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“Beginning Homebrew” is Good Start, Not the End, of Homebrew Training

If you're a homebrewer, you had to start somewhere. Me, I started at Bill Jusino's house with Andy, petrified that my parents' warnings to be careful about meeting strangers from the Internet were going to come true and that I'd wind up chopped up in the Coleman cooler mash tun I had seen sitting on the front step. Luckily, Andy and Bill haven't killed me (yet), and instead I got to see the fascinating process of brewing beer at home. I quickly ran out and grabbed Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and read it cover to cover and ordered some equipment from Northern Brewer.

Papazian's bible is a starting point for many, as is John Palmer's How to Brew. Countless homebrewers have started with each and gotten hooked, many eventually winding up in the HomebrewTalk forums talking about how to replicate Cantillon's Lou Pepe Kriek.

There are a lot of resources out there for learning how to homebrew. Books, magazines, blogs, websites, mailbags, live demos, group brew days, newsletters, smoke signals, et al ad nauseum.

Recently we got an email about a DVD/video series called Beginning Homebrew. The Beginning Homebrew website has an infographic, an e-book, and a DVD, but for the month of May, in honor of the National Homebrew Competition, you can stream the DVD for free (normally it's $19.95 for the package of DVD plus e-book) via a series of embedded videos on the website.

Beginning Homebrew can't replace either of the books I mentioned above. In terms of detail and scientific explanations, it falls short of the seminal works in homebrew pedagogy, but it does have some strengths, chief of which is that you can see the process happen from start to finish; this leaves nothing to the imagination for the all-too-often nervous novice homebrewer. Some of the pros and cons of the product are discussed below in case you or someone you know wants to check out Beginning Homebrew.

Pros:

  • Shows good workarounds, like how to crush your own grains with a rolling pin, just need to be careful to make sure you're getting a good crush, as well as good tricks like heating up the malt extract to ensure a better pour.
  • Good description of every step of the process, including the logic of each step, but it could be useful to have an overall description of the brewing process before everything starts up.
  • Similarly, the purpose of each piece of equipment is described well and fit into the process.
  • Great recommendation to consult the local homebrew shop about water quality issues.
  • Nice work talking through the different forms that yeast comes in and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.
  • There's a good emphasis on sanitation here, especially (and appropriately) once the boil is complete, but a discussion about what to use for sanitation would be helpful as there are many products out there.

Cons:

Some of the techniques and advice used are problematic. Consider:

  • Moving the pot off the burner while steeping specialty grains for the mash. Since metal is a poor insulator, the wort will cool off and not hold temperature, especially over 45 minutes. Better advice here would be to check the temperature as needed throughout the mashing process and heat the pot back up if need be.
  • The video forbids the use of aluminum pots, saying it's a "big no no" for homebrewing. But this is false. See this, and this, for example. The use of aluminum will not “ruin your beer.”
  • What will hurt the quality of your beer, however, is conducting the boil with the lid on, which doesn't allow DMS (dimethyl sulfide) to escape, which can in turn result in your beer tasting like cooked vegetables. The video, to be fair, doesn't explicitly say to boil with the lid on, but if novices are learning by watching, they may internalize that lesson.
  • The statement that you “need” a wort chiller if you have a five gallon pot. You don't. It's ideal, sure, but you can use an ice bath. There's no mandate to needing a wort chiller for anything over 3 gallons.
  • "Hops give beer its flavor;" this doesn't really explain why adding hops in different places is important (dual nature of hops: flavor/aroma and bitterness). To be fair though, an extended discussion of alpha acids is more in-depth than what this video calls for.

So there are strengths and weaknesses, but for the month of May, there is also opportunity. Where you would normally have to pay a fee, the folks at Beginning Homebrew are now offering their product for free. So if you or someone you know (or if you're Gotye, someone that you used to know) is looking to get into the world of homebrewing, send them this way, but also send them another resource or two. Combined, between seeing and reading what to do, they'll probably end up with a solid product.

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