10 Things You Should Know About Beer and Brewing

Two Chicago experts tell us what they wish they’d known before they started drinking and making beer

As told to Jennifer Wehunt

Name Our Beer! Then Drink It!

We asked Beejay Oslon and his Pipeworks cofounder, Gerrit Lewis, to cook up a Chicago magazine ale: something lively and summery and worthy of our favorite season. Now it’s up to you to christen it—and drink it. Watch the video of the brewing process, vote in our poll for the best name for our summer brew, and get details on our one-night-only beer release on our Facebook page.

 

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Homebrewing
 

Beejay Oslon, cofounder of Pipeworks Brewing Company

Beer is essentially four basic ingredients—grain, water, yeast, and hops—but a lot of funny things can happen on the way to the pint glass. We picked the brain of Beejay Oslon, an experienced homebrewer who aims to launch Pipeworks Brewing Company later this year, for some practical tips.

Name: Beejay Oslon
Occupation: Cofounder, Pipeworks Brewing Company

1) “Learn how to brew classic styles before you start throwing every ingredient in the pantry into your beer. Otherwise, you’ll think you’re doing a good job when you’re really just covering up flaws. But have fun. You’re killing your weekend with your hobby, and you’re probably pissing off your significant other, so you might as well enjoy it.”

2) “Fermentation temperature is key. When I was brewing an early test batch, I had just moved into a new apartment and had left my chest freezer behind. The room I was fermenting the beer in was a good 12 degrees hotter than it should have been. The beer tasted like rubbing alcohol—totally gross. So I said to my girlfriend, ‘Honey, we have this spare bedroom. Freezer?’”

3) “Most professional brewers will tell you their job is 90 percent janitorial and 10 percent artisanal. You have to be a little anal to be a brewer; you spend a lot of time trying to make sure things are superclean. You won’t get botulism from bad beer—the alcohol takes care of that—but you will get something that tastes really nasty.”

4) “You’re not going to learn a lot from making an exact copy of someone else’s beer. Why clone Three Floyds’ Gumballhead when it already exists? But do look to beers you like for inspiration. Gumballhead gets its great citrus character from Amarillo hops, but you could try New Zealand or Cascade hops.”

5) “Take detailed notes. Whether or not you think what you’re doing is right, write it down. Maybe you made the most awesome batch of beer ever, but if you don’t know how you did it, you’ll never do it again.”

 

Photograph: Anna Knott

 

As told to Jenna Marotta
 

5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started Drinking Beer
 

Ray Daniels, founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program

The man behind the Chicago-based Cicerone Certification Program (a cicerone is to beer what a sommelier is to wine), Ray Daniels was 11 when he sipped his very first brew, a Schlitz his dad gave him after a long day at the Indy 500. Here he shares insights acquired in the intervening 42 years.

Name: Ray Daniels
Occupation: Founder and director of the Cicerone Certification Program

1) “There’s a myth that beer is like a can of soup: inert and unchanging once it leaves the factory. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a reason why we have brown bottles. They block certain wavelengths of light that can affect the flavor of the beer—what we call skunking.”

2) “How the heck do you appreciate the aroma of a beer from a bottle? You have to decant it—and use two hands: one to hold the glass, one to pour the beer. When you pour down the side, you minimize foam, but a microthin head means flat beer—the typical sports bar pour. And if you only pour down the middle, you get a glass that’s half foam—pretty much undrinkable. For proper formation, start by pouring down the side, then finish by pouring down the middle.”

3) “Drink with your nose. If your beer smells like movie theatre popcorn or vinegar, that’s not good. It’s likely the draft system hasn’t been cleaned properly.”

4) “The alcohol content of beers can vary widely, from 4 to 12 percent. Know that beers vary in strength—and pay attention.”

5) “Despite all this, beer is and should be a simple pleasure. How long are you in the same room with your beloved before you kiss? In other words, don’t spend a lot of time looking and pondering. When you order a beer, you’re thirsty.”

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BEER TASTING SHEET (PDF)

 

Photograph: Anna Knott

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