It’s 2 AM, and you’re lying in bed happily contemplating your next batch of homebrew. A fruit beer, perhaps.
Ah, yes. A richly flavored framboise. But your pleasant daydream hits a snag as you wonder whether real raspberries, raspberry puree or raspberry extract would best enhance the flavor.
If only you could instantly find out what a national champion would do in this situation. Well, thanks to advances in technology and several dedicated, award-winning experts, you can.
The information is merely a mouse click and moments away — in a podcast. No really, it is. And it’s not difficult to do. Here’s how it works, and a rundown of some of the best brewing podcasts around:
The “P” Word
For starters, if you cringe at the thought of technology, don’t be intimidated by the term “podcast.” This simply refers to an audio file (like a radio program) or a video file (like a television show) that you can watch or listen to on your computer or a portable device, such as an Apple iPod.
Do you need an iPod to run a podcast? No. In fact, all you need is a computer and an Internet connection to enter this relatively new world of free expert advice, instruction, and discussion, all focused on homebrewing. Other portable MP3 players besides iPods can also be used for playback.
“People should just be able to browse to the website, click on a podcast link, and it should play. It’s really easy,” says Jamil Zainasheff, host of The Jamil Show at The Brewing Network, and winner of numerous homebrewing awards, including the Ninkasi Award at the 2004 National Homebrew Competition.
If your computer isn’t equipped with a player — such as MediaPlayer, Winamp or iTunes — you will need to download one. This is as simple as clicking on a link, which is usually provided on most websites that offer podcasts.
“Downloading a podcast is pretty straight forward, and I think once people do it, they’ll be hooked,” says James Spencer, host of Basic Brewing Radio and Basic Brewing Video. Fortunately, once you do get hooked on a particular show, you can subscribe to it.
Once subscribed, new epidodes of the the podcast will be automatically downloaded to your computer at regular intervals, free of charge.
All past episodes can be downloaded at any time, so if you enjoy a particular show, you can go back and listen to or watch every episode. “I got an e-mail this week from a guy who listened to a full year of audio and video podcasts in ten days,” Spencer says. “I told him, ‘You must be tired of hearing my voice by now.’”
Homebrewing podcasts run the gamut from offering tips on the basics of homebrewing, to walking you through award-winning recipes, to attempting innovative brewing experiments.
Think you can’t homebrew a six-pack or a 21.4% all-grain brew? Think again, and tune in to your favorite brewing podcast to find out how.
Brewing Podcast Shows
The following podcasts are all free of charge. Special guests regularly contribute to these shows and some podcast episodes are recorded on location at various brewing competitions or other places of interest. Many beer-related podcasts are available, but here are four excellent homebrewing-specific destinations to get you started:
The Brewing Network (www.TheBrewingNetwork.com)
After winning awards for every recognized style of beer and becoming a BJCP National Judge, Jamil Zainasheff is sharing his knowledge of homebrewing through his show, The Jamil Show, which is one of three shows offered by The Brewing Network.
Each episode of The Jamil Show focuses on a specific style of beer such as Russian imperial stout, Maibock, Octoberfest, Bavarian weizen and fruit beers.
(Hint: if you want the answer to the earlier question of when to use real fruit, fruit puree or fruit extract when brewing various types of fruit beer, download the April 24, 2006 episode of Jamil’s program.)
“In each episode, we cover a style from the BJCP style guide,” Zainasheff explains. “The show starts off with a personal story about beer, then we get into answering some listener emails, we give a very brief history of the beer, and then a description of the beer, including the aroma, flavor, and appearance.
Next, we get into the recipe — the type of hops, yeast, fermentation temperatures — all the things you need to know to brew the beer we’re describing.”
“Even if you’re not interested in that specific style of beer,” Zainasheff continues, “there should be something in the discussion in that hour that covers some aspect of brewing that could be useful to you. There’s some universal information in every show. We try to keep that balance there. It’s fast-paced.”
Read the caption to any episode of The Jamil Show to detect the balance of expertise and entertainment. Take the July 17, 2006 episode about American Brown Ale, for example.
The show description reads, “In this show, Jamil and Jon cover brewing two different types of American Brown Ale. We cover the difference between commercial American Brown and homebrew American Brown Ales and provide two award-winning recipes. Reader e-mail on needing to mash Munich malt, and Jon insults Jamil’s looks.”
Why would Zainasheff openly divulge his award-winning recipes for free to homebrewers? “When I started out, there were lots of people who gave me lots of good advice,” he says.
“So now, I’d like to do the same for someone else. The more information we can share, the better people can brew beer, and the better the beer will be out there.”
Although The Jamil Show first aired in January, 2006, the show’s popularity is already surging. “I’m seeing probably a couple hundred new listeners per month coming on,” Zainasheff says.
The show is broadcast live every other Monday from 10 AM to 11 AM (Pacific Standard Time), so listeners can call in via a toll-free number or visit a chat room dedicated to the show as the program is in progress.
Of course, the show is also available for download after the live broadcast.
The Brewing Network also features Lunch Meet and The Brewcasters. Lunch Meet, which airs on Fridays from 12 PM to 1 PM (PST) offers entertaining beer talk and prizes.
The Brewcasters airs on Sundays from 5 PM to 7:30 PM (PST) and covers topics such as how to get started in brewing, tips for the frugal brewer, entertaining and other brew-related information.
Basic Brewing Radio and Video (www.BasicBrewing.com)
Basic Brewing offers both an audio and a video podcast. “We look at the audio podcast as the ‘NPR Science Friday’ of homebrewing,” James Spencer, host of the shows, says with a chuckle.
“We interview experts and we answer emails from listeners.” Despite the word “basic” in the title, Basic Brewing covers both beginning and advanced homebrewing topics. “We get pretty geeky on the audio side,” says Spencer.
“We do cover a lot of advanced topics. I want to balance that so that advanced homebrewers get the information they need to be better brewers, and at the same time, beginning brewers aren’t scared off or intimidated.”
“We try to have a little more fun on the video side,” Spencer says. “We do experiments and demonstrations, because you can see what’s going on.”
Have you ever tried to brew your own six-pack? Spencer has, as seen firsthand by his many viewers, over a series of video podcast episodes.
“We made a very small batch,” he says of his homebrewed IPA. “We figured out the volume we would need to make a six-pack of beer, so our goal was to make three-quarters of a gallon of beer. We did it in a growler.”
If you’re interested in hearing whether Spencer succeeded in his experiment, you’re not alone. “One thing people do enjoy about the video podcasts is that it’s like a soap opera. How’s that six-pack of IPA going to come out?”
In true soap opera form, Spencer’s experiment had its unexpected twists and turns, which did not go unnoticed by viewers. “They really pay attention to what we’re doing, because we primed with carbonation drops, with one drop in each bottle, and when we were priming the six-pack IPA, we accidentally double primed one of the bottles,” he says.
“I noticed when we were on camera, but I didn’t let on. Afterwards, I marked that one so I would be sure to be careful with it when we opened it. But we got several e-mails from people saying, ‘Hey, be careful! Number four is double-primed!’” Spencer laughs.
“So, we made a big deal out of it when we opened the bottle. I was wearing safety glasses, a beer protection shirt, and work gloves, and we wrapped the bottle in bubble wrap. It didn’t blow up or anything.”
In the end, Spencer wound up with seven or eight beers. His fearless, innovative approach to brewing has propelled the video podcast to the top of the charts.
“Our video podcast is consistently in the top ten video podcasts in the iTunes directory. Right up there with the NPR and CBS podcasts,” Spencer notes. With experts like Chris Colby, John Palmer and Randy Mosher as guests, Basic Brewing never has a shortage of solid homebrewing advice.
Spencer focuses only on homebrewed beers. “We don’t review commercial beers,” he says. “We do talk to commercial brewers, like I talked to Tony Simmons from Pagosa Brewing Company, but it’s because he came up with the recipe for Poor Richard’s Ale, and I wanted to know how he researched that, and how he came up with that historical recipe.”
The CraftBrewer’s Radio Program (radio.craftbrewer.org — no “www”)
This Australia-based beer-centered podcast is widely regarded as the first brewing podcast available. So, how exactly did this, the first brewing podcast, get up-and-running?
“I think it was about 2004 that I heard of this new cutting-edge technology called podcasting,” says Graham Sanders, host of the show. “It was all theory back then, but I saw the potential straight away. Well, talking to our computer oracle that runs the webpage, we stumbled our way through it, and before long we were up there, the first proper beer program podcasting to the world.”
Prior to implementing the podcast, Sanders hosted a radio show dedicated to brewing, so the transition from airwaves to Internet wasn’t too difficult from the standpoint of content, Sanders said.
Sanders keeps his audience growing by covering a diverse range of beer-related topics. In addition to technical information about some aspect of brewing, which he includes in every show, he features skits, songs, experiments, interviews, roving reporters, and history, all related to beer, of course.
“We try to have a good mix of entertainment, fun, and serious brewing topics as well. The key is we don’t labor any one point too long,” he says.
Brew CrAzY (www.BrewCrAzY.com)
The motto of this podcast, first launched in July, 2006, describes the serene nature of this show: “The podcast for those of us who brew our own damn beer!” Of course, the program is actually far from serene and features an unlikely pair of hosts.
John McKissack III, aka “Johnny Max,” won the Gold Medal for the Bock beer style at the 2006 National Homebrew Competition. His co-host, “Captain Ron,” is, well, a wild-eyed rat terrier dog.
The show is sure to push the limits of brewing. “I will get into the details of how I made a 21.4% [alcohol] all-grain brew,” McKissack said. “Some said it couldn’t be done.”
While at a homebrew club meeting, a member told McKissack that he’d read that it was impossible for a homebrewer to pass 16%. At that moment, according to McKissack, “The challenge was on.”
Brew CrAzY will also feature a series on designing the perfect gold-medal recipe and delve into the use of unlikely ingredients, such as sour cream, in the beer brewing process.
Other podcast topics include how to create a “MEGA-starter” with lots of yeast, how to modify a standard bottle to eliminate foaming, how to make your own carbonation drops, and how to use online recipe calculators.
Other Homebrewing Podcasts
You can find three episodes of KGB radio, a podcast of the Houston homebrewing club Kuykendahl Gran Brewers, at kgbradio.blogspot.com (no “www”).
The episodes are for January, February and March 2006, with no indication if further episodes are planned. Also, at www.swillburgbrewery.com, there are 15 short video podcasts. These deal more with standing around drinking homebrew than information on how to homebrew.
Other Brewing Related Podcasts
Of course, there are also podcasts related to beer and brewing that are not homebrewing related.
One of the better-known shows is Craft Beer Radio, which can be found at www.craftbeerradio.com. For most episodes of the show, the hosts — Jeff Bearer and Greg Weiss — review several commercially brewed craft beers. They may also discuss the history of the beer styles or a related topic.
For example, in the episode on Pilsners, they discuss the science of skunking. Although none of the shows revolve around homebrewing, the hosts do sometimes mention their own homebrewing experiences.
There are many, many other beer-related podcasts out there, too many to review here. But a few warrant a quick mention. PodBeer (at www.podbeer-.com), The Good Beer Show (at www.goodbeershow) and Pacific Brew News (at www.pacificbrewnews) all have their moments.
Finding New Podcasts
The world of brewing podcasts is likely to get bigger in the future. To search for new podcasts — or podcasts on any topic — there are several on-line directories.
These websites — including www.podcast.net, www.podcastdirectory.com and podcasts.yahoo.com — allow you browse for podcasts by category.
Homebrewing is usually categorized under food or hobbies. You can also search for podcasts by keywords, such as “homebrewing,” “brewing” and “beer.” This is usually a quicker way to find an appropriate podcast.
Reaching Homebrewers Everywhere
Podcasts certainly make the world of homebrewers just a little bit smaller. Spencer has developed a relationship with a homebrewer in India thanks to his podcast. And Sanders’ podcast has reached brewers who have literally brewed beer at the ends of the earth.
“I had a listener who was stationed in Antartica, I think Mawson Station,” Sanders says. “Poor guy was trying to brew beer at -40 °C (-40 °F) and wanted advice.
He had dramas you just couldn’t imagine, and that includes only once a year being able to get supplies, and space was limited on the supply vessel. That’s about as remote as one gets.”
Both Spencer and Sanders were able to help their international brewing pals through their brewing obstacles.
The sharing of information about brewing through technology will surely create a world of better brewers. And if podcasts can cause this much excitement, what could possibly be next on the technology horizon?
One man has just the answer. “Holograms,” says Spencer with a smile. “I’ll be standing in your kitchen.”
Kristin Grant wrote “Food and Beer Pairing” in the July-August 2006 issue and “Plant a Backyard Beer Garden” in the March-April 2006 issue.