The following is a Question and Answer section that we at The Sporting Gentlemen had with homebrewing guru Marc Wisdom. It was a fantastic interview, and for those who missed it, please listen to the recording below (skip to 40:10) as Marc was in the third segment to help us close what was a fantastic show. Find him on Twitter – @JaxBeerGuy.
RUSS – As an avid homebrewer myself, I always like to hear about the gear people use to brew, and the size of the batches they create. With that said, tell me about your rig.
Well, I have several rigs that I use. My main rig uses a propane turkey cooker with a ten gallon pot for mashing and the boil, a five gallon plastic bucket with an airlock for the primary fermentation and a six-gallon glass carboy with airlock for the secondary fermentation.
My second rig is, like Mike, a Mr. Beer Kit. I love the simplicity of the system. I also like that I can make a small batch and experiment without having to pull out the big rig in the garage.
And then there are the commercial systems I have brewed on with some of the local breweries. Last April, Aardwolf Brewing Company in Jacksonville, Fla. let me brew a beer specifically for my wedding reception that we held in their tap room. The brewmaster, Michael Payne, let me take his pilot system — a ten-gallon system made from old half kegs — out for a spin. The result was a tasty triple IPA that weighed in at 11% ABV. We dubbed it, “Honeymoon Wrecker.”
MIKE – As you heard before, I’m just getting started out. What advice would you give to a beginner homebrewer?
The best advice I can give to a new homebrewer is to take it slow. Start brewing with malt extracts and kits. Read all the steps to the process in the instructions that come with kits before you start brewing and then follow them to the letter when you do start brewing. That will give you an opportunity to get feel for the process and learn some of the ins and outs of what it takes to brew.
But, probably the most important part of the process is sanitation. Beer is highly susceptible to contamination from foreign bacteria that can cause off flavors and even ruin an entire batch. Invest in a quality sanitation product and use it on everything that will touch the beer.
After you have made a few extract batches, try going to a partial mash where you use both malt extract and grain. After you master that, go all-grain and rock the world with your own beer flavors.
RUSS – Personally, brewing in the winter months can be a big pain. My first brew of 2014 was supposed to be an IPA, but instead turned into an IPL after bottling. Are there any tips you can offer for cold weather brewing?
I rarely have that issue here in Florida as the temperatures are usually quite warm all year. But technically, your beer was still an IPA since the difference between an ale and a lager is really dependent on the type of yeast used.
The biggest problem brewers in areas with colder winters are going to have, though, is keeping the yeast in their ales warm enough to remain active. Since ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures, a cold closet or drafty kitchen can cause the little guys to quit working before fermentation is complete.
There are a few techniques that can be used to keep ale yeast warm and happy even in cold winter months without having to heat the whole house to the optimal 68 to 72 degrees. For those on a budget, it can be as simple as wrapping the fermenter in a blanket and allowing the heat generated by the fermentation process itself keep things going. For those with a little McGuiver in them, an insulated box can be built with a light bulb rigged in it. Just be careful not to use a high wattage bulb that will make the box to warm.
MIKE – What’s your favorite type of beer to brew, and what is your favorite type to drink?
I do not tie myself down to a particular style to brew, but I do have a favorite ingredient that I use in nearly every batch I brew. That is honey. I have brewed an Orange Blossom Honey Pale Ale, a Honey Hibiscus Kolsch and that Honeymoon Wrecker Triple IPA I brewed for my wedding reception had honey in it, too. I like the richness that honey adds to the flavor and the fact that it is a simple sugar and ferments almost all the way out leaving a nice dry finish.
When I am perched on a stool at my favorite tap room, I generally like to go for Belgian-style beers. I am a sucker for a great saison, but a well-crafted duble or tripel will catch my attention as well.
RUSS – One last thing — First, I’ve been absolutely dying for some Pliny the Elder. I’ve never had it before and I finally gave up looking and simply bought supplies to make my own. For others who are into rare and regional brews and only heard about in legend, where would you direct them?
Beer like Pliny the Elder and to a greater extent Russian River’s companion beer Pliny the Younger are known as whales in beer circles. The best way to get your hands on one is to go to the brewery’s release event. Many of these beers are so rare that it will be difficult at best to get your hands on one any other way. One strategy a lot of beer collectors use is to purchase extra bottles of whales that are released in their area and then trade for bottles from other parts of the country. Here in Florida, Cigar City Brewing Company’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout is a hot commodity. I have a friend who purchased a case of the beer and used all but a few bottles as trades to get beers like Dark Lord from Three Floyds and Cantillion Lou Pepe.
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