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How to End Your Homebrewing Hiatus
All homebrewers have been there. We plan on brewing that IPA, and then family comes to visit, or work gets in the way. The brewday gets pushed back a week, then another week, and before you know it we haven't brewed for 3 months. Or maybe you don't get busy, but discouraged and bored with the beers you're making. Let's get back on track; it just takes a small change in approach to feel excited about homebrewing again.
Brewing better beer is the first step to get back into brewing. I once spoke with a new homebrewer who brewed a couple batches that turned out fine, and then went on to brew a couple batches that were infected and had to be dumped. Unsurprisingly, he was on homebrew hiatus. It can be very discouraging—especially for a beginner—to put the time and effort into brewing beer and have it not come out well.
Obviously this homebrewer's issue was with sanitation. His sanitation methods seemed sound, so my recommendation was to replace his racking cane and fermentation bucket—basically anything that came in contact with the cooled wort—before brewing again. While replacing equipment for sanitation isn't common, it's important to remember that good sanitation is absolutely essential for brewing great beer.
Good fermentation practices may be the next best way to improve the flavor of your brew. The esters and off-flavors from fermenting at 75°F may be overlooked in your excitement from brewing your first few batches, but after awhile they become noticeable. Controlling fermentation temperature, pitching enough yeast, and oxygenating your wort will quickly change your friend's comments from the noncommittal "Wow, you brewed this?" to an authentic "This is better than beer I pay for!"
Brewing different beer is a great way to get inspired and end the homebrewing hiatus. Many new homebrewers seem to get stuck in a style rut. Every brew is 75 IBUs and 7.5% ABV. Now, I love IPA as much as the next beer drinker, but if that's all I brew I start getting bored quickly. I'll often try to brew styles that I overlook when I'm at the local beer bar. Learning about the techniques and history of a Porter or Belgian ales adds a lot to the enjoyment of brewing them. Additionally, these often overlooked homebrew styles tend to turn out really good. I rarely brew an IPA that is as good as my favorites (Bells Two Hearted or Boundary Bay IPA), but I can pass off my relatively simple Dry Stout as a commercial brew every time.
Buying new equipment that makes it easier to brew good beer is a great way to kickstart your brewing again. For me, the gamechanger was getting a kegerator. As soon as I realized I wasn't going to be washing 50 bottles every batch, I got a lot more excited about the beer I was brewing. If you are an extract brewer, moving up to all-grain equipment might be the perfect step. While you can brew great beer using extract recipes, moving to all-grain recipes will add a lot more variety and flexibility to your repertoire.
Other time-saving purchases include a good wort chiller or a high powered outdoor burner. As the weather warms up, brewing outside has the benefit of being faster, more relaxing, and enjoyable. Try it if you have the outdoor space.
Joining a homebrew club, meeting new brewers, and talking about brewing with friends will also help get you excited about brewing again. The first Thursday of each month, the Chicago Beer Society holds a meeting at Goose Island's Clybourn brewpub for homebrewers to meet and share their beer. For me, it's a great time to get together with other homebrewers to taste homebrew, hear critiques, and trade tips and techniques.
In cities all around the country, homebrew clubs meet, trade beer, and even brew together. If you haven't visited a local brew club, take a look at the list of clubs at the American Homebrewers Association. There may be no better way to get more out of your homebrewing experience than by hanging out with like-minded people. When you join a local brewing community, the beer you brew will improve, and you'll have a lot more fun brewing it.
About the author: Joe Postma is a homebrewer who is seeking that perfect blend of creativity and science required to make great beer. He moonlights as a consulting actuary during the week.