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Brewing With Kids - Of Course It's Doable!

Posted by homebrewdad on 7/29/2015 at 12:57:33 AM

It probably comes as no surprise to even a new reader of this blog that I am a father; I'm pretty sure that the moniker "Homebrew Dad" likely gives it away. As a matter of fact, I have seven children (ages nineteen, seventeen, seven, five, four, eighteen months, and newborn) - six of which still live at home.

When people hear that, the invariable reaction (once the dropped jaws return to a more normal position) from the brewing crowd tends to be along the lines of "how on Earth do you find time to brew?", "I can barely brew with my single child.", "what kind of lunatic are you?", and so forth.

A quick aside for those of you who just can't stand it - yes, I know what causes children (and I like to think that my wife and I must be at least decent at it). No, I'm not trying to start a reality show, cult, or new country. Thank you for your concern.

But as for brewing with kids... no, I don't get to brew as often as I would prefer, all else being equal. Unlike the single folks, DINKS, and parents of a lesser number of older (and presumably more self sufficient) kids, it's pretty tough for me to just wake up one day and decide to brew on a whim. Brewdays often have to be scheduled around various baseball schedules, birthday parties, family outings, and the like - meaning that my total pool of potential brewdays is reduced right out of the gate.

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges for me sometimes is to keep in mind that taking time for myself is not in and of itself a selfish thing; it's not an overstatement to say that brewing is good for my family. In answer to the arched eyebrows that statement just inspired, I ask you to consider where I'm coming from. To take care of the people that you love, you have to be sure to take care of yourself. I'm not suggesting that you should neglect playing catch with your son in order to go brew your third IPA of the month, or that you should make it a point to goof off every single weekend instead of spending time with your kids. What I am suggesting is that a little "me time" is critical for everybody - reasonable involvement in a hobby makes most of us more pleasant to be around, which in turn helps improve the quality of the time that you spend with your family.

Let me help, Dad!
Jonah, a couple of years ago, with as much grain as he could carry.

Luckily, my wife is pretty supportive of my hobby. Brewing is a great creative outlet for me, and is absolutely good for my overall mental health. She realizes these things, and is very good about encouraging me to schedule a brewday if it has been too long since my last batch. That said, she doesn't particularly care for the smells related to brewing (though she is getting more and more tolerant of them), so it's not uncommon for her to schedule a shopping trip, visit with her sister, movie with a girlfriend, etc, on brewday.

Now, we've established that brewing is a good thing for even a committed family man to do, but the fact remains that actually carrying out a brewday with all of my kids - especially if my wife bails for the afternoon - can seem like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, I have learned an extremely valuable lesson from having so many kids, and that lesson applies directly to this situation. That lesson? Be flexible.

First and foremost, accept that "me time" doesn't have to equate to "alone time". I love my kids, I love being around them, I love doing things with them. I don't view brewing as a way to get away from them, but as a way to express myself (and create some enjoyable adult beverages in the process). If I can pursue my hobby and still be around those that I love... where's the downside?

Everyone knows that successful parents spend quality time with their children. What a lot of people don't seem to realize is that it's the quality of the time that you spend, more than the activity itself, that matters most. While you should absolutely express interest (and be involved) in the things that interest your kids, it's perfectly okay to express interest in your own activites (and to involve your kids in them).

My boys adding hops
The hop masters at work.

My younger boys consider themselves to be experts in hop additions; I don't know if I can recall the last time I tossed a single hop pellet into my kettle. They love to help stir the mash, to help weigh out priming sugar, to help bottle and label beers (running the vinator seems to be a particular favorite). Surprisingly, they seem to particularly enjoy tasks related to cleaning and de-labeling bottles, as well! This past weekend, my eighteen month old daughter decided to "help" bottle - she had a grand old time dunking my bottle caps in sanitizer and handing them to me.

So, the kids are involved. Doesn't that create problems?

Silas loves to stir the mash
Silas loves to help in any way that he can.

Of course it does. To that end, remember the "be flexible" lesson I mentioned before. Understand that the overall process is probably going to take half again as long as you had planned, once you account for the various breaks to fix snacks, grab Kool Aid, pop in a DVD they've already seen three hundred times, morph into a zombie and chase kids around the driveway, clean and bandage the skinned knee one of them sustains in the process, rock the cranky baby to sleep, etc. Your sixty minute mash may stretch to ninety minutes; it's okay, the beer will be fine. You might get distracted and boil off an extra half gallon; just top off with a little water, it's not a big deal. You may get the wort chilled, but simply must feed everybody before you can spend the time to get it in into the carboy, aerate, and pitch yeast; just stick the lid on your pot and do what you have to do... the wort will still be there in an hour. Go ahead and accept the fact that cleanup may have to wait until bedtime (and that said cleanup is probably going to be more extensive than normal, due to the "help" you may have received along the way).

It may sound corny, but I've shared some special moments with my kids while brewing. I remember one night brew session when an electrical storm drove me into the basement; my then five year old was the only one courageous enough to brave the elements with me, but we sat there with the garage door open, watched the rain, drove Matchbox cars around the basement floor, and talked about fun vacation memories while the boil did its thing. The boys have helped me stick labels (often crooked) onto bottles, but they were proud of the end result. This past weekend, the four year old and eighteen month old spent the entire bottling session helping me; we laughed, we all got too much sanitizer on ourselves (they had to change pajamas), and we simply enjoyed one another's company.

My littlest active helper
Wynter, the smallest of my current helpers (baby Elowyn can't even sit up yet, so she hasn't reached official "helper" status).

My little boys know that they are helping to make "grown up drinks", but that hasn't stopped them from gathering some appreciation for what we're doing. They all regularly insist on smelling my beers, commenting on whether or not they can smell a lot of hops (and sometimes, if said hops smell like flowers, fruit, etc). They comment on beer color and clarity, and point out if a given pint has a particularly good head. They love munching on spent grains, and will seriously devour some spent grains bread.

Also, I can't overstate how important I think that it is that my kids are getting positive education about responsible alcohol use. There is no mystery, no taboo, to alcohol. They understand that too much alcohol can cause impairment, and that certain things (like driving) should never even be considered if alcohol is in play. I have encouraged my teenagers to sample single sips of the beers that I brew; my hope is that the exposure and understanding will lead to more of the European perspective on alcohol use - i.e. they won't be driven to run out and binge drink the first time that mom and dad aren't around.

Caleb doing a BIAB mash
Caleb doing a BIAB batch for a school project.

When all is said and done... sure, I don't brew as often as those without kids. But I do still brew, and I absolutely continue to enjoy the hobby. In the process, I get to spend some quality time with my kids, and maybe even instill some seeds of appreciation for a hobby that we can enjoy together for the rest of our lives.

Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll strike it rich and open a nanobrewery for fun. Maybe I'll be able to take that pie in the sky dream to a whole other level, and turn it into a family business. I don't know if I can imagine a cooler situation that getting to share that sort of passion with my kids (if they shared said passion, of course).

In the meantime, though, we'll keep doing what we're doing. Brewing together for fun, I mean - not necessarily having more kids (though we're not ruling out one last baby).

Noah, after a long night of bottling
Noah, my most prolific helper, crashes on the floor after a long night of bottling.

Tags for this post: brewing, kids, kid, brew, homebrew, brewing with kids

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Thanks for sharing this! I've only got one child, but I've struggled with balancing brew days with spending time with my little miss.

posted by MattMiddleton on 7/29/2015 at 07:20:57 AM

I totally feel you, Matt. I think that the above concepts hold true, no matter how many kids you may have.

posted by homebrewdad on 7/29/2015 at 07:39:51 AM

My son is 5 months old and I can't wait to hopefully brew beer with him and share a pint when he's older. Hopefully, I won't be too uncool for him to hang out with once in a while.

posted by forcedfx on 7/29/2015 at 09:21:36 AM

Give him a year or so, forcedfx - he'll want to help.

posted by homebrewdad on 7/29/2015 at 09:22:50 AM

I have great memories brewing with my dad (part of why I am a homebrewer today)--and I love having my own son, who is nearly 3, involved too.

posted by FossilBrewer on 8/11/2015 at 10:58:24 PM

Yeah, Fossil - my four year old is *really* into helping at every stage right now. I hope we're building some of those same memories.

posted by homebrewdad on 8/11/2015 at 11:08:17 PM