Last weekend, Mohonk Mountain House hosted Brewmasters Weekend, a three-day event dedicated to the art and craft of beer and the people who brew it. Featured brew masters were Kristop Brown and James Walsh, owners of Yard Owl Craft Brewery, located approximately 10 miles from the Mountain House in Gardiner, NY.
Kristop and James hosted a Home Brewing 101 presentation on Friday night and a Baking with Beer demonstration on Sunday morning. On Saturday afternoon, we invited more than a dozen vendors to participate in the Craft Beer Expo held in our Victorian Parlor, overlooking Lake Mohonk. We caught up with James after the event and asked him to share the top takeaways from his Home Brewing 101 presentation. Here’s his expert advice for first time home brewers.
Five Tips for Making Your First Home Brew
with James Walsh, Co-Owner of Yard Owl Craft Brewery
1. Start Simple
Don’t over complicate your first beer. Keep it simple. James recommends starting with a home brew kit and following the instructions carefully. You can order extract kits online or pick one up in person. If you live in the Hudson Valley region or are visiting the area, Pantano’s Wine Grapes & Home Brew Shop is a neighborhood favorite. An easy first beer to brew: English pale ale, American pale ale, or American golden ale. Avoid Belgian and German ales, which are more complicated and require more steps.
2. Do Your Research.
There is a myriad of research available on home brewing. Take advantage of this information and familiarize yourself with the process before getting started. James recommends How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time by John Palmer. The book breaks down everything you need to know in an easy to understand format. Even the first couple chapters provide a great overview so you don’t go blindly into the process.
3. Invest in Quality Equipment.
Bacteria can grow in plastic containers, so James recommends purchasing in stainless steel kettles and glass car boys (fermentation vessels). The pH of beer is around 5.2/ 5.4, which is a suitable environment for bacteria growth. It’s important to keep your equipment clean and properly sanitized.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Brew the same style of beer a few times to confirm your measurements and develop consistency. Repeating the steps allows you to get into a groove and become more comfortable with the brewing process. “That’s what we did in the beginning. We did the same beer, like, 25 times. But we were trying to have a consistent recipe that was marketable.” The consistency, the chemistry – that’s the science of brewing. Once you understand how brewing works, you can layer on flavors and play around with spices, fruits, and barrel flavors.
5. Don’t Overthink It.
When you first start brewing, you’re going to think you’re doing something wrong. It looks messy, it doesn’t smell that great, and you’ll probably think you ruined your first batch of beer. The reality is, it’s really hard to mess up a home brew, even your first one. If you follow the steps and keep your equipment clean, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. So relax, enjoy the process, and have fun with it.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s Brewmasters event. We had a great time and we hope to see you all again next year!
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