Kingman has a community of home brewers. Now is the time to bring them into the light for they are the vanguard of such fabulous beer in this town. Joe Fellers is one of these home brewers; many of you will also know him from his tapster duties at Black Bridge Brewery on Saturday’s. You probably also know of the podcast he co-hosts, Cartoon Casual. Now you will know more of him. This interview will be published in multiple parts, so keep reading.
– First, tell us the story of your beginnings, your home-brewing beginnings . How’d you get started?
In the summer of 2009 I was unemployed and had just been dumped by my live-in girlfriend. So she left, I didn’t have a job or any money, but I still liked beer. So my buddy Steve said, ‘hey you should come over to this guy’s house, he makes his own beer in the garage. Come over and have some beers.’ I was sure it was going to be awful, served out of some plastic buckets.
– You had no faith in home brewing.
None. I had none, because I had had one home brew experience about ten years before and it was garbage. I was just going to go ahead and continue to buy my own beer. I mean, I liked okay beer at the time – Fat Tire, Arrogant Bastard, like the junior league craft beer stuff.
So I go over to Tim Schritter’s house and I walk in his garage – and his garage is set up basically like a brewery. Not basically, it was a brewery. He had a nice stainless steel hand-wash sink; he had six refrigerators or something in there, some for service, some for fermenting; got introduced to Tim and I proceeded to get completely wasted out of my gourd because every single beer I tried was really, really good. And then I told Tim, “hey I wanna learn how to make beer” (spoken in Will Ferrel’s Harry Caray voice, if you know Joe you can hear it now) and he was like, ‘okay, you come back in the morning and I’ll teach you how to make beer.’ Later on, I found out he didn’t expect me to show up; but I got up, grabbed a couple of Egg McMuffins and some energy drinks and showed up at like 7:30 in the morning the next day and, uh, and that’s it. That’s how I began home brewing. He showed me how to brew beer, I looked up the chemistry – the actual chemistry behind it and got really interested in it because I’ve always been interested in science. Through Tim, and then Jason Fuller, as well, because he’s a science teacher and a home brewer – we all saw eye to eye. It all just clicked in my brain, it totally made sense to me. It’s one of those things where some people look at something and it makes sense – I looked at recipes, at mash temps and things like that and it just kinda made sense.
– What other kind of science do you have in your background?
Just a giant nerd. I always excelled at science. I grew up in Ohio, so you had to take earth science, biology, chemistry then physics in high school and I tested out in the first two so when I was a freshman I was taking junior level classes and I just went from there. I just absolutely love it. So I had no real background in anything scientifically applicable to brewing, but it clicked in my brain – ‘oh, okay so this – we need to have a good mash pH for this and have this and this and amylase reactions …’ For whatever reasons, that all made sense to me.
– So why do you keep home brewing?
I get like a creative energy that I just need to get out. I love to cook. I love taking something from raw ingredients and making something different out of it. Brewing allows me to do that. And I’m not working in a commercial setting so I can do whatever the hell I want. I can experiment, and if it’s god-awful, then it’s god-awful. Like, my Bavarian style hefeweizen ferments at above 68 degrees, has banana characteristics to it. I love chocolate covered bananas so why not add chocolate to a Bavarian style hef? Not a good idea, for the record. It’s not very good! But I figured that out by making it and then forcing myself to drink five gallons of it. Because I’ve never actually done small batch home brewing, like I’ve never done a one gallon batch – it’s been four and half to five gallon batches every time I’ve done an experimental beer.
– I just saw an article about blending. Have you ever done that with your beers, your home brews? Like if something went wrong, or just purposely blending them together?
No. I never have. Whenever I’ve had anything go wrong, it was so tragically wrong I didn’t even want to dump it down my drain. I wanted to dump it down someone else’s drain.
– Were you able to do that?
Yes, and I will not disclose where it was dumped. I’ve only ever had three tragic failures – only three I can remember were actual real bad failures. And they weren’t even failures of my own – it was the airlock getting clogged and blew the top off and infected the beer. That happened to me twice and another time was just pure dumb.
– Tell us your current favorite beer or beer style.
What’s Red Bridge? Irish red? Current favorite because it’s in my hand.
But honestly I have to say, I have to supplant that with Hops & Dreams, the New England IPA. It’s just so … I went through what a lot of people went through that were into craft beer or have been into craft beer, say, the past four or five years – the hop fatigue, so to speak. Because IPA’s became so prevalent but also turned into a pecker measuring contest. “Let’s hop it up as much possible!” But that’s akin to the guys at the chili cook off who say “you can’t have more than a couple of spoonfuls of my chili, it’s so hot.” Well, I’m hungry. I want to taste, I want something with good flavor, I don’t want it to be just too hot. The same thing goes for IPAs, it just got to be a little too much. And now sours are starting to become like that. So for a while I just went away from IPAs, heavily hopped IPAs. But the more I try this “New England Style,” the hazy, citrusy IPA, well I’m falling in love with them all over again. I just had to take a break and then go back to them. So lately my favorite has been the New England Style IPAs.
– So, now that your boss has left, what’s your current favorite brewery?
To be perfectly honest with you it’s almost always Black Bridge and it has nothing to do with brand loyalty, which I do have, obviously. Brand loyalty because I work here; I’ve seen it grow from Tim making beer in five gallon buckets and serving it in his garage and getting me drunk to what you see now. But, Tim and I, while we’re friends, I don’t get a lot of communication from him that tells me what’s coming up. He’ll tell me, ‘hey guess what I’m going to brew tomorrow’ but that’s about the extent of it. It’s not like I know what’s going on in his head. So I’m still surprised by the beers that I’m pouring. But if had to pick a “second favorite” even though my boss is still gone, it would probably have to be Wanderlust, out of Flagstaff.
– All right, I’m on board with that. I love that place.
I do, too. And I love the idea of … I’m a big fan of the farm-to-table movement when it comes to food and I love the idea of making beer as local as possible. Because while it is cool to import things, just weird, exotic things to put into your beers, I like the extreme opposite of that which is grain that is grown down the street and yeast harvested literally out of thin air, which is what they did for several of their beers at Wanderlust. They don’t buy commercial yeast. Their 928 Local, whatever the hell it is, I don’t even know – I think it could kinda be considered a farmhouse ale – 928 Local is yeast that was propagated from sugar water being left out, just like you would a sourdough starter. And it’s delicious. So yeah I’d say that Wanderlust is my favorite, that I don’t work at.
– Have you ever been able to do that ‘bootleg biology?’ Culturing your own yeast like that?
I have. I’ve done it on several different levels. The house strain … oh, I forgot, who makes Fat Tire? New Belgium. New Belgium’s house strain that they use for the majority of their beers is incredibly hardy and it’s related to Scottish 1728 that we use here and they actually use it in their lagers as well. It’s technically an ale yeast. But I propagated that, or harvested that, from several bottles of Fat Tire. Left a little in the bottom of the bottle, swirled it around, add it to the thing and put it in the fridge and six or seven bottles later start adding some sugar syrup to it and then you propagate. Then made a batch of beer and saved it. I actually have a few vials in my refrigerator. But as far as spontaneous fermentation, I’ve never done that locally, but I plan on doing it this summer. I have a friend whose mom has several apple trees. I want to make a cider the traditional way. I found somebody in town who has a cider press and I want to try to make 15-20 gallons of cider and ferment the must from yeast I harvested out of the air.
Hooked, aren’t you? Well, I’m going to stop there for now. Watch for the next post wherein we’ll uncover Joe’s other favorite alcohol’s, his view on beer trends and legal diatribes.