The third interview in the series is with Adam from Brewing FIRE. Take it away Adam…
Hi, I’m Adam. I’m a research chemist, I brew part-time at a brewpub, and I blog over at brewingfire.com. Brewing FIRE is the creative outlet where I share my thoughts on personal finance, continual improvement, and homebrewing (of course!)
The Nitty Gritty Of Brewing
How long have you been brewing your own beer for?
I got serious about homebrewing in 2013. I brewed a few batches before then, but the beer was sufficiently awful to make me rethink my priorities. Five years ago I decided I would make a greater effort to understand the process, and I haven’t stopped since.
Why did you start brewing your own beer? And, why are you still doing it?
Back then, it wasn’t so easy to find any style of beer you wanted on the shelf at the local liquor store. I was buying hoppier offerings from Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, but still wanting more. Shortly thereafter, I attended a “learn to homebrew” seminar at our local homebrew shop, and I was hooked.
These days, it’s easy to get great examples of any beer style you can imagine. Heck, craft breweries have resurrected previously forgotten styles (Berliner Weisse) and created new ones (Brut IPA) in the name of pushing the boundaries of beer.
The reason I still brew now is twofold. First, I love doing it. It’s an enjoyable hobby, and the end product is beer! Second, the sharing and collaboration aspect of the craft is great. It’s very rewarding to stand by your kegerator with another craft beer lover and discuss the finer aspects of your homebrew.
Is beer the only brew you make, or do you brew cider, ginger beer or other beverages as well?
Every fall, I make a couple of trips to the local farm to fill up my carboy with fresh apple cider, which I ferment into hard cider for my wife. This year I added some ginger to the cider, which gave it a nice spicy kick.
Last year I read a book called The Fermented Man (Dellinger), which chronicled the author’s experiment to eat only fermented foods for a year. After reading this, I tried fermenting pretty much everything in our kitchen. I had a few hits and a few misses. Red cabbage is especially tasty if fermented properly. On the other hand, don’t use garlic bagels for Kvass.
How do you brew?
I’ve been brewing all-grain batches from the beginning. My background is in biochemistry, and I spend my days in a research lab, so I was naturally drawn to the all-grain method. I enjoy having full control over all variables of the process. I also design my own recipes, although many times I start with a good reference, such as Brewing Classic Styles (Zainasheff).
Finishing And Packaging
Do you bottle or keg your beer, and why?
I do both, depending on the beer I’m brewing. For hoppier beers that are best served fresh, I always keg. For beers that keep well (or may even improve with age), I normally bottle. This includes higher gravity styles, stuff that I’ve aged in barrels, and mixed culture (sour/funky) beers.
Do you dry or wet hop your brews? What is your reasoning for or against additional hopping?
If I’m brewing an IPA, I’m adding hops at nearly all steps of the process. I’ve experimented with first wort hopping, various additions during the boil, flameout/whirlpool additions, and multiple steps of dry-hopping. It seems that you can’t hop enough these days. I know a number of breweries that are adding more than 5 lbs per bbl for dry-hopping only (~13 oz in a 5 gallon batch). I’m not quite that extreme at home, but it’s fun to push the limits sometimes.
Learnings Of A Brewer
What are your favourite brews to make and why?
I typically alternate between ‘hoppy’ and ‘other’. Like many beer drinkers, I’m really keen on IPAs and DIPAs, although I still prefer the bitter, “West Coast” style to the new juicy/hazy New England IPAs.
For the ‘other’ category, I brew mostly Belgian, funky, and sour beers. I love farmhouse ales, and brew them year round. I have 6 carboys/barrels of sour ales aging in the basement right now. I’ve also got a Russian Imperial Stout that I brewed in March which is just about ready for consumption.
What have been your biggest failures with brewing?
For a number of years I was harvesting and repitching my yeast, partly to save money. Although this works most of the time, I have had a couple of bad batches because of poor yeast health and/or infection. Risking a bad fermentation is not worth the time, effort and materials that go into homebrewing, so I’ve stopped reusing most yeasts.
Have you had any really stupid or laughable moments as a brewer?
I dropped a screwdriver into a boiling wort once. I definitely wasn’t laughing at the time. But everyone needs a little iron in their diet, right!?
Do you brew by yourself, or do your family or friends help out with the process?
I used to make brew days into a social event. I’d invite over some friends, we’d share beer and hang out during the beermaking process. Now that I’ve got a one year old daughter, it’s harder to sneak into the basement for a half day of ‘drinking with the boys.’ Most of the time I’m brewing by myself at opportune times, like when my wife goes out with the baby for a few hours.
What do you love most about brewing?
I love having complete control over the beer I produce. I can choose the malt character, the hop profile (bitterness/aroma), the alcohol content, and almost any other aspect of the beer. Also, creating something that you prefer to store-bought alternatives is a great feeling.
Is there anything about brewing that drives you crazy?
The lack of repeatability, at times. I’m a very methodical person, so when I don’t hit my targets (mash temperature, volumes, specific gravity), I’m mildly annoyed. I have my process reasonably dialed in, but the occasional hiccup in brewhouse efficiency irks me.
How much does an average brew cost you?
I wrote this article on the cost of homebrewing beer, which features my breakdown and analysis. Generally speaking, it costs me around $0.50 USD per 12 oz (editor’s note: that’s 355ml) beer produced. However, I often get leftover grains/hops from the brewpub I work at for no cost, so many of my brew days only cost me the price of yeast.
Do you have any efficiency or other money saving tips for fellow brewers?
There’s a quote by the famous homebrewer Denny Conn that goes, “Make the best beer possible with the least effort possible while having the most fun possible.” To me, time efficiency is more important than anything else, because we’re all busy.
I’ve experimented with techniques such as brew in a bag (BIAB), batch sparging, and shorter mash/boil times, all in the name of having a quicker brew day. Many of my tips for efficiency and cost savings are in my Homebrewing Equipment Guide.
Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone thinking about getting into brewing?
Pay attention to the details. I like to think of homebrewing in terms of the Pareto Principle. You will probably be able to produce an “80% awesome” beer within a few brewing sessions. The last 20% of greatness is the hardest to attain.
From my experience, you will need to focus on water chemistry, yeast health and fermentation conditions in order to produce a world class beer. With some patience and attention to detail, I think anyone can get there.
A big thanks to Adam for sharing his insight and knowledge on brewing beer with us.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of the Beer O’Clock Brewing Sessions.