If you’ve started to get comfortable with Kombucha, you may have wondered how you’d do with the art of beer-making.
Who better to ask than a man who’s been in the business for 20 years? Charles Fajgenbaum owns the Toronto store Fermentations, which smells like a lovely combination of grapes and hops.
Wearing a t-shirt that states: “I will not make boring beer,” Charles took us around his store. It wasn’t long before we had a phenomenal beer in our hand. He said, “I’m glad you’re here. I could use a beer.”
If you’re getting started in the brewing world, Charles reminded us that people have been making beer for 6,000 years “by hook or by crook…so it can’t be the most difficult thing to do.” If you want it to taste good, however, that is another thing entirely.
Here are some notes (that’s our first and only beer pun, we swear):
1. The Beer is the Boss.
If you want things to be the best, you have to do things at the appropriate time. When it is convenient for the beer. Not when it is convenient for you. Kind of makes your dog look low-maintenance.
2. The Closer Ingredients are to Mother Nature, the Better the Beer is Going to Be.
When you buy yourself a craft beer, they work directly from the barley to convert the barley into fermentable sugars. You need some heavy equipment and a lot of time on your hands to do this yourself (certainly not beer 101). Spend what you can on quality ingredients. You can even buy fancy sugar. The regular stuff works fine, but there is sugar directly derived from barley. Think about it: if you take a shortcut on some ingredients, it’s going to wreck your beer. It’s just like food: who wants a salad made with wilted vegetables?
3. Starter Kits Can Give You Your Equipment All in One Place.
Here’s what you will need if you buy things separately: a primary fermenter (a food grade plastic bucket which has an airlock which can keep wild bacteria from falling in but fermented gasses out), then a secondary container (often glass carboy), sanitizers, hoses to get things in the bottles and cappers. Then you can buy a standard beer kit, which is almost as easy as “just add water and sugar.” A lot of them are filled with concentrated malt syrup, so they are far removed from the natural barley, but a good place to start. Then you can graduate to the kits where you have to add your own hops.
4. Sanitize Like Mr. Clean.
Charles consistently stressed that the most important thing to do was to make sure that your container is so clean you could do surgery inside of it. “Think about it…you are taking a batch of beer and letting a fungus fall into it. Really you are spoiling your beer, but we think it’s good because we like it. You don’t want it to be really spoiled by errant yeast.” Although bacteria can be our friend (hello, kombucha!), it’s everywhere and could potentially be the enemy of your brew. Wear gloves, because, as Charles said, “Who knows where your hands have been?”
5. Take Notes Like Nancy Drew.
Once you start developing a successful taste, you’ll certainly want to know what you did to make the beer special. Take note of your technique, any new ingredients that were used (orange peel, pumpkin or jalapenos were added into brews at Fermentations) and what you are wearing. We are just kidding about the last one.
Charles says that he has some customers that brew at home and at his store. They enjoy experimenting but also have a plan B of quality results. Charles thinks, “It is great to see people wet their toes in both oceans.”
Especially if you’re new to this, ask for help. The fermenting world is a friendly one.