Ever seen the aftermath of a home brew beer that got too excited, blew it’s top off and lava-ed all over the living room floor? Let’s just say Beer Hawk's Beer Sherpa Patrick Gengler's first brewing experience had its ups and downs...

People always ask what inspired me to brew my own beer. The answer is simple: my Dad is a homebrewer and when he started in the early 1980s, it was about the only way to get great tasting beer in America. In fact, the first beer I ever tasted was an imperial dry Irish stout that he brewed which, I’m sure, has lead to my continued love of Guinness. 

When I was old enough to buy brewing equipment (yes, the Americans have to wait an extra three years to buy it legally) I had already been in the US Navy for two years. Let’s not lie to each other, I lived in a house with two other sailors who were a fair few years older than myself, so by this point I was an experienced beer drinker… and rum drinker… and whiskey drinker… you get the point. The nice thing about living with people who will feed your desire for good craft beer is that when it comes time for your first brew, you already have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do.

I used to be a hop hater and would only drink beers with a strong malt character so naturally my first choice of homebrew (it being 'The Season') was a winter ale which was strong, dark, and full of spices. I didn’t know a whole lot about homebrewing but I had an experienced homebrewer a phone call away. Under his advice I went to the homebrew store and bought a big glass fermentation vessel, brew kettle, funnel with filter, and a winter ale brewing kit.

The first kit was a step up from 'just add water' but it wasn’t full grain. I had specialty grains/spices to make 'wort' with a fair bit of malt extract. (Pro tip, don’t spill this stuff anywhere that you don’t want to become incredibly sticky.) The kit also has you do three hop additions which requires a boil.

"the beer lava-ed all over my living room floor"

I'd had the hot water on the hob for about an hour so every window in the apartment was fogged and the smell permeated every square inch of the place. I got one of my roommates open the door to the balcony every 20 minutes or so. While I waited for the hop additions I filled the bathtub with cold water and ice because I didn’t budget for an immersion chiller (I highly recommend this piece of kit). I had to dunk the whole stock pot in the ice bath while stirring the hopped wort – it took an age. Once cool, I put the wort into the fermenter and added water to bring the batch to the right specific gravity. (Pro tip two, make sure your fermenter has enough headroom to foam up a bit from the yeast action… Mine didn’t and I ended up with a one-way valve full of foam and the beer lava-ed all over my living room floor… Not the best outcome for a first homebrew experience.) I wasn’t going to be beaten though, I had another go the next weekend with a bigger fermenter and this one didn’t get quite as wild.

The finished product was pretty decent but it wasn’t going to get me a job at any breweries. My next beer was a Pumpkin Porter which turned out much better. In fact, it was delicious.

There will always be ups and downs with any hobby, especially with home brew. Brewing is pretty easy to do right but unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to mess up. Just keep with it and I promise you will be rewarded. Eventually. Maybe… Good luck!