Living the Dream
I received an email from a homebrewer dreaming of becoming a commercial brewer and he asked, “How late is too late for a determined fool to chase an old dream?”
When things were going well, the former president of my undergraduate institution (Augustana College, Sioux Falls SD) used to say, “It’s a good day to be a Viking.” (In case you're wondering, he wasn't insane, Vikings were our mascot.) This weekend, it was good to be a Viking . . . although not for any reasons associated with my alma mater.
This weekend, my wife and I went to the Dixie Cup. The Dixie Cup is the annual conference of the Foam Rangers, a homebrewing club in Houston, TX. It is one of the largest homebrew gatherings in the US. (This year they had 1,200 entries in their contest.) I have been to the Dixie Cup several times and it is always a blast.
Many years, members of my club coordinate on what to wear for the Dixie Cup. Usually, we take the theme of the Dixie Cup, and then dress up as if we misunderstood it. For example, on the year they had a Star Wars theme, we came dressed as characters from Star Trek. Most years, however, we simply dress as Vikings. (Or, more technically, we dress as Vikings dress in popular mythology. In reality, Vikings never wore helmets with horns. That portrayal was an invention of the British, in the 17th Century. The British — who bore much of the brunt of Vikings raids in the Age of the Vikings (from the late 8th through 11th Centuries) — were intent on portraying Vikings as simple barbarians instead of the highly-organized and disciplined raiders that they were . . . but I digress.) This year’s theme was The Dixie Cup Goes Down (Under) — and had an Australian flair. So, it’s probably best we just went as "Vikings."
In any case, we Vikings plundered this year. The Austin ZEALOTS won the Dixie Cup! In addition, one of our members, Mark Schoppe, scored the most points as an individual. (Another member, Kerry Martin, came in second.) The brewing team of Keith and Pam Bradley came in first in the team standings. And, our finish at the Dixie Cup meant that we also won the Lone Star Circuit — the circuit that includes all the homebrew competitions in Texas, except (ironically) our own (the Austin ZEALOTS Homebrew Inquisition). So, it was a good day to be a Viking . . . or, as I mentioned, a British re-imagining of a Viking....
Congratulations to Corey Martin, of my homebrewing club the Austin ZEALOTS, for winning this year's Sam Adams Longshot contest. Corey's beer — a Munich dunkel — will be brewed commercially by Sam Adams and be a part of this year's Longshot mixed 6-pack.
In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my recent trip to Belgium. BYO's publisher (Brad Ring) took me and our advertising driector (Kiev Rattee) to the Brussels area in early August and we visited some interesting breweries, beer cafes and beer-themed restaurants.
First though, I'll post the experimental protocol of the next BYO/BBR experiment -- fermenter type. In this experiment, we're asking homebrewing to brew 10 gallons of beer and ferment it in two different fermenters (bucket, carboy or cylindro-conical). Alternately, you can brew 15 gallons, and ferment it in 3 different fermenters. I'll post a protocol and what data to collect in the next couple days.
I know I can’t speak for everyone that brews their own beer as to why they do it. Having said that, I’m willing to bet more than half of us do it for the creative “let’s see what happens when I do this” aspect. There are so many variables that have an affect on the final outcome of a beer, it’s almost mind boggling. But that’s what makes it so cool right?
Before brewing anything for my new employer, one of the variables that I wanted to get right was the selection of the yeast strains. After doing a lot of research and with the help of the gentlemen at the Brewing Science Institute in Colorado, I was able to get samples sent to me that had the characteristics I was looking for.
Once those arrived, I was able to brew 3 pilot batches in recent weeks for Prospectors Brewing Co. on my homebrew setup. I can’t tell you how many times I have revised and looked at my own recipes, compared them to others, tweaked them again, brewed the beer, tasted it, tweaked it again, etc. I even made the ultimate bone-head move and walked away during the transfer from the kettle to the fermenter.... with the sample port valve open. Yeah, that was a good one. Lost about 70% of that batch and had to brew it again the next day. Talk about a buzz kill!
All in all, I was very pleased with how the Blonde Ale came out. The Wit turned out to have a fairly low O.G. and then it foamed like mad out of the keg, so that was a bit of a disappointment. I’m convinced my homebrew supplier changed their mill setting on me, but that doesn’t explain the foaming. I’ve got the all important IPA in secondary right now, so the jury is still out on that. Being on the west coast, you know that has to be a legit offering.
Not only have I been able to brew at home, but I was able to get some more hands on experience, thanks to my friend Dave Meadows at the El Cajon Brewing Company. I met Dave at my time with the Firehouse and since it’s closure he has been working on getting his own brewpub going with his brother Steve. I’ve gotten to help him with 2 batches so far and I’m hoping to continue do so even after they open in the next couple weeks. Free labor + experience = Free beer and food for Justin! Hard to turn that down.
I also made a 3 day trip up north to try and make some headway on prepping the soon to be old location for an eventual move to a new location. Speaking of that, I think we are getting close to knowing if this is really going to pan out or not. We’ve got a potential location for production and one for a taproom that are about 50 yards from each other on the highway leading into Yosemite National Park and Bass Lake. Now we are going through the process of getting our plan for the locations approved by the county and estimating the costs for getting them ready for business. A meeting with the county officials is being scheduled as I write this to determine what needs to be done to meet their requirements. It will likely determine whether we can get this project off the ground or if the partners involved decide to just sell the assets. By this time next month, I should know if there truly is a light at the end of this tunnel, or if it’s time to change trains.