Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Custom Brew

When I moved to Massachusetts in 1999 I had drank a total of 2 full beers in my life.  And both were after several other drinks.  With a username like Stolimadras you can imagine that vodka was more the drink of choice.  But when I moved here, it seemed EVERYONE drank beer.  I mean everyone.  I felt odd ordering a screwdriver... and whiskey was just a recipe for disaster.

Luckily, I started to hang out with a group of people who knew a lot about microbrews, one was even a brewer for Smuttynose beer at the time.  And then I found the Sunset Grill in Alston, that really broadened my beer horizons, and I will now say that I am a beer drinker, but I remain selective.  I like a custom brew, I like something unique.  Much like when I try a new wine, I want to enjoy and experience different tastes and flavors.

All this history, leading up to an enjoyable hobby...Home Brewing.  I have several friends that are regular home brewers.  Some of their stuff is amazing.  Some of it also tastes horrible, but just like other culinary attempts there are often failures on the path to success.  They chalk up the bad tastings to gaining experience.  As I learned more about beer, I wanted to try to brew a batch myself.  I don't expect to be converting a section of the basement into a brewery but I would like to experience creating a craft beer myself.  We are lucky in the Boroughs to have two businesses close by catering to these types efforts, Strange Brew in Marlborough and Deja Brew in Shrewsbury.

First the path not taken.  After visiting and talking with several local friends everyone agreed Strange Brew is probably the best options for brewing supplies. They have just about everything in stock that you need for all different styles of beer. They also have a lot of pre-packaged kits that to help the novice brewer get their feet wet without too much risk of failure.  I have been onto Strange Brew a few times with friends collecting supplies and the beers they have brewed have come out great...but brewing at home had major flaws in my mind.  I have never done it, and I know I like unique beers.  The odds of my pulling of a good batch my first time out were pretty slim.  Also, I am not always the most patient.  Without someone guiding me I doubt I would wait the correct number of minutes at each step.  And finally, if I brew at home, I get to be the one who has to clean it up, that definitely doesn't seem like extra fun.
So after some though, I decided that the best option for me was to try Deja Brew.  I am going to take you through the whole experience but before I start, let me say the Saturday morning I spent making my batch of beer at Deja Brew was AWESOME.  I cannot believe how much fun I had, ever single moment was great, the mixing, the cooking, the tasting, the general atmosphere.  What an amazing business, I am so happy that I tried it.  And now I am excitedly awaiting my batch of custom brew to be ready.  Here is how the day went.

10:00 AM
I arrived at Deja Brew without any real expectations.  I did bring my cameras so that I could record some of the events for the blog.  My first task was to choose a recipe.  What type of beer would I like to make?  I told Nick, one of the brewers, that I like high alcohol content flavorful beers, but I don't like it to be too hoppy or have a bitter aftertaste.  I mentioned that I enjoy, Delirium Tremens, Dogfish 90, and several of the Berkshire brewery line.  After some discussion on flavors and options, I selected the 12 honey ale.  To confirm this was a good selection I sampled some of the 12 honey ale that last brewed.

10:15 AM
Time to start measuring out grain.  The first task on the recipe was to measure out 6 pounds of grain.  I like the fact that they aren't doing the work for you.  Nick pointed me at a table with several grains on the shelves and pointed at the scale.

After the grain is measured, it is time to grind.  I ran the grain through the mill and into a container to be brewed.  I added the grain to the kettle and was shown where to gather my other ingredients.  I would have a little time as the kettle needed to reach 180 degrees.

I spent the next 30 minutes collecting the proper amounts pale malt, honey, and hops for my recipe.  Every few minutes I stopped back at my kettle to lift and shake the grain.  This was to increase the flavor of the beer.  And I started talking with some of the other brewers there to get their impressions of Deja Brew.

10:50 AM
The rest of the ingredients are collected and the kettle has reached 180 degrees.  Time to begin the cooking.

For the next hour plus I was adding ingredients, timing how long they cooked and tasting some of the other brews being bottled by other brewers.  It was a very social experience, people talking and hanging out.  I met one couple who was a brewing a batch of beer together as an anniversary activity.  One family had purchased the brewing for the father and the wife and kids were there to help.  It was a room full of great local people having a good time.

12:00 PM
The brewing was complete.  It was now time to cool the mixture and add yeast.  With the help of the brewers we piped my 12 Honey Ale into a lined fermenting drum and added yeast.  I labeled this batch Big Boroughs Brew in honor of the blog and helped move it to the back room where it will sit until February 20th, when it is ready to be bottled.

The staff at Deja Brew then cleaned the kettles, the bowls, and any other items I used so they are ready for the next brewer.  All the fun, with no clean up or mess.  While it was brewing it smelled great.  I can't wait for it to be ready to taste later this month.

Even though I have yet to taste my specific brew, I have a good idea on how it will come out.  The samples were very tasty.  Deja Brew is an amazing business.  A fun activity for couples, great father son bonding, and I can see it being a perfect place to have a corporate team building event.  I am still amazed at how much fun it was.  The following videos are just a sample of my day.  I hope you take the time to try it for yourself.  And if you want company...just let me know.


  1. What a wonderful review! I'm glad you had a good time. You cetainly seemed to capture the experience we hope everyone has when they come to Deja Brew. I can't wait to share this review with our brewing friends..

    be well,

  2. Take it easy with that 12 Honey. Packs a punch. Don't forget to leave a few in the cooler...