Home brewing: a science experiment for adults.
This Bud’s for you. The beer that made Milwaukee famous. Tastes great, less filling. Do we have any aspirin?
These are just a few of the dozens of phrases associated with beer…cold, tasty, refreshing beer.
It’s not always love at first taste with beer, but it’s still something we grow up with. Especially for us guys, that first beer is one of our rites of passage. “Of course, that was when I was 21. It would have been illegal to drink a beer otherwise,” Zach Paul says with a smile.
You probably know the name — Zach is our favorite meteorologist in Mid-Missouri, the anchor weatherman at KRCG. You love him when his forecast is right, but on those rare occasions when he’s wrong, well, you still love him. Weather is both his business and his hobby, but Paul, 36, is also a man who loves his beer. And he’s taken that passion to the next level: brewing his own.
“At some point,” Paul says, “I knew there was more to beer than the Miller Lites and the Bud Lights.”
Before he became interested in home brewing, Paul’s curiosity was sparked by his experience with craft beers. Although there’s some dispute over the true definition, a craft beer is basically a beer that’s not brewed by one of the mega-brewery corporations and has its own distinct flavor — beers that are available at places like Prison Brews, in Jefferson City, and Columbia’s Flat Branch Pub.
At these places, Paul would get a flight of beer, which is five to seven small samples of different varieties. “When you don’t know — if you’ve never had a beer before — just don’t order a Guinness,” Paul says. “You don’t order that dark coffee, or what I call “crank-oil looking” beer, because that can be intimidating. It can be overwhelming because all the commercialized stuff you buy from Budweiser or Miller Lite is touted as light, cold, refreshing beer.
Through his experimenting, Paul began to develop his palate. “I’d sample them all until I figured out ‘I kind of like this one,’ or ‘I do not like that,’” he says. “Then you start developing and acquiring a taste for it, and I learned that I really liked ‘hoppy’ beers and IPAs,” or India pale ales.
At times, Paul can sound like a beer historian, although he insists he’s not. Still, he offered this: “There’s a fun story behind the IPAs. When Britain still owned the Indian colony back in the 1700s, the British would ship their soldiers beer to drink. But by the time that beer got to India six months later, it was stale-—it wasn’t good anymore. So they added extra hops to hide the skunky, nasty taste of the beer. That’s how it became the IPA .”
Paul’s interest in home-brewing began to blossom when he was in his mid-20s. “One of my best friends started brewing his own beer,” Paul says, “and I talked about it and talked about it for a year.” Finally, Paul was given a beginner’s kit from his family for Christmas. “They said: ‘Here you go, Zach, we encourage you to brew your own beer,’” he says with a chuckle.
Paul’s starter kit was called Mr. Beer (like Mr. Coffee, except with beer). Like most other hobbies, you can spend as much or as little as you want on home brewing. When you Google home brewing kits, for example, the first options that pop-up range in price from $49.99 to $1,999.99. If you choose the latter, we know this much about you: You really like beer, and you probably have too much money.
The recipe doesn’t always call for an ice-cold finished product — some beers are better at room temperature because it develops more flavor, Paul says: “In America, we think beer has to be cold . . . you want a cold, refreshing beer, and that’s been in our advertising the last 40 years. But the guys who are really into beer and brewing their own know that not every beer is good when it’s cold.”
Has Paul ever met a beer he didn’t like? “Some people get really creative and exotic and use different types of peppers, including jalapeño, for different notes,” Paul says, “and I’m not into that. Just like with chili. I can appreciate a good chili, but I don’t want something that’s going to burn my tail off.”
His first batch was a Mexican-style beer. “It wasn’t that great,” he says. “But a lot of it’s because you buy a Corona, and your expectations are for it to be similar to that. But, of course, it was brewed differently with a different process. You’re not going to have the same result.”
As a novice, Paul still follows recipes to the letter — no tweaking and no extra dash of this or that. “The challenging part is that you have to keep it at a constant temperature,” he says. “Each beer is slightly different, but you don’t want it to get too warm, because the yeast will over-activate and it will be ready before you’re ready to pull it out. On the other end, if it’s too cold, your yeast won’t be active enough and the beer’s not going to have enough carbonation.”
The standard home batch makes about five gallons, which you ferment in the vehicle that comes with the kit. Paul’s was a five-gallon bucket with a spigot on the side that he kept between 65 and 70 degrees in his bedroom closet. “You don’t want any additional light to go into it, either,” he says. It sits for 30 to 60 days to let the yeast activate, allow fermentation, and give the alcohol time to be distributed evenly.
Paul’s second effort was a Pilsner, which would be more like a Miller Lite. “It turned out okay,” he says, “but it didn’t have the taste I was expecting a Pilsner to have. Essentially, it’s a science experiment, and you have to play around and practice with it. If the temperature fluctuates just enough, it can make a huge difference in the outcome of your product.”
Then it’s that time: the finished product. This brew’s for you, courtesy of Zach Paul. Enjoy.