually the same as the problem with me going any other store where there are things that I want: I get so wrapped up in buying things that I forget simple steps, like pacing myself, or labeling the products that I’m shoveling into my cart. Needless to say, my lack of attention to detail resulted in some basic mix-ups during the brewing process. These goofs – of course – ensured that my resulting brews were nowhere near those intended by the good Mr. Papazian, but I can assure you that they were (correction: are – I’m enjoying one of them at the moment) thoroughly delicious.

What’s funnier than my initial mix-up is that when I realized that I had begun steeping the wrong grains for the yeast that I had activated (ahh the wonders of WYEAST self-activation pouches), I freaked out. Thinking about it, I have no idea why it made a difference. I had the ingredients to what could very possibly shape up to be a great beer in my brewpot. I had a beer in my hand. There was no reason for the moment of panic and profanity that ensued. But then I calmed down (although those who know me would doubt that I had a moment of panic in the first place). Why? I had looked at the book again, and come across Papazian’s pearls of wisdom – “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

Words to live by.

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