Meet the Home Brewers – Chris Walker

We spend a moment with home brewer Chris Walker to see where it all started and what he has on the horizon.

So, can you tell us how it all started for you? // What was your first brew and how did it turn out?

I found a kit on Groupon. Thought to myself what the hell, and made an Irish Red. It was a nightmare. I live in South Florida so keeping that bucket cool was incredibly difficult. Swapped towels from the freezer about twice a day. My first bottling session was the messiest thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to partake in. I thought the Red was incredibly mediocre. My friends loved it; so I did another. Then another, and you know how it goes from there.

Were there any mishaps / funny moments along the way leading to now?

I think the entire hobby is just fixing mishaps, and you have to find them funny otherwise it just isn’t fun anymore. I originally did growler fills with a racking cane stuck in the end of a picnic tap. It worked great. That is till I heard my wife calling my name. I looked up and over not realizing the tap was full open. A full 180-degree arc of beer across the room.

One of my favourite things is mystery bottles. I had just done 3 at a friend’s house, without a single issue. It wasn’t three days later that I found one in the back of my fridge. Obviously this one will be fine too! Less than 3 seconds it took for the entire bottle to gush out all over the inside of my fridge.

These are the moments you really have to love. It rounds you out and puts you back in your place a bit.

Are there any pieces of equipment that you are looking to buy soon, or are converting for the future?

I’m really happy with what I have going on. We all start somewhere, but I feel a 10-gallon system allows me to be experimental by splitting the batch. It’s the perfect size for home use. On the front end I’ve got a three tier gravity fed system. You have to love a hobby that really brings you out of your shell. I had never built anything like that before. I was super proud, till my friends pointed out how poorly it was constructed. I’ll never stop tinkering and trying to improve, though. Next on my list will probably be a pump, or that Amazon thing that talk to. That would be a great brew day tool. Unless, you know where I can get a full service robot to help me move all these carboys.

Bottle or Keg?

This is always a tough question to answer. I moved into kegging as fast as humanly possible. I just found bottling, when I started out, to be the worst. Spillage, uneven carbing, cases of bottle bombs in my mother-in-law’s house. So I thought, yeah, kegging! There’s nothing simpler! Except it’s not simple at all. Surprise empty tanks, fittings, cleaning. It’s great to be able to handle festival competitions, and it’s even better to supply an afternoon session with friends. However, I’ve found it to be just as complicated.

My neighbour found cases of 22oz bottles in his warehouse and “donated” them to me. I figured what the hell lets to some bottle conditioning on my Saison. Of course I had to pick up a bottling bucket and bottle filler, because I hadn’t bottled since I began. It was then I had my mind blown when the LHBS associate told me I didn’t need 3 feet of hose for bottling. Simply attach the bottle filler to the bucket with about an inch of hose, and use the bottle to depress the detent. Again, it’s one of those things that you just have to laugh at yourself. How did I not think of this?

That’s why I’m a huge fan of homebrew clubs, and group brewing. If you come to our club, I want to brew with you. Why are you doing this, and how did you do that? It’s about learning and bettering yourself while building friendships along the way.

What is your go to recipe or signature brew?

When we start out we’re all really misinformed, and it’s easy to make decisions or have biases based off that limited knowledge set. I know breweries were everywhere, and I really loved local beer. There was something so punk rock about it. Possibly what influenced me to click that buy now button for the Groupon deal. But, I lived in a bubble when I first started out. I didn’t know about BJCP, Reddit’s /homebrewing, or Homebrew talk. I literally thought homebrew was this tiny little niche.

It was this uninformed mind-set and little biases that had me completely against Saison. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. I just hadn’t yet had a good one. My wife kind of liked them, and I’m always on the hunt to make a good brew for her. So, I picked up Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. I had read a few brewing books before, but this one… It really changed how I looked at the beer and industry as a whole. I fell in love with the history of beer culture. It made me feel like I’m part of this big story that is still being told.Saison

I wouldn’t say I have a go-to recipe or a Signature brew. You should always keep changing, keep trying something different, something new. Be better; be different. So no, not a one go-to-thing, but I do have a special place in my heart for Saison.

What is your schedule for a typical brew day?

Whew! Brew day! What are we brewing? Oh, wait… you got me excited. I love brew days. I brew alone, with my wife, with my club, with random brewers anytime I get the chance. Some people find it a little weird, because they see it as work. It’s this thing you have to do a few weeks before the fun begins. I don’t see it like that. Brew day is what this hobby is all about for me.

I like to say I’m a madman till brew day, an artist on brew day, and a scientist after brew day. It begins long before I actually brew. I could be thinking about a recipe or method in my head months before I even get to heating water. I’m still brewing during that stage, but it’s something else that came before what my mind is currently on. Then I get that recipe or method down on paper. This begins the research phase. Is it viable, what is traditional, what is current, has anyone done it like this, what are the outliers. Get this information from as many different sources as possible. We tend to find ourselves in echo chambers. We like to hang out where our opinion is common. Break that habit.

Then comes brew day! Again, I live in South Florida so I’m usually kickin’ the tires by the crack of dawn. Group brews are a blast, but you’re not usually starting till about noon. This heat will put a hurting on you, so, you’re fried by 5 or 6 when you’re finishing up. Early morning is the way to go. The streets are quiet, you’ve got a cup of coffee, and it’s just easy to get organized and ready to go. It centers you; its zen.

Lay everything out in the order you’re going to use it. Do this while you’re heating water. Its fine to take a break, but waiting around is boring. Always fill those gaps with something. You know damn well you could be cleaning, sanitizing or measuring out hops. Do this and do it well you can have a 4-hour brew day too! Be thinking about how you can improve your process. Does your Mash Tun have a 3/8” OD barb, but your kettle has a ½”? write it down to change it. That’s now one less hose to fuss with. Time saved buddy! By the time I start cooling wort everything is done except cleaning of the kettle, so, it’s time for well-earned beer.

I believe the most important thing is to relax, and have fun. It pretty hard to screw up a beer. You’re not going to destroy your new England black hibiscus chocolate pineapple IPA by missing your addition by 2 minutes.

Current setup

What do you love about home brewing and the industry in general?

I love the comradery. I hope that continues forever. I have never been a part of anything that welcomes everyone from all walks of life, and everyone one of them has a story to tell. Walk into any brewery/homebrewery and you’ve got hours of things to talk about. Only once in my life did I meet someone who didn’t want to discuss or share their recipes. Also, nothing and everything is sacred. There’s great tradition and history, but you don’t have to get bogged down by that if you don’t want to.  Though, you better respect it and understand it.

Are you attending any festivals / competitions in the coming months?

As many as I possibly can. I started brewing in 2011. It was just a hobby. Then I met my friend John, and it quickly became a passion. I went to a competition to sample some good homebrew, and a couple of club members were behind a table. They were beat. My wife and I offered to give them a break and I had the best time ever. That’s when I got serious. Set a goal to be in my first competition within a year. Almost to the day I entered my first, and walked out with Best of Show. It’s been difficult living up to that, but it doesn’t matter. I just love doing it. I love seeing the smile on people’s face when they drink my beer. I know I’m doing something cool, and people dig that. Total I’ve been in about 7 competitions, and every single one was a blast. We’re trying to develop our own competition. I have an affinity for festival style competitions, but there’s a ton of red tape for that.

Currently, our Homebrew club is doing a showcase on September 24th with the Craft Beer Cartel for their competition. We voted on recipes submitted by members of the club and their employees. Then we did a group brew for 15 gallons. Split it into three batches. One normal, one with a different yeast, and one with a treatment. We like teaming up with them as they’re great guys, and it’s a way for us to get out there and be like you can make great beer too!

I’ve also got 2 entries in the best Florida Beer competition right now. It was a last minute thing and I barely made the deadline. Both beers were rushed, and they weren’t quite ready when I shipped them. They’re fantastic, but I might have been hasty in my category choices. NEVER enter what you brewed. Always enter what you get.

What are your plans for the future and where do you think the industry is headed?

BJCP guild lines 2022: 32 IPA categories? I’m just guessing, but I’ve got money on it. All jokes aside I’m not a trendsetter, and I’d like to think I’m not a wagon hopper. If I see something cool, I may try it. Other than that I just do what I want, and have fun doing that. Split the batch at flameout for two different whirlpool addition? Rainwater beer? Sawgrass wild yeast? I dunno, get weird, but make sure you’re having fun. If you really want to know where the industry is heading or what’s next, listen to Michael Tonsmeire. I’m starting to think everything that guys says becomes gospel. He says: “Hey look geese!” Next thing you know every craft beer outlet is carrying Goose Island, and every brewery has an entire line-up of Gose.

I think the best thing coming for homebrewers is the amount of Yeast Banks that carry affordable strains is going to explode. It’s a lot of fun to experiment with that stuff.

Are there any breweries that you admire for what they are producing?

Hell yes. There’s some big ones like Avery who, in my opinion, are the standard to live up to. Big up and comers like Funky Buddha who have made beer a culinary experience. However, I’m really into the small guys. Brewing twice a day on a 1 – 3bbl system while maintaining variety in every beer you make? That’s not craft; that’s artisanal, that’s dedication, and that’s love. That’s Lauderale in Ft. Lauderdale. They have rock solid classic styles, and they get some amazing experimental stuff that just stand up so well because of it.

Finally, what is the name of your “one day” brewery?

We’ve all got one don’t we? How about “The Shore’s Edge”

On the docks