The second interview in the series is with none other than the Physician on FIRE (PoF). Take it away PoF…
Hello and Cheers! I am the Physician on FIRE, and I write about topics pertinent to potential early retirees at physicianonfire.com.
I cover investing, taxes, travel, and occasionally touch on physician issues, all with a focus on attaining financial independence.
The Nitty Gritty Of Brewing
How long have you been brewing your own beer for?
I started brewing eight years ago in 2010.
Why did you start brewing your own beer? And, why are you still doing it?
I became an investor in the Cheboygan Brewing Company. I had been looking for a good enough reason to try my hand at homebrewing, and having a stake in an actual brewery was the perfect excuse.
I still brew, although not as often as I did early on. We’ve been traveling a lot more since I dropped to part-time in my day job, so we’re not around as much to enjoy and share my homebrewed beverages. This spring, I brewed a requested beer, The Sour Patch Kid (a candy and rhubarb wheat ale) for a family member’s wedding rehearsal dinner.
Is beer the only brew you make?
I’ve fermented some ciders, and there’s not much to it. Purchase cider or juice, dump into fermenter, add yeast and yeast nutrient, and you’re done. Cuts about five hours off the brewing process.
How do you brew?
I’ve only done all-grain from scratch. That’s how the commercial brewery makes their beer, so that’s how I wanted to do it at home. I enjoy the whole process, from crushing the malted barley with a mill to aerating the wort at the end.
What are your favourite brews to make and why?
I heart hops! So I like to make IPAs and variations on them. I also brew wheat beers that my wife enjoys (as do I), porters and stouts, and experiment with various specialty beers and different yeast strains.
Finishing And Packaging
Do you bottle or keg your beer, and why?
When I was in medical school, a friend brewed a batch for me, and I helped him bottle it up. It was time consuming, messy, and several of the bottles were clearly contaminated.
When I started brewing, I bulit a keezer (chest freezer converted to keg fridge) and I’ve been kegging in 5-gallon ball-lock Cornelius kegs. I can serve up to six different beers at a time with one on nitro.
Do you dry or wet hop your brews?
I’ve done both. I have hops growing on the south side of our home, so I’ll do a wet hop batch in the early fall. I’ve also done mash hopping, first wort hopping, whirlpool hopping, and of course, dry hopping. I heart hops.
Learnings Of A Brewer
What have been your biggest failures with brewing?
I’ve never had to dump a batch, but the first time I brewed with Citra hops, they were mislabeled as having a much lower alpha acid component than they actually did. Being new to homebrewing, it didn’t strike me as odd, so I took that number at face value and made what turned out to be a very bitter, unbalanced beer.
On it’s own, it was not particularly pleasant, but when blended with a more mild pale ale, it actually tasted quite good. So I salvaged that one, in a way.
Have you had any really stupid or laughable moments as a brewer?
Always check your ball valves before filling a large container with hot liquid! I’ve had numerous surprises when either mashing in or beginning to collect wort in my boil kettle. Not long ago, I probably lost the first gallon of wort, which has the most fermentable sugars, as it pooled up on the patio floor while I was distracted.
I’ve also had some really stupid and laughable moments after consuming the homebrewed beer, but those are stories for another day.
Do you brew by yourself, or do your family or friends help out with the process?
I brew alone. I have brewed with my brother a couple times, and have had friends over to learn a thing or two, but it’s easy to get distracted and distractions can lead to disasters.
What do you love most about brewing?
The finished product, of course! I like sharing my creations with friends, and having homebrew on draft makes that really easy to do.
Is there anything about brewing that drives you crazy?
Not really. Maybe the fact that I usually have to wait a couple weeks from the brewday until it’s fermented and ready to drink.
The Financials of Brewing
How much are you saving by brewing it yourself?
In terms of ingredients, most 5-gallon batches are in the $15 to $25 USD range (note: $0.36 to $0.60 AUD per 330ml beer). That gets me 40 to 50 servings, so about fifty cents a pour.
In terms of time, if I value my time at a hundred dollars an hour, it’s much cheaper to buy beer off the shelf. But I enjoy brewing, so I don’t look at it that way.
Do you have any efficiency tips for fellow brewers?
I force-carbonate finished beers at about 35 psi for 24 hours and they’re ready to drink in one day.
Also, if I’m getting all my equipment out and setting aside time to brew, I like to do two simultaneous, slightly staggered beers. You have to have some duplication in equipment, but I can do one all-grain batch in 4 to 5 hours, and adding a second beer only adds an hour to my brewday.
Parting Words Of Wisdom
Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about getting into brewing?
Make sure you can find the time to brew and a good place to do it. I started in the kitchen and the whole house would smell like wort for a day or two after a brewday. I thought it was great! My wife – not so much. Now I brew in a screened-in porch.
Reuse yeast – you can save it in jars or just brew right into the fermenter when you transfer the most recent batch to keg or bottle.
Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. I learned a lot from Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing. Online forums can be great, too.
Finally, if there’s a local homebrew club, join up! You’ll learn a lot more from spending time every month with your new homebrewing friends than you will from reading a few words from me.
Fabulous! A big thanks to PoF for sharing his insight and knowledge on brewing beer with us.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Beer O’Clock Brewing Sessions.