Brewing Is In My Blood

A relic from the Charles Hamm Brewery with a Random Lake, Wisconsin point of origin. Photo by Robert Hamm

As far as I know, I was the first homebrewer in my family’s history — well at least recent history. But beer brewing runs deep in my blood. You may have heard of my great grandfather’s brewery: Hamm’s. No . . . not the Theodore Hamm’s Brewing Co. located in Minnesota, that at one time was the 5th largest brewery in the U.S. My great grandfather’s brewery was named Charles Hamm Brewery and was located in Wisconsin (imagine the lawsuit that would occur in this day and age). My great grandfather, Carl Hamm, was born in 1853 in Oberwinden, Germany. He apprenticed at a brewery in Oberwinden starting at the age of 15. In 1872 he sailed to New York City where he worked at George Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery, the largest in the state of New York at the time. He worked there for nine years before moving west to Silver Creek, Wisconsin (about 45 minutes north of Milwaukee in today’s world) in 1881 where he purchased a brewery. He brewed at that location for 31 years but eventually built a more modern brewery in Random Lake, Wisconsin (next town over) in 1912. Also in 1910 Carl changed the name of the brewery to reflect his son’s name, Charles. Carl operated the new brewery for two years until his death in 1914. But before his death he sold the brewery to its namesake, Charles Hamm. Tragically my great uncle Charles lost his life in 1918 fighting in Europe in World War I.

The Charles Hamm Brewery continued to operate after Charles’ untimely death, having been purchased by the head brewer. My grandfather, Michael, worked there for an extended time as well. But as I stated, I was the first in the family lineage to start homebrewing. I received my first brewing kit and brewed my first beer in 1996. I got the initial homebrew bug but only brewed four batches before life put the hobby on hold. My first cousin Larry started homebrewing in 2008 and after trying his homebrew I realized he’s a solid brewer. He gave me the itch to return to the hobby. I always kept my equipment with great intentions, but even then, life kept getting in the way.

I got the initial homebrew bug but only brewed four batches before life put the hobby on hold.

My wife Debbie was not a self-described “beer drinker,” but our lives include visiting breweries and attending beer fests. My wife always said, “Why brew 5 gallons (19 L) when it could turn out bad! Plus you have a choice of so many flavors.” Sounded like logical reasoning not to homebrew, right? But recently we moved to Arkansas, Deb retired . . . and then COVID-19 hit. It was the impetus I needed. I decided to dust that old equipment off and get brewing again! Some local homebrewers recommended a supply store in Little Rock, Arkansas called Fermentables. That’s when I met the owner, Mike. He steered us to a recipe for a Scotch ale. I went all-in and went right for a kegging system as well. I now have three 5-gallon (19-L) kegs and a 2.5-gallon (9.5-L) keg for carbonated water. My first batch we titled “Debsretired Scotch Ale,” clearly a celebration of the event. I am about set to keg my third batch and have now brewed a total of six batches and they all have been fabulous. Mike helped me most recently modify an oatmeal stout recipe that I had picked out of an issue of BYO. He certainly played a huge hand in my return to brewing. My neighbors love all my beers and claim they have been better than anything they have purchased in a long time. Advancing my equipment has also been a center of joy, having just purchased a used fridge so I can start lagering.

The Hamm tradition of brewing lives on, but this time around it’s taking place in our own homes. Prost!

Issue: December 2020