Homebrewer offers tips on kettles, messes, recipes

By Ryan Cornell

It’s been decades since Karl Roulston was brewing his first batches of beer in college.

In those days, it was all about increasing the alcohol by volume and “it all blew up on us,” he said, but he’s learned a thing or two about homebrewing since then.

Roulston, who plans to open the Woodstock Brewhouse in the former WAZT-TV station along with seven partners this fall, shared some tips for amateur homebrewers interested in joining the growing hobby.

Buy a bigger kettle

When it comes to brewing beer, size matters.

Even if you’re brewing a small 5-gallon batch, it’s better to invest in a larger brew kettle, said Roulston, who ended up buying an additional kettle within a week of his first batch.

“My biggest tip would be, don’t buy the 5-gallon kettle, buy the bigger kettle,” he said. “A bigger kettle is maybe $20 more, but now you can hold five gallons and more.”

Keep a journal

“If you want to be serious about it, keep records of what you’re doing and what you’re trying to make,” said Roulston.

It’s vital to write down ingredients and boil times, especially when experimenting with the recipe. An accident might lead to an award-winning beer, but it’s lost to the world without a brew sheet.

“Any variation might make a difference,” he said. “[For example], you have a cure for cancer, but you threw away the napkin.”

He added that there’s software that can not only help record these ingredients and outcomes, but also can generate a brew schedule, calculate the alcohol by volume and predict the color of the beer.

Prepare for messes

It’s no surprise homebrewing is a messy hobby.

Wort tends to boil over and can cause a wet, sticky mess on the floor.

Roulston suggested boiling batches in a propane burner in an area like the backyard or garage that can be cleaned up easily in case of a spill.

“There’s always the unforeseen messy parts,” he said. “Brewing beer is a simple process with about a million things that could go wrong.”

Watch what you’re working with

Boiling wort essentially sterilizes it, Roulston said, so anything that comes into contact with it also needs to be sterile.

“Because if you put some other bacteria in there, you can get some strange beer,” he said. “And throwing out 15 gallons of beer is never fun.”

Find a brewing buddy

Roulston, who currently brews 15-gallon batches, said homebrewing is a full-day process.

“Committing to the entire day can be a commitment, but with friends coming over, it seems more enjoyable and more entertaining and doesn’t seem like work,” he said.

Consider kegging

When the batch is finally done, it’s easier to keg it than bottle it, said Roulston.

He said homebrewers have to wash and sanitize bottles, fill them and place priming sugars in bottles that cause it to carbonate, unlike kegs that just need a carbon dioxide tank.

Be patient

It can be hard not to drink up all the beer as soon as it’s done, Roulston said, but waiting a bit longer could improve the taste.

Of course, it’s not wine, so aging it for a couple months might ruin it. But an extra two weeks could bring out some subtle flavors, he said.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com