Within a month of my 21st birthday, only several weeks of craft beer consumption under my belt and still quite limited in my knowledge of the brewing process, I had already decided that I wanted to homebrew my own batch of the beverage with which I was now fascinated. About four months later, I got my first chance. After discussing homebrewing avidly with my friends, one of them, Tim, received a brewing starter kit for his birthday and enlisted the help of a few of us to help him. Soon, we went back to Athens’ local Blockader Homebrew Supply to get the ingredients for our first beer. After consulting the staff, it was decided that a brown ale would be a good candidate for our first homebrew, as it was comprised of a relatively short list of ingredients and was also pretty forgiving of rookie mistakes made while monitoring fermentation.
The next night, on November 5, six of us gathered in a basement to lose our homebrew virginity. We used a partial mash recipe, something I was quite happy about. While I knew it’d be best to not dive into making the most complicated beer possible, I just didn’t think my enthusiasm for finally making a homebrew would be quenched with an all-extract kit. I regret one thing about our first brew: in our beer infancy, I didn’t ask, nor would I probably have comprehended, what grains and hop varieties we were supplied with at Blockader. Nonetheless, we eagerly began and prepped all of the equipment. While steeping the grains and adding the malt syrup, and probably to the dismay of many fellow homebrewers, we shared several bottles of wine. Hey, we didn’t have any beer yet…what were we supposed to do? Finally we added hop pellets during the boil as instructed, first a bittering dose and then a late aroma addition, something I haven’t seen in many other brown ale recipes. Once the boil was finished, we waited for the wort to cool…and we continued to wait, maybe having another bottle or two of red. The expense of a wort chiller suddenly seemed reasonable. It was a late night, but we had completed brewing, and were one step closer to enjoying our own beer.
After two weeks of fermenting, a few of us enjoyed another night of camaraderie while bottling. Our entire brewing experience was about friendship, so we decided to bottle in bombers that would allow us to share our beer with each other and with new friends. The ale bottle-conditioned for another two weeks, and was then ready to enjoy…well almost. While the finished beer still hadn’t been tasted and there was no guarantee it would even be palatable, we wanted to make sure it looked good. Several witty names generated and discovered already existing later, it was decided that the name First Time Brown Ale would adorn the bombers. We made labels and had them applied, most without wrinkles, just in time for First Time’s debut. The beer was finally unveiled, exactly one month later, at a Christmas party attended by all six original brewers. So how was it?
First Time Brown Ale poured a deep brown, still barely transparent when held up to light, with a thick, light tan head about two fingers in height. The head retention was impressive, already instilling me with a sense of pride before I had even tasted it. The aroma was dominated by dark, chocolaty notes with no detectable hops. When sipped, rich malts first hit my tongue, giving way to a lingering nutty mocha flavor, kept in check ever so slightly by a faint hop bitterness. After tasting it, and with what I now know about different grains, I would guess that the specialty grains we added were biscuit and chocolate malt. The nutty flavor was not as strong as beers dubbed “nut brown” ales, but reminded me a little of hazelnuts. The bite of carbonation was a little strong at first, but seemed more pleasant and subdued when the beer reached a more appropriate serving temperature for brown ale around 45° F. Perhaps only because I was a little skeptical of its flavor initially, the malt syrup seemed to remain an obvious part of the finished product. This might, at least in part however, just be me negatively attributing the heavier body and mouthfeel of the dark malts on the back of my tongue to the dark malt syrup. Overall, our first homebrew was a great success.
After only my first taste, my mind was soaring way past this first base beer, dreaming of chocolate, peppers, fruits, and all kinds of other adjuncts. First Time Brown Ale is an easily enjoyed, very drinkable beer, although I doubt anyone has enjoyed it quite as much as the six of us who created it. The few critiques that emerged from evaluating First Time offer places to focus on improvement during our next brew. With our first step complete, I eagerly look forward to our progress down the road to becoming homebrew pros…or amateurs…on the road to becoming great homebrewers.