Home Brew Interview: Joe Fellers – Part 3

The second part of this interview with local home brewer Joe Fellers can be discovered here. Therein he talked about local ingredients, legalities and beer trends. Below is the final segment and it gets historical and philosophical.

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So let’s get back to home brewing. Why should people get into home brewing?

It’s one of the oldest art forms. And it’s not just home brewing, I think there’s a lost art of making things we consume. There’s too much consuming and not enough making. Prior to getting into home brewing I liked to cook, but it has somehow enhanced my love of cooking and my love of food and the process because I’ve refined my palate. It’s turned me into a real elitist prick – but you know what I tell people? Just because I don’t like ****** things doesn’t make me an elitist. I will admit that I drank four Coors Light last night

– I can cut that part out.

No. No don’t. You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to drive home but I kinda wanted something that tasted like beer.

– Honestly me and a friend did a blind taste test years ago. We sampled Bud, Miller, Coors and threw Corona in there, just for fun.

Did you do Corona in cans or Corona in bottles?

– Bottles

Yeah, see if you did it in cans you can tell … I was just going to bring that up. I recently had three Corona’s from cans and you know what it tastes like? Come to find out, there’s a reason it tastes like this, but it tastes just like, well, a 90% match, with Hofbrau House Original Helles. And that’s because some people from the Hofbrauhaus, in the mid-1800s, settled in central Mexico and that’s where the Mexican light lager comes from. They brought yeast strains with them. I knew that there were Germans in Mexico but I hadn’t had Corona in cans – other than hammered at the lake – in fifteen years. I poured it into a glass and it was a nice straw color and it wasn’t skunky. I had forgotten what unskunked Corona tastes like. But anyway – you were doing a blind taste test.

– Yeah, and that might’ve made a difference

I’m telling you, man, it’s a huge difference. Heineiken’s the same way. Heineken is a very good lager, a fine example of a European light lager. And I don’t think they’re an adjunct beer. I think it’s all grain.

– Well we did that blind test – and I’ve always put Coors down, but honestly that one tasted better than the others.

It was ice cold?

– They were nice and cold, we had other people pouring for us. I was surprised how well Coors tasted compared to the rest.

It’s interesting to do stuff like that. I wish I could do taste testing like that here. But our distributor will not allow,and Tim won’t allow, Budweiser products here and I completely understand. But I would like to do it to prove a point. People have their brand loyalty when it comes to things but they have brand loyalty up here (points to the brain case) and not what they actually taste.

– Tell us the best resources for home brewers.

Your local brewery. Always. Make friends with your local brewer and the day shift bartender throughout the week. They’ll introduce you to people. The second best resource is going to be online home brew forums. Message boards and forums are kind of an antiquated form of communication on the internet but when it comes to home brewing they are a wealth of information. That’s where I’ve learned almost everything. In a lifetime, if you spent even three hours a day, you’ll never get through all the information there.

But number one would be your local brewery. As long as you like their beers. If you think their beers are not that great, then don’t go to them. But chances are, if they’re still in business they know what they’re doing. And talk to the brewers because they’ll be the first ones to tell you, “don’t do that.” Most brewers, most professional brewers started out as home brewers. In fact, the majority of them that I’ve ever met started off brewing beer because they were underage in college. They bought a home-brew kit on line because they didn’t card them online and so they could brew the beer. It gets you drunk. It’s college. Who cares. Some Uncle Ben’s Minute Rice and some grain you bought for $15 online, might as well do it.

– Are there any brewing techniques or processes that you have discovered that can help home brewers make better beer?

Don’t be afraind to fail. Don’t be worried about “oh, man, I hope this doesn’t taste bad.” You’re going to make bad beers. You’re going to have bad ideas. You’re going to forget to do something. You are going to make the mistake of drinking while you’re brewing, which is a bad idea. It’s a terrible idea. It’s how you end up with really terrible IPAs, that’s how you end up with infections, that’s how you end up making mistakes in your quantities. You get yourself a 15% IPA when you wanted a 6% or you end up with a 2% IPA.

It’s hard for me to give advice when it comes to home-brew technique because I kinda started ahead of the curve – because of Tim. Tim has such an engineering mind that he said, “listen, I went through all this, I don’t want you to have to deal with that. So we’re going to start you off at 7 as opposed to going 1-6.” So a lot of my techniques come from that.

Clean. Be clean. If the cleanest area of your house – you could be a slob, your room could be terrible, your dishes are dirty, food caked on stuff in your fridge – if the only area of your house that is clean is where your brewing equipment is and it’s clean, you rinse it off before using it and scrub it clean after youre done using, you keep all that clean. Make sure you put your concentration in that area. If you’re going to home brew you have to keep things clean otherwise you’re going to have garbage. Garbage in, garbage out. That’s the key. Sanitization.

– Any good gadgets that have helped your brew day be better?

If you brew in a garage have a deep sink. If you have a deep sink in your garage put a hose fitting on the faucet and then run a tube off of it. Just like we [B3] have out back. I have one in my house. It’s so handy for everything. For cleaning. I’m not kidding, I walk out in my garage from my kitchen when I have to fill up more than a gallon, when I have to make stock or something like that, I’ll go out there and use it because I can set my pot on the ground and fill up from that hose. That’s my number one favorite gadget.

Spray bottle. It sounds weird. A spray bottle with sanitizer or just alcohol. I have three of them at my house at all times. I spray down everything. I actually will do a fine mist of sanitizer in my fridge like once a week, in my ferment fridge and my serving fridge. Just to keep any sort of bugs at bay. But I’ll also do a fine mist of sanitizer in my bucket. I also use isopropyl alcohol if I’m going to do any kind of hot ferment. Anything above about 62 degrees, for like my ciders, a few hefeweizens and a few other things. I have one stout I ferment at 68 degrees, which is weird. But if I do a hot ferment everything gets sprayed down with alcohol because I want to control every aspect. And that comes from home brewing. I didn’t do that before.

So spray bottles and a hose bib connector for your sink, both are invaluable.

– What is your personal brewing philosophy, if we haven’t covered it yet?

The Sumerians were brewing beer thousands of years ago. You’re going to make beer, and whether you like that beer or not, that doesn’t matter, you’re going to make beer. So always keep it simple, listen to people that know more than you. That’s it. And I follow that all the time. I’ve got one friend of mine who’s .. four batches I think he’s made, maybe five. He just kegged his first batch about three weeks ago. It’s a Belgian blonde with blood orange. It was really good except he bought a kit and it wasn’t … the blood orange syrup that went into it just didn’t last. It lasted about two weeks and now he has a blonde ale. it doesn’t even have Belgian-y characteristics to it. It tripped the trigger. It got you in. Now he’s hooked. He keeps asking ‘what-if’ questions. I tell him it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. He asks, ‘well aren’t you worried about this or that?’ And I’m not. I’ve done 216 batches and had three infections and about 10 that I didn’t like. So, 13 beers in 200 batches, okay. That’s enough failure for me to learn lessons. You’re going to fail, you’re going to screw up. But no matter what you’re still going to make beer, even if you don’t like it. Then learn from those mistakes.

– Tell me some positive things about Kingman, as a home brewer.

That any time from about 6 am to about 10 pm at night, sometimes even later, we’re a tight knit community of home brewers; you always have someone you can get hold of. Tim, even though he seems surly, he’s a real big softie, he’s a big baby, he’s a real nice guy. If you’ve got an emergency and you’re like, ‘man, I’m like 35 minutes into my 90 minute boil and I just realized that I don’t have enough hops’ – call him up and he’ll help work it out. Because chances are he’s had that problem before. Jason Fuller, same thing. Me, I work nights. Three nights a week you can catch me at 2 am. If for some reason you have a brewing emergency at 2 am you can hit me up. And I know about 5 or 6 other brewers locally who are the same way. We’re all willing to help each other out. Brewing is a community. We’re all weird, brewing nerds. We all just love this stuff.

– What is the social need for alcohol?

Oh man, that’s a multi-tiered answer. First and foremost, humans have been consuming some kind of alcoholic – excuse me – some kind of mind altering substance as a form of community for thousands of years. It pre-dates the written word … I would say it’s right around the same time the spoken word came about. Anthropoligists say that humans started settling into communities and stopped being nomads because they needed to make substances that altered their minds. And to do that you can’t just roam around – well, it’s easier to grow your wheat and your barley and your sorghum and whatever it is your growing to make your alcoholic substance. So there’s a sense of community that comes with that.

When this country was being formed it was formed in taverns. Even the teetotalers showed up to the taverns because they knew that’s where the sense of community was centered. Not only that but your small communities, even up until just barely pre-Prohibition in the US, most decisions were made, in small towns, at the local tavern or ale house. Or at the brewery. Sometimes all three of those were the same place. So you had city council meetings, you had planning and zoning commissions, you had all those different things, all those things that were decided as a community, in and around alcohol. That’s number one, a sense of community. And that’s a very ancient thing, a very old part of our brain. It goes back thousands and thousands of years.

The need for alcohol, the social need – most people don’t want to talk about it, but everybody has social hangups. Not everyone is forthright and honest without some sort of chemical alteration. Whether it’s benzodiazepines to calm your social anxiety and makes you more outward and outgoing. Alcohol covers those bases and allows me to be more honest about what I’m talking about now. Literally self-referential.

– What’s an overrated craft beer?

Stone IPA

– What’s an underrated craft beer?

Any good pilsener from a microbrewery. And the reason I say pilsener is because a lot of people don’t realize, unless they are a home brewer, that a pilsener is one of the hardest things to brew. Because there is nowhere to hide. You’ve got an IPA, you can screw up your fermentation, your mash pH and all that – just add more hops, add more hops. Boil longer. Leave it in the keg longer. When you have a pilsener and it takes you five weeks to make it and you have five weeks and one day to put it on tap, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to be perfect. There’s no room to screw it up. That’s why when I go to a brewery that has a pilsener on tap, and they call it a pilsener, that’s the first beer that I order. Just to see if it’s good. If that pilsener’s good, I don’t even have to try the rest of the beers. I know they’re going to knock it out of the park because it’s so tough to make a pilsener. Which is why I’ve never tried to make a pilsener. I did a Munich style helles one time and it was okay but it took way too long. It took me almost five weeks, probably four weeks and about 3 or 4 days. No. Give me a hefeweizen, three days primary fermentation, two days to crash cool it, keg it one day. Five days.

– Tell me about the beer scene in Kingman. Is it good, bad, otherwise?

It’s so, so much better. More people are getting turned on to home brewing, more people are getting turned on to craft beer. While I’m conflicted about a second brewery in town, I know that the more breweries the better because that means there’s less bad beer out there. Or less boring beer. Because I don’t like boring.

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