The Junction
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The Junction

Life Lessons I’ve Imbibed While Making My Own Beer

A draft of ancient wisdom in every glass

Photo by Cottonbro on

Homebrewing might be the nearest thing to wizardry an everyday muggle can experience. The beer homebrewer invokes fermentation forces to turn grains, hops, malts, sugar, and yeast into sublime beverages.

Like many magical journeys, conjuring craft beers in the home also imbues the spell master with wisdom about the essence of success.

Success lesson 1: The power of patience

If patience is a virtue, successful homebrewers must learn to become almost saintly.

After heating five gallons of water to around 170° F, you dunk a muslin bag of crushed grains for about 20 minutes. The results are miraculous: the water transforms into an amber-colored liquid called wort.

Wort is a fickle potion. It likes to boil over and coat your heating apparatus — often the stove — in a film of sticky goo. The secret is to restrain the wort in a “gentle rolling boil” for about an hour.

During that time, you ply the wort with hops and malt at carefully timed intervals. Miss an ingredient and the spell might be spoiled.

Now the wort has to be cooled to around 70° F. The cooling-off period seems to take an age, even if you steep the hot container in a bath of ice. And don’t get ice in the wort; it is as sensitive to bacteria as a newborn baby. You may be tempted to remove the lid to get the temperature down, but that too might admit hordes of saboteur microbes. You just have to wait.

The cooled wort is transferred to a large container called a fermenter. Now it’s time to activate the fermentation spirits by adding water and pitching sprinkles of yeast — the fairy dust of brewing.

The wort bubbles like a Mordor bog for a couple of days then quietens down. It can take a week or so for the yeast to work its magic — a tough wait for novices as they anxiously check their creation.

After fermentation, the immature brew — laced with a generous helping of sugar — is bottled for some 10 days. During that time, rookie homebrewers can’t help but peer nervously into the dark brown bottles. Is the brew clearing; where are the gas bubbles that give it some fizz; have I messed up?

Success lesson 2: perseverance the secret sauce

Read any self-help book about achieving success, and chances are it will emphasize the need for perseverance. But the book probably won’t recommend homebrewing as a path to perseverance, even though beer makers must learn to endure against the odds.

The process can be more treacherous than a vat of orcs. Microbes are always on the lookout for opportunities to invade through a chink created by a failure to sanitize. Primeval sludges form at the bottom of containers and are always ready to sneak into the brew rendering it murkier than a witch’s intentions.

Almost inevitably, demons like these cause some failures. Among my first attempts was a sickly brew that tasted like a week-old bar rag. It sat for weeks in bottles, an evil sludge genie gleefully rising up at the slightest shake.

The homebrewer learns to stay the course and keep trying, even after discovering that a batch of ale lovingly brought to fruition has flatlined because the bottle caps leak.

Success lesson 3: risk the risqué

Risk-taking is at the heart of success in life — and homebrewing.

And not just the risks described above. A more formidable risk horizon emerges when the intrepid homebrewer graduates beyond store-bought beer kits. Now it’s time to venture out with your own custom recipes. There is no limit to the mix of flavors and bouquets you can create.

A rogan josh curry-flavored beer may send purists to the nearest spittoon, but if that your dream brew then accept the risks and forge ahead.

The last draft

Your ultimate reward is a supremely-crafted, richly colored, flavorful beer — and perhaps the most important life lesson of all.

As any wizened wizard knows, it is not so much whether your glass is half empty or half full that matters, but what you put into it.




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K. B. Cottrill

K. B. Cottrill

Constantly losing the main plot while finding quirkier ones to write about for print, stage, and screen.