50 Days Happier: Day 8 – Dreaming for a Fermentation Studio

In the last two 50 Days Happier posts, I wrote about my multitasking kitchen and adjacent laundry room.  This (unfortunately, REALLY ineffective multitasking) is 99% a product of the fact that much of my homebrewery lives in and around our kitchen.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally gotten frustrated enough to move most of the larger items to the basement.  I can’t tell you how hard this was emotionally.  (In fact, I wont tell you because I honestly feel a little weird about it.)  Let’s just say it was rough.

I also dropped a couple of hints about the potential solution to this problem in the last two posts. In my introduction to the challenge, I mentioned that 50 Days Happier would not be all about getting rid of things. Equally as important for me is taking the opportunity to reflect on what is most important to me, finding ways to prioritize those things, and taking the steps I need to take to align how I think and how I live.

Homebrewing is undoubtedly important to me.  Beer and brewing have been the anchor of my academic career.  Homebrewing is the form of leisure in which I have invested most of my time and resources–the equipment that makes up my homebrewery is worth more than both of my vehicles combined. And I still harbor dreams of embarking on some sort of small commercial brewing venture before I die. In order to give homebrewing its due, I really need to give my homebrewery its own space.

We do have an unfinished basement, but as renters, the kind of finishing I would need to do to make the space usable for homebrewing is completely out of the question. Lucky for me, a colleague who is steadily becoming a close friend, has a room in her basement that is alarmingly perfect for a small homebrewery.

While her unused basement laundry room is also unfinished, it has some amazing things going for it:

  • It’s more finished than our basement (i.e. concrete and not dirt floors).
  • It has direct access to the outside. (I don’t have to disturb anyone unless they want to be disturbed.)
  • It has two windows. (Perfect for ventilation.)
  • Basement temperatures are very fermentation friendly.
  • It has hot and cold water. (For cleaning and brewing respectively).
  • It has 110V and 220V electric. (Enough to power my electric brewing rig, lights and my fermentation fridge.)
110V and 220V electric. Ideal for running my electric homebrewery and other electronic peripherals.

Most importantly, the space is close to home and work and in the home of someone who is open and welcoming and creative and down with having a brewery/beer cave in her basement.

Making the Investment

As I considered this move, a lot of doubts crossed my mind.  I will still have to make a pretty hefty investment of time and money to get the space “brew ready.”  More to the point, I can’t just mooch off a friend and so I will be paying (an admittedly super modest) rent for use of the space.  I have asked myself a number of times whether or not it’s worth it for a few kegs of homebrew.

After some serious deliberation, I realize that this is something that I want to MAKE worth it.  While I don’t have a ton (or a penny) of extra cash, rent will be easy to cover.  I spend more time sitting in bars by myself (I call these times “remote office hours”), working on my computer, than I would really like to admit. A couple of drinks and a meal here and there add up quickly and all I really need to do is cut out a couple of these outings per month to cover rent for the new space.

I am also the faculty advisor for the Randolph College Zymurgy Team. While I am happy to have students on the “team” over to the house for brew days, the set-up isn’t ideal and my house is a bit of a hike from campus. The new space would be far more amenable to hosting the group, my colleague is sort of known for opening her home to students, and she happens to live virtually across the street from campus.

(There are some other potentially long term advantages, but I think you get the idea.)

Big Dreams for the Fermentation Studio

Miles and I headed over to the space so that I could take some measurements. He immediately approved of the location after discovering rope hanging from a tree branch just outside the studio door.

The first thing I will have to address is a deep cleaning and covering up some things. I’ll give this former laundry room a good scrubbing and (assuming my generous host is cool with it) hit it with a bright white coat of paint.

The concrete floors and wall will get a good scrubbing and maybe even a coat of paint.

The ceiling is unfinished and will need to be covered. I am hoping I can use a temporary/removable solution in the short term.  I’ve seen a number of solutions on Pinterest that may work, but this will take some thought and planning.  (If anyone has ideas, please leave a comment!)

Exposed insulation in the ceiling will be one of the first things I address. Fiberglass dust in the kettle doesn’t sound great.

The room is shaped something like a fat ‘L’ (or like a rectangle with one quarter missing.  The narrowest space created is about 5.5 x 6 feet.  It also the location of one of the windows and close to both the water, drain, and electricity. So, this will be where my brewing equipment will be located.

The perfect “nook” for my brewing equipment. I’ll put the brew table/stand against the back wall. Water and electricity are accessible on the right.

I will have to make a DIY vent hood to direct steam from the kettle out of the window. Lucky for me, plenty of industrious homebrewers have documented similar projects online.

Thinking I can retrofit this table into a table into a stand/table for my kettle, mash ton, pumps, and chiller.

Finally, I’ll need to install a laundry/utility sink in the space, which shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

Laundry/Utility sink will be the last “must have” for the space.

Beyond these “must have” upgrades, the space will need to store my collection of kegs and carboys, gadgets and tools, ingredients and supplies.  I also plan to bring my fermentation refrigerator over.  In my more ambitious moments, I think about building a small bar/tasting area–but we’ll have to see about that.

The project is a bit daunting, but I am excited to get started and (at a minimum) get things moved over to clear out some space in the house.  Not sure when I’ll be able to make progress on this project, but I’ll be excited to post updates when the time comes!



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50 Days Happier: Day 7 – So Many Jars

With the exception of our unfinished basement, the kitchen is the room in our house that makes me unhappiest.  More than any other space, the kitchen screams “cheep rental home amenities!”–from the vinyl sheet flooring (that I gather is supposed to look like ugly tile) to the laminate countertops (that are supposed to look like some sort of mossy green “granite”) to the out-of-the-box oak-ish Home Depot base and wall cabinets.  All together, the “infrastructure” of the kitchen creates the kind of space I would never choose to live in.

My efforts to try to rectify this situation combined with our over-abundance of belongings have birthed something truly insane. Case in point, the “pantry.” Though this eat-in kitchen is one of the largest we’ve lived in, it’s not the most well appointed space.  Conspicuously missing is anything that can be easily used as a pantry.  A few months after we moved in (almost two years ago), I got the bright idea to turn two old, broken down particle board bookcases on their sides, attach them to the wall (supported by a couple of random Ikea furniture legs I had laying around), and use some wooden boards to create a top surface and divided shelves.

Violà! Pantry.

I am more than a little bit embarrassed to admit that this project lingered in a state of half-completion for more than a year.  I got the bookcases mounted, the legs on, the exterior panted and the top surface placed.  But the painting of the interior, and the dividing shelfs remained undone month after neglected month.  It looked simply awful, was marginally functional, and did not produce a lot of happy feelings.

Just before I started the 50 Days Happier challenge, I got my act together and finished painting and dividing the shelves.  It’s still not the most amazing thing in the world. but with no real pantry, this gives us some much needed storage.

After more than a year of half-completion, the bottom half of the bookcase pantry is more or less complete.

Way back when I originally built this thing, I hung a couple of cheep shelves for dry goods and a shallow case that I intended to use as a spice rack above the bookshelves.  The actual use of these shelves has been all over the place.  The top shelf is filled with jars of dry goods.  The middle shelf is home to about 20 pint glasses, roughly half of my collection.  And the spice rack is mostly empty, save for some cast off spices we never use (mace, anyone?).

The upper half of the pantry. Used…sort of well.

Tackling this part of the kitchen also required me to empty out part of one of our wall cabinets.  We (okay, really just my spouse) are jar savers.  From salsa to tomato sauce, pickles to peanut butter,  our empty jars enter a kind of countertop doldrums where they float around, soaking in soapy water until they eventually make it into the cabinet or (sometimes) get recycled. A large amount of cabinet space has gone to housing these jars that seem to never get used and an entire drawer (we have few) has gone to a ragtag collection of lids.

All the lids.

Today’s Challenge: Jars

I started by pulling the pint glasses off the shelf and packing them up to take to the new fermentation studio. I definitely experienced a pang of loss while packing the glasses into a box, but I’ve made the decision (or rather been beat over the head with the stark reality) that the kitchen cannot effectively multitask.  If my beer and brewing equipment, accessories, and collections are going to remain an important part of my life, I need to treat them that way and give them their own space. Prioritize. Organize.

Next, I dumped the lid drawer, emptied the jar cabinet, and pulled most of the dry goods off the shelf.

So, so much crap.

While the DIY pantry solution isn’t making its way onto any HGTV specials, I would like it to look as “nice” as possible.  As such, I hope to cull down our collection of jars so that we have as many matching jars and lids as possible. The sorting took a while and I ended up transferring a lot of bulk grains, rices, nuts, lentils, and obscure flours into new jars.

Sorting the jars. So many different shapes and sizes!

Finally, I reloaded the shelves with sorted jars.  I even included several empties in a couple of sizes so that we have room to add more dry goods (in the event they come out with a new flavor of nutritional yeast or something).

To be 100% honest, the pantry doesn’t look noticeably “better,” but after recycling all the unused jars and lids, I gained half a wall cabinet and an entire drawer worth of kitchen storage.  THIS is a huge deal for me and quickly a number of random things that have been looking for homes found their new, and more organized, resting places.

All the jars, all in one place.

I plan to order a case of small spice jars to load the rack soon.  But for today, I am done and feeling at least a little bit happier about my kitchen.

Dear Amazon Prime fairy, please send these.



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50 Days Happier: Day 6 – The Next Frontier

I’m back from vacation, exhausted, and planning to use the next couple of days to recover from vacation. I know…

I have to admit that I spent more than a few minutes this past week deciding what to tackle next for the challenge. I did, however, manage to pry my mind away from “productive” things from time to time and I definitely feel better, happier, for it. Here are a couple of pictures of the scenery from our camping vacation.

Now that I am back in the house, I have decided to tackle the kitchen.  This is going to be a significant undertaking for a couple of reasons.  First, the kitchen is shared space, which means that I wont be able  to unilaterally make decisions.  This, I am admittedly really nervous about. I am married to a collector of little things and there have been more than a few disagreements about the volume of “stuff” over the years.  Second, the kitchen is home to more than one activity.  Until very recently, the bulk of my homebrewery was spread around the kitchen and adjacent laundry room. Though I have made some serious efforts to relocate the bulkiest and ugliest equipment, there is still a lot of stuff around and it needs somewhere to go.  (Fortunately, I have a place waiting…I’ll cover that in my next post.) Finally, we are renters and there’s only so much “changing” we can do to the kitchen.  Lot’s of solutions that come to mind would require permanent reconfigurations and we just don’t have the freedom to do that.

Still, just chewing on these three considerations has given me enough to start working out a plan.  I think this project, unlike the wardrobe, is going to be pretty long term.  Here’s hoping for good results!


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