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What I Learned About Brewing in 2021

Last year, I brewed 20 batches of adult beverages (primarily beer and test mashes).

In no particular order, here are things I learned during the year:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic left me with more time at home to brew, but at the same time made doing so a bit less enjoyable.  Why?  Because I could not share my homebrew with family and friends as easily as I could pre-pandemic.  Without feedback from my friends about what they did (and didn't) like in my beer, I was less motivated to brew and less able to improve my beer than in prior years.
  • The pump on The Grainfather has a life span (in my experience) of around 200 brews before it dies, and the "official" replacement is way too expensive to suit me (like $190).  I was able to replace it with a pump from Amazon for about $70 that seems to flow much better and stronger than the official pump.  It took some redneck-looking jerry-rigging to fix it, but the system flows better now and I can continue brewing.
  • On a personal note, I have a very bad habit of accumulating brewing ingredients and not using them before they go stale. I get excited about a recipe and buy what I need to make it, then life gets busy and I forget that I have the ingredients.  I get excited to brew some other thing, and rinse/repeat.  Come January, and I find bags of grain that are a year or two old.  I know from homebrew competition judging notes that this isn't going to make good beer.  The only things I can do with this stale grain are:
    • Brew test batches (to try out things like high-wheat, high-oat, or other grain bills)
    • Offer it up to local farmers to feed livestock
    • Toss it out (which I'd only do as a last resort)
  • The above brings me to a rant to American lawmakers.  The distillation of alcoholic spirits on the home level should be legalized.  In the past, when information about the dangers of a still explosion, knowledge of how to clean a still to avoid poisonous contaminants, and to separate the methanol from the ethanol, it made sense to outlaw hobby distilling.  Today, there are YouTube Channels like Still It, Bearded and Bored, and Barley and Hops to show people how to keep safe when distilling at home.  There are written resources, and even online courses in the subject.  The chances of a home distiller making a dangerous product, assuming that they actually do a bit of learning first, are extremely low.  Legalizing home distilling would encourage companies to make safe distilling systems for home use, provide training and even certification, etc.  And the home distillers would undoubtedly try out some non-traditional ingredients, inventing new styles of spirits that could be commercially produced - leading to some innovation in the very staid commercial spirit market.  Looking at New Zealand as an example, the legalization of home distilling hasn't led to a huge illegal moonshine industry, hasn't killed the commercial spirits market, hasn't reduced the government's tax income, etc.  It's just opened the country to some innovation and to a burgeoning home distilling marketplace.  The US sees itself as a leader and innovator, but we're way behind on this one.
  • If home distillation was legal, all that stale homebrew grain of mine could be brewed into mashes and fermented, then distilled into a whiskey that I could enjoy anytime.  Instead, my test batches end up going down the drain unless they're drinkable as a beverage (which they're generally not) and the grain more or less wasted.  
  • As I get older, home brewing is less enjoyable because of the physical pain I experience doing it.  The arthritis in my joints and the fibromyalgia pain I experience in general mean that brewing sessions are always painful to some degree, even on my best days.  That leads me to think I am going to see an end to home brewing at some point in the future.  This is making me think a lot more about choosing and creating good recipes, making smaller batches to minimize the wear and tear on my body, and brewing more tried-and-true recipes than new ones so that the effort I put in generates a better finished beer.
Thanks for listening.  Hope you have a great 2022 - or as good as COVID-19 will allow...

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