So, can you tell us how it all started for you?
I’d been passively curious about home brewing for several years before I got started but what really kicked it off for me was a conversation with a co-worker. We started talking about beer after work one day and he mentioned that he brewed his own beer and was part of a local home brew club. He invited me to check it out and I was pretty much instantly hooked. I took about a month to piece together the basic equipment I needed to get started and had my first brew day in February 2015.
What was your first brew and how did it turn out?
My first brew was an all-grain version of the White House Honey Porter. It actually turned out really well considering it was the first thing I had ever brewed. At the prompting of the co-worker who got me into brewing, I actually entered it into a small local competition. I didn’t expect much other than some input on all the things I did wrong, but I was surprised to find out that it actually took 2nd place out of a field of about 20 entries. Not a huge win, but definitely something to be proud of as someone just starting out.
Were there any mishaps / funny moments along the way leading to now?
Oh, man. I have made so many mistakes along the way. One time I set out to create a cocoa mole stout recipe. The base stout recipe turned out great but when it came time to add my adjuncts I misread what I had written and instead of adding 2 cloves, I actually added 2 oz of cloves. It seemed a little odd as I was adding them that I had called for so much, but I figured I had done my research, why question it. As you’d imagine, the tasting a couple days later was a bit shocking. Clove was all I could taste in the beer—and all I could taste in general for about an hour afterward. In retrospect it was funny, but I was pretty upset with myself at the time.
My first “bottle bomb” experience was also notable. We were getting packed up to move and I was going through my current stock of bottled home brew to figure out what to bring and what to give away. I had a bomber—think I learned why they’re called that—of a Rauchbier that I’d brewed but hadn’t tasted yet. I set it to the side and turned around to pick up something from the workbench when I heard a loud bang, immediately followed by liquid spattering on my legs and back. My poor wife happened to be sitting less than 5 feet away from the bottle when it blew up and we were both covered in beer and glass shards. Thankfully neither of us was hurt, but that incident prompted an immediate conversion to kegging.
Are there any pieces of equipment that you are looking to buy soon, or are converting for the future?
I’ve been doing the brew-in-a-bag thing since I first started and I’ve really enjoyed the simplicity of it, but here lately I’ve been wanting to put together a mash tun to better control my mash temps. I think ultimately, I’d like to go to a three-tier system, but I just don’t have the space and money to dedicate to that at the moment.
Bottle or Keg?
Like I mentioned before, I started out bottling. Prior to the bottle bomb incident, I found bottling to be a huge pain due to the time, the mess, the space, and the added equipment. It has its benefits, don’t get me wrong, but bottling day isn’t very fun and almost always involves spilled beer and sometimes broken bottles. I switched to kegging earlier this year and it’s just a lot easier for me. There’s more upfront cost to get into kegging, sure, but I think it’s the better way to go in the long run—at least for me.
What is your go to recipe or signature brew?
I have a recipe that I’ve been trying to perfect since close to the beginning of my brewing—an Irish Red Ale with cherries. It’s a tribute to my grandfather who passed away in 2015. Back when I was younger, I was visiting my grandparents one weekend and we started discussing what to have for lunch. Well, there’s a place near them called “Jerry’s Subs & Pizza” and someone suggested “Hey, let’s have Jerry’s here at the house.” What he heard, however, was “Hey, let’s have cherries and beer at the house.” It became a family joke for years, but when he passed away I knew instantly that I had to brew a “cherries and beer” something in his honor. Irish red ale seemed to be fitting somehow and I just ran with it. I ended up with the shifter ball from his old pickup truck and the threading perfectly matched that of a tap handle, so it’s yet another memory and a nod to him. It’s only been with my recent brew of it that I feel like I’ve got the recipe where I want it. And now that I’m happy with it, I plan to always have a keg of it on tap.
What is your schedule for a typical brew day?
I typically get up about 8:30 am and start about 9:00. I move my brew days along at a pretty leisurely pace and try to just enjoy the whole experience and get everything right. I have all my brew days outside on the back patio, so I typically check the weather for the day before I get anything setup. If the weather still looks good I pull out my burner and kettle and start getting my strike water heated up while I get everything else in order. The strike water is usually up to temp before 10:00. My 3-year-old daughter loves helping me brew, so once the strike water is up to temp, I let her help me dough in the grains. I usually hang out listening to some music while I monitor the mash temp, adjusting where needed. If everything’s gone as planned, the mash has finished up around 11:00, so I tend to use that as a natural break point to get some lunch while I let the grains take some extra time to drain after sparging. After a quick lunch, I jump back in and start the boil about noon. During the boil, I try to stay pretty focussed on the kettle. I take some time to make notes in between hop additions so I have half a chance of duplicating a good beer or identifying where I messed up on a bad beer. After the boil, I get my wort chilled and moved over to my fermentation bucket, take a gravity reading, and pitch my yeast. I’m typically at that point by 3:00 pm. Then it’s the part no one likes—clean-up. I do some cleaning throughout the brew day as I finish up with things, and that helps minimize how much I have to clean at the end of the day.
What do you love about home brewing and the industry in general?
I love being able to take raw ingredients and creatively turn them into something. When you brew a beer and it turns out well, it’s a really proud moment. It’s a lot of work—mostly cleaning—to brew a batch of beer, but it’s a lot fun too. My favorite brew days are group brews. There’s just a lot of comradery and support from the home brew community that’s really awesome to be a part of. And the whole industry, really, in my experience has been extremely friendly and open, willing to help. I’ve contacted a couple professional breweries before to talk about their beers and get an idea of how they do things and what their inspirations are and it’s always an awesome experience getting to talk to them.
Are you attending any festivals / competitions in the coming months?
I don’t have any current plans on attending any festivals or competitions for the rest of the year, but I’m definitely planning to attend the 2018 Bluebonnet Brew-Off in Irving, TX.
What are your plans for the future and where do you think the industry is headed?
Right now, I’m just brewing for myself and figuring out my process and nailing down some solid recipes. Short term, probably some equipment upgrades to make things easier or more efficient. Long term, I’m not sure but I definitely kick around the idea from time-to-time of opening a local brew pub or something in the future. I love brewing and I love barbequing, so maybe I can turn that into something in the future.
I think right now there are a lot of people looking for local and craft beer rather than the corporate, mass-produced beers that were the staple for decades, and I think the industry is going to meet customers where they are. We’ll probably continue to see a lot more craft breweries pop up all over the country, but I think we’re going to start seeing more brew pubs and similar places as beer and food cultures continue to collide.
Are there any breweries that you admire for what they are producing?
Man, there are just so many great breweries doing so many incredible things these days. I have some current favorites and I’m always discovering new breweries and new beers. Local to me, there’s Tupp’s Brewing and Lakewood Brewing that are putting out some really awesome beers. Tupp’s just recently got their beers on the shelf at local grocery stores and I was happy to see them growing like that. Their Day Off Kolsch and Texas Shade wheat beer are nice and refreshing here in the Texas summer heat. Lakewood is putting out some great beers too and I love their Till & Toil Saison—in particular the bourbon barrel aged version you can get direct from the brewery when it’s in season. Further away, I have to call out Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria, VA. They’re my hometown brewery and they’re creating really great beer and representing the area very well. Their seasonal Derecho Common is a definite favorite, as are the Downright Pilsner, Tidings Ale, and Metro Red. Anytime I’m back home visiting family and friends I have to stop in for a couple pints since I can’t get any of their beers out in Texas—not yet anyway.
Finally, what is the name of your “one day” brewery?
It would definitely be Bowtie Brewing.