Homebrewing 101

RBC Discover & Learn

Brandon Baerwald dipped his toes into homebrewing with his thirsty student buddies back in 2006. “It was boozy but it wasn’t very tasty!” the Regina local recalls, adding that his interest took a more flavourful turn when his wife arrived on the scene. “We started brewing as a serious hobby more than 10 years ago.”

 

Making everything from pilsners to stouts – alongside “crazier” brews like curry coconut hefeweizen – at home, he enjoys the technical side and the therapeutic benefits of creating his own beer. “Nothing compares to the satisfaction of drinking a super-tasty beer you made from scratch – and the look of enjoyment on your friends when they drink it too.”

 

Getting Started

 

Honing his homebrewing habits over the years, Baerwald has some useful tips for those keen to follow in his sudsy footsteps. “The trick is to start small and work your way up. People buy all sorts of crazy and expensive gear, but I’d recommend starting out with brew-in-a-bag: it requires less equipment, cuts out a couple of steps and helps you get the hang of the basic process.”

 

From there, you can quickly expand your system and refine your techniques. “In the beginning, I used extract and partial-mash kits. But my beer really took a leap forward when I started brewing all-grain batches.”

 

But it’s not all about ingredients. “A lot of the off-flavours in beer come from unwanted pathogens. Keeping things at the very least clean pre-boil as well as sanitized post-boil can keep them from popping-up and affecting your beer.”

 

Go Clubbing

 

Baerwald also suggests getting social with your beer making. An active member of ALES Saskatchewan (http://www.alesclub.com) – one of many hombrew clubs including Calgary’s Yeast Wranglers (http://yeastwranglers.ca); Vancouver’s Van Brewers (https://vanbrewers.wildapricot.org); and Toronto’s GTA Brews (http://www.gtabrews.ca) – membership is a short cut to handy insider advice. “It’s a great way to learn the intricacies of brewing and get feedback on your beers so you can improve on them.”

 

Essential Gear

 

Over in Toronto, Chris Conway agrees that clubs – and brew-your-own shops – can help newbies with what might seem a complex hobby. He used to concoct Belgian-style beers in his small Toronto apartment before becoming brewer at the city’s Folly Brewpub (https://www.follybrewing.com) – but he continues to write expert homebrewing columns for beer-focused TAPS Magazine (http://www.tapsmagazine.com).

 

Whether you’re at the brew kit level or moving on to the next level, there are some key steps to keep I mind, he says. “Spend money on a good, preferably PET, fermentation carboy [the container where your beer collects] and ensure that it's cleaned well and also properly sanatized. Never skimp on these steps.”

 

After that, patience is a virtue – no matter how thirsty you are. “Take your time with your first batch and try to debug it for the next one: perhaps you need to filter your water or maybe you fermented the beer in a place that was too warm or cold. Make lots of notes – you’ll be thankful for them later.”

 

Your First Beer

 

And keep it simple – at least in the beginning. “Start with a single malt or single hop beer. And make sure you pay attention to temperature both for mashing and fermenting. Brewing isn't like cooking: it takes time. Drink your mistakes and you’ll learn how to make it better every time.”

 

Onwards & Upwards

 

Vancouver’s David Bowkett also transitioned his homebrewing passion into a career. Now the owner-brewer of Powell Street Craft Brewery (https://www.powellbeer.com), he was an avid at-home beermaker just a few years ago. “I got into serious homebrewing in 2010. But before that I’d brewed a few batches with friends at a local u-brew,” he says, recalling an early porter that was like “rocket fuel.”

 

But he learned quickly from his mistakes and he and his wife Nicole later “somewhat blindly” launched their own nanobrewrery. “There wasn’t a big brewery scene in Vancouver then so we didn’t know what to expect. I knew I was making good beer but I didn’t know if the public would like it – thank gawd they did!”

 

Two of Powell Street’s staples – Dive Bomb and the Old Jalopy (the former was 2015’s Canadian Beer of the Year) – owe their origins to Bowkett’s homebrewing days. And while his business is now all-consuming, he still enjoys the thrill of creating new beers.  “When I brew a small test batch – essentially a homebrew – I still feel the passion that got me into this in the first place.”

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