There isn't a finer smell than the malty aroma of home brew cooking on the stove. Ahhhh...
I had been putting off this first batch (in probably a decade) because the process had grown somewhat foggy in my mind and I was a little nervous. I wanted everything to be perfect. Well, I learned a lot this time around, but here are a few high(or low)-lights;
I hate the electric stove top. I had two boil-overs, and burnt malt wort is horrendous to clean (wort is what they call the unfermented malt/hops brew). The heating elements on this particular stove don't work the way you might think... getting hotter as you turn up the dial. No. The element itself has only two temperatures; OFF and FULL-ON-BLAZING-CHERNOBYL-HOT. If you want a moderately hot burner, the element goes on-off-on-off-on-off to regulate the temperature. D'oy!! They can send a probe to Mars, can they not make an electric stove burner that just gets a little hot, or medium-hot, as well as Pele-Goddess-of-the-Volcano hot?
Anyway, next, I took too long in cooling the wort. As I had cooked only half the wort, I thought pouring in the additional 2.5 gallons of chilled, distilled water might be enough to bring it close to 75º, but it wasn't. That took it only to about 110º. So I packed ice around the plastic carboy (that's a big, lidded bucket that holds the brew), put the lid loosely on top, and waited. The thing is, in order to get an accurate reading of the temperature of the wort, I felt like it needed a stir before I dropped in the thermometer. So, I ended up opening the lid, stirring, and taking the temperature several times. This is not good, because the whole idea is, once the wort is cooked, to bring it down to 75º as quickly as possible, and then add the yeast and seal the thing up in order to keep from contaminating the brew with unfriendly bacteria.
The good thing is, next time I think I can pretty much tell by feel whether the wort is cool enough, based on this episode. I was getting more scientific than I needed to. 75º is about skin temperature.
Last, and most frustrating, was when I seated the airlock in the opening in the center of the carboy lid. The instructions recommended putting Vodka in the airlock, again, to keep out the marauding bacterial hordes (the airlock lets the happy little brewing bubbles escape, but keeps air out. Air is, apparently. just lousy with bacteria).
So, like a noob, I assembled the airlock, poured in the Vodka and then stuck the airlock in the opening, which slightly depressed the lid of the carboy. Unfortunately, when I took my hand off the airlock, the lid popped back up a little, and sucked several drops of Vodka down into the wort. At this point, I said a bad word. I actually said it three times. Nothing satisfies like that yummy Vodka-flavored English Ale!
But, as I say, the brew is now doing its thing, and part of the romance of the whole venture is not knowing exactly how things may come out.
Here's the coolest thing, though. Last week I discovered that my local home brew shop now carries (drum roll)... cheese-making supplies. I know what I'll be doing once this batch of home=brew is bottled!