Pen Pal Brewers

Sharing the language of beer

Little did I know three years ago that my brewing path would change in such a significant way. The pandemic had torpedoed homebrew club events and four brew fests. The beer I had made to donate to a local non-profit fundraiser was no longer needed and my local homebrew supply store went dark. I couldn’t even go into my local taproom to cry the blues; I had to drink outside . . . alone. I learned that worldwide pandemics can and will greatly disrupt our daily routines. It truly was a sad time in my homebrewing world and it took a much larger emotional toll than I ever could have envisioned. While my desire for brewing had a wet blanket thrown over it, the passion was not extinguished, not by a long shot.

When BYO published my article, “A Friendship Mushrooms” in the March-April 2021 issue (, I thought to myself, “It can’t get much better than this.” But what I didn’t know was that my pen pal brewing partner, Fernando, and I still would have so many more adventures to come. It’s hard putting into words how amazing it is to have a brewing partner who is experimental, brutally honest, caring, and willing to think outside the box. Unfortunately, Fernando lives in Madrid, Spain, and speaks little English. I live in Mendocino, California, roughly 6,000 miles (9,650 km) apart. But in today’s world, like-minded individuals can shrink that gap through the digital realm.

There is no way I could have reached this point in my brewing arc without the experiments done through this reciprocal relationship.

After the publication of our piece, in the very next edition of BYO, I found an article on “Dip Hopping” ( After reading the article I knew I had something new and exciting to experiment with. When I shared what little information I had with Fernando, he was very interested in hearing more about the technique and immediately launched into research of his own. Using Google Translate, he was absorbing information quickly.

The sharing of what we both learned led him to make a dip-hopped beer before I could even get mine started! (Yes, I was a little jealous.) His willingness to dive into new things with both feet, even with the language challenge, was both humbling and inspiring. He wasn’t simply following my lead; he was pushing me to explore new products, new processes, and to grow my craft.

In the last few years, Fernando and I have debated about water chemistry, critiqued the benefits of pressurized fermentation, and discussed the processes of closed system transfers and thiol enhancement. We have shared kveik and landrace yeast cultures and traded brewing ingredients and recipes. Despite this, we have yet to taste each other’s beers. But we both agree that the beers we are producing now are better than anything we had ever made prior. 

The author (top) and his long-distance brew partner, Fernando (bottom). Photos courtesy of Drew Jackson

This past spring, I poured my homebrew at the first beer festival in the last four years and got constructive feedback. Chances are pretty good I would have never poured at another beer festival without the shot of enthusiasm I got from my collaboration with Fernando. I also won my first regional award at the 2023 American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Competition using a kveik yeast, locally foraged ingredients, and dip hopping.

There is no way I could have reached this point in my brewing arc without the experiments done through this reciprocal relationship. And that beer that I made to donate to a local non-profit . . . well it improved with bottle aging and is now finding its purpose raising money for the community. 

If you are lucky enough to have a like-minded friend that challenges you, whether next door or on the other side of the planet . . . nurture it. They don’t come around every day. I lift a pint to my Spanish friend; here is to all the great beers we have yet to make. Prost.

Issue: December 2023