While we all hunker down, a copious amount of unexpected time to investigate untapped hobbies and get creative has suddenly appeared. People are taking up new fitness practices, crafting, learning musical instruments, languages…homebrewing? Why not? With extra time abounding, what better opportunity to take up the skill of brewing your own beer? Some of Austin’s homebrewing gurus were happy to share their tips on how to get started on the journey.
I had the pleasure of talking to Lauren Acton from Austin Homebrew Supply, Dan Ironside, Chris Colby, & Joelle Dewberry all longtime members of the Austin Zealots Homebrewing Club with a combined 50-plus years of experience, and Chris Rauschuber, Co-Founder & Head Brewer of The Brewtorium who also possesses an extensive background in homebrewing.
WHERE TO START?
When it comes to research, I was always taught to start at the library. Luckily, in this fancy age of the world wide web, there are literal libraries at our fingertips. Austin offers some amazing local sources in SoCo Homebrew Store on South Congress and Austin Homebrew Supply in North Austin. Both provide a one-on-one homebrew personal assistant.
Although the Austin Homebrew Supply location is physically closed at the moment, they are still processing and shipping customer orders online through Austin Homebrew Supply. Lauren Acton is the Customer Service Representative for both Adventures in Homebrewing as well as Austin Homebrew Supply, which has been under the same ownership since 2015. She is quite the guiding light when it comes to fermentation asserting that her team is always “happy to answer questions through email, Live Chat, or over the phone! We also have several resources for all kinds of brewing and fermenting projects.” SoCo Homebrew Store is offering curbside pick-up & shipping only. Their retail store curbside pick-up hours are: Monday – Thursday & Saturdays from 10 am-4 pm and Fridays from 10 am-6 pm, closed Sundays. For curbside pick-up, you can place the order on their website or by phone at 512-428-6564.
Acton also suggests “new brewers check out the American Homebrewers Association website. They are always a great resource for new and seasoned brewers. The AHA is one of my favorite resources, they have videos and step by step instructions on many of the brewing processes.”
JOIN A CLUB:
Joelle Dewberry and her husband Dan have been homebrewing since 1996 when they got a starter kit for Christmas. Dewberry recommends joining a homebrew club like the Austin Zealots, which is an acronym for Zymurgic Enthusiasts of Austin Loosely Organized Through Suds. She points out “There are always lots of members who love to talk beer and answer any questions you might have.” You can find them on Facebook or join their email group by sending a blank email to email@example.com. Dewberry organizes the Austin Zealots weekly Roaming Happy Hours as well, which currently are virtual via Zoom. She revealed they “are collecting tips via Venmo or PayPal to donate money to the waitstaff of a different brewery or brewpub each week just like we would be doing if we were able to have them there in person.” Makes you want to join them, eh?
DO SOME READING:
Did you know we are lucky enough to share a city with two local celebrity authors? Dan Ironside & Chris Colby have both written books on the topic of homebrewing. Ironside authored the Idiot’s Guide: Homebrewing in 2015. He replied that the book is “intended as an entry-level guide into making beer at home. It covers the very basics of beer making, beer equipment, and beer evaluation, while also offering a taste of more advanced brewing methods, such as all-grain brewing.” Colby states, “The Home Brew Recipe Bible (2106, Page Street) is a collection of home-brew recipes, most with an associated tip to make the beer better. Methods of Modern Homebrewing (2017, Page Street) discusses the various techniques used in brewing and gives example recipes for each. I have a book on hard seltzers coming out in September — How to Make Hard Seltzer (Brewers Publications, 2020).” All the material listed above can be found on Amazon & Barnes and Noble online.
WHAT TO FOCUS ON:
- Cleaning & Sanitation – Homebrewing was a major stepping stone to brewing professionally for Chris Rauschuber. His refurbished spare room for fermentation and storage became what a friend of his “ lovingly dubbed my ‘little brewtorium’ and made a framed sign to hang in it, which now rests behind the bar at our less-little Brewtorium,” he says. First and foremost, Rauschuber affirms that focusing on sanitation and cleaning needs to be a huge priority. “You can get around just about any limitations you have to make great beer as long as you keep things clean and sanitary, but you can’t fix infected beer no matter what you spend on a fancy brewing system,” he notes.
- Fermentation Temperature – A big tip that several experts were in agreement on was the importance of fermentation temperatures, especially in a warm city like Austin. Ironside adds that “Ales are often the best styles to first start with due to the warmer fermentation temperature range (64-72F) with the higher end suiting most indoor temperatures in Austin. Among ales, American styles are typically the most forgiving, having a fairly neutral flavor and wide temperature fermentation range.” Acton adds, “Unfortunately there is no such thing as foolproof when it comes to fermenting. We are dealing with living microorganisms and there is a bit of risk involved. Losing a batch to infection from poor sanitation or having to dump it because of bad flavor due to yeast stress is a part of the learning process.”
- Yeast – Colby conveys the importance of pitching an “adequate amount of yeast.” A point Acton wanted to make clear is, “Yeast wants to live! I work with a lot of customers who are concerned about the viability of their yeast and best storage practices. Yeast does need to be stored in a temperature range for the best results however yeast can take more than we give it credit for. Yeast is an amazing and tough microorganism. This means understanding the temperature control capabilities you have at home and choosing a yeast that will thrive in that temperature range.” Lastly, Dewberry suggests “SafAle yeasts from Fermentis are a good option for a new brewer to get a sufficient amount of active yeast for their brew.”
WHAT STYLE TO START WITH:
Acton recommends, “starting with an extract recipe kit. This type of kit will include a liquid or dry malt extract and some steeping grains, along with the hop additions.” These recipe kits do not require a lot of equipment or investment.
A starting style that Rauschuber suggests tackling is a Hefeweizen. He explains, “It’s pretty tolerant of warm fermentation temperatures and low yeast pitching rates, so you can get it right with just about any setup as long as you have cleaning and sanitation covered. It’s also a very refreshing style of beer to have on hand right now as the weather warms up.”
When it comes down to it, Colby simply advocates brewing what you like. “Some types of beer are harder to brew than others, but I don’t see the sense in brewing something you won’t enjoy just because it is easier,” he advises. As a final note, Ironside encourages “to brew and brew often. Practice makes perfect. No amount of equipment or fancy ingredients will help you make great beer.” He was happy to share one of his favorite starter recipes to which he calls, “Stay-at-Home” All-extract Pale Ale:
“Stay-at-home” All-extract Pale Ale
Batch size: 5 US Gallons. Boil Size: ~3 Gallons. Boil Time: 20 minutes
ABV: ~5.0%. IBU: ~40
4lbs Pale Malt Dry Malt Extract (Briess)
1.5lbs Amber Dry Malt Extract (Briess)
0.5lbs Corn Sugar (Dextrose)
Any moderate/high AA hop you like. For my recent batch, I used 1oz additions of Azacca Hops (~10%AA, 4oz in total) at 20,10,5,0 minute marks of the boil. Adjust the 20min addition up/down to achieve ~40IBU.
Any clean yeast. I like SafAle US-05 dry yeast for this recipe.
Good clean water. Any filtered/RO water would do. In general, if you don’t normally drink your tap water, then don’t brew with it. City of Austin typically has nice tap water. If you choose to use it, make sure to add some potassium metabisulfite to the tap water to remove chloramines (without it could result in a pool water taste in your beer).
Add dry malt extract and corn sugar to 2.5 gallons of water. Bring to boil. Once at boil, add hops at the 20, 10, 5 and 0 minute marks. Cool wort to below 75F. Top off the fermentation vessel with cool water and bring the total volume to 5 gallons. Give a quick shake to aerate and pitch the yeast, accordingly. Ferment below 70F until a stable final gravity is reached. Package and carbonate appropriately. Drink, share, and enjoy!
Keep an eye out for Ironside & Colbys’ books. In the meantime, take a whack at the Pale Ale recipe, and do not hesitate to reach out to Acton at Austin Homebrew Supply with questions! While you are at it, put in a delicious order of beer and food-to-go at The Brewtorium to say hello to Rauschuber and make sure to join Dewberry and the rest of the Zealots! If you create a homebrew, don’t forget to tag CraftBeerAustin.com so we can marvel at your beautiful creations! Cheers!
Correction: In the original blog post published on May 26, 2020, Lauren Acton was mistakenly referred to as Lauren Aston. We updated the post to fix our mistake on May 27, 2020. Apologies for the oversight!