First batch a big hit for novice brewer

Posted Feb. 15, 2011, at 8:22 p.m.
Nick McCrea's Broadway Brown Ale has more flavor than a light beer but less overpowering than a porter.
Nick McCrea's Broadway Brown Ale has more flavor than a light beer but less overpowering than a porter.

Victory! After a nasty bout with stomach flu delayed my column and — what’s worse — the testing of my first-ever home-brew, I finally felt healthy enough late last week to have a taste. Good news: Two weeks of fermentation, two weeks of carbonation and several days of violent, mortifying sickness were well worth the wait. This Broadway Brown Ale is delicious.

As I cracked open the first bottle, I heard that satisfying “tsssst.” I grabbed a glass and began pouring in the product of my labor. The deep brown liquid quickly foamed up, and I had to let it settle before dumping in the rest. I left the last quarter-inch of beer in the bottle to be sure any yeasty sediment that settled at the bottom after bottling didn’t make it into my glass. That little bit of sediment wouldn’t have ruined the beer if it got into the glass, but it could make it cloudy or alter the texture and taste.

After tasting this beer, I struggle to describe it in words. I hope to learn more about how to characterize my beers as I go, but for now, it’s easiest to compare it with a more commercial beer. I would liken this brew to a Newcastle Brown Ale or Sam Adams Boston Lager. It’s a great middle-of-the-road beer with more flavor than a light beer, and it’s less overpowering than a porter or dark brew.

What I really like about this ale is that it isn’t as filling as darker, more stout beers, but still has good character and layers of taste. It retained subtle hints of chocolate and caramel from the malts I used last month when I stood over a hot stove during my first blind foray into brewing.

As the beer hits the back of your tongue, the flavor of the hops jumps in, followed by a lingering bitterness that some of the people who tried my beer weren’t too fond of. I love it, and most of the beer buffs and brewers who sampled it enjoyed that bitterness, which I’m told by the people at Central Street Farmhouse mostly comes from the brown malts.

When you taste beer that you’ve brewed with your own hands, you can pick out the flavors and aromas and begin to identify what ingredients and steps were eventually responsible for the hint of this sweetness or the strength of that smell. I noticed and enjoyed things about my home-brew that I never picked up on in beers I purchased at a grocery store or bar. I feel a closeness and appreciation for the nuances of this batch of brown ale that I hadn’t cared to notice in beers that weren’t “mine.”

After I finished my first few beers and took a day or two to make sure I wouldn’t drop dead, I started passing bottles of beer to friends, family members and coworkers. Soon, I was taking orders.

Keep in mind, selling home-brewed beer without going through the licensing process that allows you to sell alcohol is illegal. Sharing and gift giving, however, are as encouraged as they were when you were a kid in the sandbox.

One thing I’ve learned about home-brewing is that once you pick up the hobby, others you know will come out of the woodwork saying, “I’ve always wanted to try that,” or “I’ve been brewing for years.”

Usually, these people will offer you advice or — even better — beers of their own. So far, three other home-brewers have offered up their bottles in exchange for a taste of mine.

It’s quite the phenomenon. I assumed that after brewing 45 bottles of brown ale, I would end up with 45 bottles of brown ale. This isn’t quite how things turned out. Almost immediately, more than a dozen bottles went to friends and family members who wanted a sample of my new hobby. Some of these were replaced by beers or promises of beers from other brewers who wanted to compare and contrast styles.

One of my favorite exchanges so far was a chocolate-orange porter passed down from a coworker’s husband. It’s a dark beer brewed with melted chocolate and freshly squeezed oranges. Yeah, it’s delicious — like drinking a chocolate cake with just a hint of orange tang. Beer and dessert all in one!

I haven’t advanced quite enough to be able to incorporate fresh ingredients like this without explicit instructions, but I hope to be there soon. My goal is to get creative with my beers, creating tastes, aromas and a general drinking experience that no one else has had. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

For now, I’ve started my second batch of beer, a Belgian Imperial Stout from Central Street Farmhouse. It should be right up my alley — dark and dense, with an alcohol content around 8 or 9 percent if all goes well. I hope it will be ready before my supply of brown ale runs out. I may need to ration my gift giving.

Bring it on. Brew on.

Nick McCrea is a Bangor Daily News copy editor. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in magazine, newspaper and online journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. This occasional column will chronicle his first endeavor at beer brewing.

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