You Always Remember Your First

KGB members reflect on their first home brews

Aaron Malburg

My brewing started 8 years ago with a 1 gallon batch of hard cider in the shittiest apartment EMU could give me for free. I don't know what yeast I used (probably bakers yeast) and I guess it turned out ok. We didn't care because we were in college, didn't like beer and wanted cheaper cider than I could buy at the store. I do remember it being bone dry.

Three years later, my in-laws, also known as my brewing investors, bought me a beer kit from Cap N Cork on my birthday. It was an extract kit (maybe a wheat?) and I had two hours before I had to leave our one bedroom apartment for dinner so I figured I had plenty of time. The next hour and forty-five minutes have been blocked out of my memory because I had no idea what I was doing. But, I do remember putting boiling wort into the plastic fermenter and then putting it in the laundry room wash bin with cold water. I expected it'd be chilled by the time I got back but it wasn't. The next morning yeast was pitched and bottle collecting began. I really believe I drank 50 beers in those two weeks because I was unwilling to buy bottles. Every cabinet in the apartment had bottles hidden in it. My wife was not pleased. The beer must've tasted terrible because I don't remember even bottling it.

My next kit was a Cap N Cork milk stout. That turned out fantastic and everything went on from there. Every year I get some new brewing toy from my in-laws. Now I trip over brewing stuff all over the basement. There were at least 10 brews before I began writing anything down in a journal. There were at least two attempts at brewing KBS, with no real brewing experience, and they were dumped. Turns out, professional brewers are good.

This week I just hit my 75th brew. I've had 17 recipes I would like to re-brew, probably 15 batches I had a hard time drinking, two accidental infections, and a lot of decent beer. Any improvement I've made I can attribute to joining KGB. Each meeting I learn something new. Thanks for all your help everyone!

Duke Turner

My first brewing experience came with a Mr Beer Kit that was a present for Christmas from my wife. I remember the instructions being kind of easy and fermenting seemed straightforward. The kit was a simple pale ale. Turned out OK from what I can remember. After that I decided that I was going to just do my thing with this kit and make a 120 minute IPA. Knowing absolutely nothing about bittering and aroma, and with no recipe, I strolled into Cap N Cork looking like a dunce. The guy led me to some extract and I just bought some hops with no idea what I was doing. Boiled this baby for 2 hours adding little bits of hops into the boil every 5 minutes or so because that’s what I heard they did at Dogfish Head for their 120 minute IPA. I remember boiling that thing pretty far down (2 hours will do that duh!). It was so hoppy and thick it reminded me of soup. I poured it into the fermenting vessel and topped it off with some water. After fermentation it was fun trying to figure out how to get this into bottles because the trub was too high for that spigot. It got bottled and was drank. I was told by a few that it tasted good. I thought it was dank and piney. Looking back probably not balanced at all just a big hop bomb. It prompted me to get better than a 2 gallon kit so I started buying odd and end items off craigslist and reading up on how to brew a 5 gallon batch. Ran across BIAB style brewing and the rest is history.

Bob Hart

I bought my parents a wine kit 12 years ago for Xmas. I then decided I was going to start brewing beer. I took what was leftover from their wine kit, bought a few other things, then bought a Brewer's Best IPA kit. The beer turned out pretty good. We ended up having a few bottles after a soccer game and everyone enjoyed it. I haven't looked back since.

Steve Smalenberg

I brewed my first batch on 12/28/99 with a kit I got for Christmas from my mom - A Brewer's Best Continental Pilsner. She had no idea what she was starting. I had everything I needed to get started but a pot and the bottles. I'd watched a few all grain brewing sessions before I attempted this and had done some reading, but mistakes were made. My good friend Michael Ireland was at that point doing ten gallon all grain batches every two weeks with a group of four guys. They'd won a state fair ribbon and I'd tasted many of their efforts, so I knew what was possible.

Steve's batch notes from his first beer
Armed with good intentions, I started a partial boil on the stove, and because I was working alone and didn't know better, I didn't remove the kettle from the burner to add the liquid extract or have an extra hand to help stir it in. I realize later I ended up with a lot of extract caramelized on the bottom of the pot. Everything else about the brewing part went pretty smoothly. I didn't have a wort chiller, so I stuck the pot in a snow bank and it took about 1.5 hours for the temperature to drop enough to where I could top up to 5 gallons with cold tap water and pitch the dry yeast. Original gravity: 1.024 (.02 lower than predicted - that was a lot of sugar stuck in the pot). Activity in the airlock about 20 hours after pitching. Woo hoo! Almost no activity in the airlock a day later. Why? It doesn't take much time to ferment a 2.5% ABV beer.

I bottled the batch on 1/5/00, producing (24) 22 oz bottles and tasted it three weeks later: it was beer! It was pretty flavorful despite being roughly half the predicted ABV and I got compliments and encouragement from my more experienced friends.

The next batch was a robust porter kit and turned out much better, even after my attempt at using a heat diffuser under the kettle led me to nearly melting the wiring on our electric stove... but that's another story.

Doug King

My first homebrewing experience was with my friend Earl, who invited me to brew a beer on his equipment. We went to AIH in Taylor (Earl lived downriver), and I picked out a Scottish 90 Schilling recipe, based mainly on the description saying it was malty, which they put together in the store as we watched. It was an extract kit with steeped grains, and we brewed it that afternoon - I don't remember if it was outside or on his stove, but I do remember cooling the pot in his sink, and it took forever. We also took a lot of pains to keep the kettle trub from going into the fermenter, using a cheesecloth to strain out all the bits - it was very clumsy and time-consuming, and I've never done it since. We left it in a bucket in Earl's basement to ferment. A couple days later, Earl called to let me know that the lid blew off the bucket, and that there was some beer splattered about, but it seemed OK, so he cleaned the airlock and put the lid back on. About 3 weeks later, we bottled it and I took most of it home to carbonate, and bought my own equipment that same day (with a copper chiller - I didn't want to wait 90 minutes for my wort to cool again!). As I remember, the beer had a slight "twang" to it, but I don't remember any major off flavors. I consider it a success for a first brew.

Fresh picked Centennial hops used in Brian's first batch
Brian Guilbault

My first brew was in September, 2015. I got interested and asked a friend I knew who brewed on occasion and also grew hops. We planned a brew day during his hop harvest. We made a Brewer's Best American pale ale kit and switched out the kit's late addition hops for his fresh wet Centennial hops we picked while the water was heating. I was immediately hooked and had my own equipment before that batch was even bottled. The beer turned out really good and I still haven't made a wet hopped beer since, something I plan to remedy next fall.

Thanks to Aaron, Duke, Bob, Steve, Doug, and Brian for sharing their first brewing experiences.