Things You’ll Only Understand If You Brew With a Partner

by Katie Sloan | Updated: June 29, 2016

As I write this article, the NBA finals are creating a buzz in the sports world. Who is gonna take the title?

I have to say, I really don’t care.. (Wonder how much shit I will get for that statement? I am a ‘Cuse girl myself. I know. That’s college, not professional)

[Update. Guess we now know. Still don’t care.]

BUT, the NBA finals did get me thinking about how brewing with a partner is like playing a game of basketball.

Here’s How Brewing With a Partner is Like Playing Basketball

  • You are working together towards a common goal.
    • Winning the game (duh). // Making a delicious beer (also a big win).
  • We all have our assigned tasks.
    • Point guard, power forward. // Watch the lauter, measure the hops.
  • One person’s strength makes up for the others weakness.
    • Taller? You dunk the ball. // Stronger? You lift the kettle.
  • You share the successes and the failures.
    • Don’t work together, you’ll lose the game // Don’t work together, your beer will suck.

So why do I brew with a partner? How did I get started brewing with my partner in crime, Jon?
Step 1: I finally had figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up: A beer nerd! Obviously if I am on the path of beer knowledge I have to learn how to brew it myself.

Step 2: I am dating this guy and I say to myself, “Hey, he can lift shit!!” Also, I was a little nervous for my first brew, I could use some support, double win!

Step 3: Collect the equipment, it came together piece by piece. A lot of Christmas gifts from my family and friends.

Funny aside: My mother was concerned that I was going to kill my cat Merlin by fermenting beer in my closet. She thought the CO2 would suffocate him! She had me in a panic. We have learned so much since those first days!

The best gift that year for Christmas was a homebrew 101 class from Jon. “You will not brew until you learn how – I cannot have you blowing up the kitchen!”

Jon and I have very different lives. I have been a dancer, a waitress, a bartender and, for a brief time, a brewer. Jon is an attorney. What do we have in common? Well, homebrewing for sure!

How do we split up the work? Here is a breakdown of how we manage it:

Jon’s overall jobs:

  • Cleaning master/Sanitation specialist
    • He is always on my ass about keeping sanitary – Thank goodness!
    • Always double checking my cleaning
  • Setting up the complicated systems
    • Conceiving the idea of hoses and connections to make our brew day easier
    • Ordering all the pieces and parts in the correct size – so not my thing, makes me cross-eyed
    • Ex., pump and chiller system
  • Heavy lifting – obviously

Jon’s jobs broken down (in order):

  • Recipe formulation
    • Sometimes even more than me, he is really creative!
  • Clean the floors
  • Rinse/clean all large items – ex., pot and coolers
  • Usually the “hopper,” adding the grains to the strike liquor; those bags can be heavy!
  • Vacuum pack the used hops
    • He loves his vacuum sealer – one of this new toys
  • Lift the 5G HLT full of water to a height for the gravity sparge
  • Empty out the mash tun
  • Watch the kettle as we empty into carboy
    • Make sure nothing clogs the diverter
  • Set up aeration system – another of his favorite toys
  • Get the carboy into the cooler

KT’s jobs overall:

  • Keep us moving forward
    • Keep us on schedule and aware of the time
    • Jon is easily distracted by his toys
  • On the fly problem resolution
    • Boil over? Dirty spoon? Didn’t buy the correct hops?
  • Schedule brew days with our busy lives
  • Take detailed notes – sometimes…

KT’s jobs broken down (in order):

  • Recipe formulation
    • We both create recipes but I have to approve it before we go to the store!
  • Clean the counters
  • Rinse all the little pieces
    • Disconnects, bungs, bubblers etc.
  • Stir in the grist
    • Because Jon is the grist case
  • Smack the smack pack
    • I have much better aim than Jon for some reason
  • Weigh out the hop additions – I am awesome at this!
  • Keep a close eye on lauter and sparge
  • Hold the garbage bag to receive spent grains
    • A floor job
    • There was this one time where I ended up covered in hot spent grain, not our best play!
  • Keep an eye on the transfer from kettle to carboy
    • Another floor job – Jon is tall, floor jobs are much easier for me
    • Another time where I can end up with something sticky and hot all over me!
  • Clean all the little pieces
  • Check the gravity during the week
  • Put everything away once it is dry
    • I organized the closet so I know where all that shit goes
  • Label removal for all the bottles
    • The worst!!

We have a brewery cat, Merlin, he has his own responsibilities during the brew-day.

Merlin’s jobs overall:

  • Look cute and cuddly but stay away! That hair gets everywhere!

Merlin’s jobs broken down (in order):

  • Stay in your bed!
    • The best time to move around according to Merlin: while we are transferring cooled wort to the carboy – Merlin-hair porter anyone?

Time to Come Clean! Let’s See How KT and Jon Really Feel About Brewing With Each Other

Note: We did not share responses until we both had answered all the questions.

Jon’s opinion on brewing with KT:

  1. What is the best part about brewing with KT? She usually has everything organized and has the next steps in her mind as we go
  2. What is the worst part about brewing with KT? She’s often a step ahead when I’m still on the current step
  3. What have you learned from KT? To make sure to take into account what needs to get done next so we’re ready and don’t need to rush around to get something done quickly and end up making a mistake
  4. What could KT improve upon? Patience
  5. What is your favorite brew-day memory with KT? KT making up a recipe at the store on the fly, of course taking it to the complete extreme for her preferences, and then working together to dial it back and come up with a recipe that ended being a great beer we have brewed multiple times

KT’s Turn

  1. What is the best part about brewing with Jon? He is very technical. He will figure it out even if it takes all day. Whether it is the water profile on our recipe app or taking apart and putting our mash tun back together, he WILL figure it out.
  2. What is the worst part about brewing with Jon? He can get very distracted by his toys, because he is so determined to figure it out, he will take hours trying to fix something that we could save for another time; sometimes you just have to finish your brew day!
  3. What have you learned from Jon? Cleaning and sanitizing
  4. What could Jon improve upon? Haste; he has none.
  5. What is your favorite brew-day memory with Jon? The first time I decided to make up my own recipe. We went into the store planning on buying a kit but none of them inspired me. I decided there to combine a bunch of them and make my own. Flying by the seat of his pants is not Jon’s idea of fun. Once he let go and went with it, we ended up with a really fun beer that we still continue to brew every summer, improving it one piece at a time.

Merlin’s opinion on brewing with these two bozos

  • They are not petting me, this sucks
  • They are not feeding me, this sucks
  • They are making noises, this sucks
Merlin brews

So what is the point? There are pros and cons of brewing with someone else

Pros:

  • Someone to talk to during those long lauters, or transfers, or boils
  • Someone to bounce ideas off of
    • The more minds the more creativity
    • Sometimes you need someone to tell you that DIPA with lacto and blueberries and coriander is a bad idea!
  • Someone to balance out your weaknesses.
    • I missed a spot cleaning? I am not worried; Jon got it!
  • Someone to help you drink the really bad ideas that got past both of you

Cons:

  • There will be compromises
    • That ingredient or process you are pushing for might not end up in the final product – maybe next time
  • You are not always on the same page
    • One of you will zig and the other with zag
    • Why did you put that away! I needed it!
  • Sometimes neither one of you is paying attention – too busy talking, or drinking?
    • Crap what time were those cocoa nibs supposed to go in?!?

I have learned a lot about myself as a brewer from working with someone else. Brewing with a partner has made me a better brewer overall.

I have learned patience and communication, without those we would not be very successful.

I have the ability to make decisions and explain them. I can back up every move I make from recipe formulation to brew-day.

I can see other ways of doing things. Sometimes my way is not the best way (and sometimes it is!)

I strongly believe we make better beer because we work together. What is good separate is even better combined! Blueberry gose anyone?

I would not trade brewing with Jon for anything. It is quality time we spend together. Some brew days are easier than others, depending on our moods or the product we are making. I could do it alone, but why when I have a willing and able partner?

Katie has a passion for all things beer. She worked at The Bronx Brewery as the Tasting Room supervisor and helped develop homebrew classes to be taught there. She came to homebrewing through the Cicerone® program. She is a Certified Cicerone® but does not plan on stopping there. She also has taken the BJCP exam. She teaches children’s dance classes in her spare time and used to be a professional dancer herself. Katie resides in NYC where she makes it work in her small apartment with plenty of help from her boyfriend Jon and the homebrewery cat Merlin.