Friday, July 30, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

This week we come back to Virginia for the homebrew interview, up to Fredericksburg to be precise and the author of A Homebrew Log. As you probably recall, James and I swapped beers recently and you can my thoughts of 4 of his brews here, and here. I have a couple of his lagers sitting in the fridge and will be reviewing them soon.

Name: James Tweeddale

How did you get into home brewing?

About four or five years ago I was actually more into wine than beer. During that time my wife and I were doing a lot of wine tastings and tours of wineries and I found the whole production and fermentation process very interesting. So, I decided to have a shot at making a couple batches of fruit wine myself. I read a book, bought some equipment, and got started. My first batch, a peach wine, ended disastrously when a rubber stopper popped into the carboy and I didn't remove it. After a week with the stopper, the peach wine tasted like rubber bands so I had to dump it. The other batch, an apple wine, turned out to be pretty decent and drinkable. A few years later I had become more interested in beer and since I already had carboys, siphons, hydrometers, etc... from my wine making adventures, I decided to brew some up myself. I read a couple books (Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and Byron Burch's Brewing Quality Beers) and started with a stovetop all-grain pale ale. The beer turned out pretty nicely although much lower in alcohol (3% abv) than planned due to a horribly inefficient mash. In hindsight I was pretty ambitious for starting out all grain but, for me, having already fermented beverages in the past, the mashing and wort production process was a grey area that I wanted to understand better. 

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

Although I brew predominantly all grain beers, I also enjoy extract brewing. Since I brew in a non-climate controlled garage, some times of year can bring extreme weather. Six or more hours in 90+ degree heat standing next to a hot mash tun and a boiling kettle can become uncomfortable and detract from the joy of homebrewing. Its times like that, or when I am trying to troubleshoot a fermentation, boil, or cooling related problem that I will brew extract recipes. Each method of brewing has its advantages. For many styles, I think the quality of beer you can make with extract & steeped specialty grains is just as good as what you can make with all grain. Good fermentation and sanitation practices make just as big of a difference regardless of which of the two methods you use to brew your beer. Extract brewing can help to focus on and troubleshoot certain aspects of brewing procedure while ruling out processes involved with mashing, sparging, etc.... The only beer I have had win a medal in competition, my Chili Pepper Lager, was made from an extract w/specialty grain recipe and fermented with dry lager yeast. All grain brewing certainly allows for a larger degree of control over the characteristics of the finished beer and many times additional opportunities for employing stylistically authentic or creative procedures and most of all, its fun!

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?
Its hard to pick only one, but, so far I would have to pick either the late hopped IPA or the Scottish 80 that I made in the past few months. The late hopped IPA because of the massive fresh floral citrusy hop aroma and flavor I managed to capture in it by adding a ton of hops during the last 5 minutes of the boil. The Scottish 80 because of the sweet malty caramelly breadiness that is derived from a high quality pale malt mashed at a high temperature followed by a long caramelizing boil. I like it when I can enjoy a beer and understand why and how the ingredients and techniques used in its production yielded the characteristics I enjoy.

What is the worst, and why?
 I went through a bad period of time this past Winter in which I had three beers in a row turn out infected with the same infection. None of those ever made it to bottling, but what I tasted was terrible and it sucked dumping out carboys full of beer that I spent so much time making. Eventually after tossing out all of my plastic hoses and plastic (as well as some non-plastic) equipment piece by piece and bleach sanitizing my carboys, I was able to beat whatever was causing the problems.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

 I can't say that I have a favorite. For one, I have brewed several beers that turned out to be wonderfully enjoyable to me. Also, I haven't spent much time re-brewing or tweaking the same recipe. I have only been brewing for about a year and a half and for the most part I have been brewing a different recipe or style each brew so I don't really have any "house" or regular beers.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

Sometimes I daydream about the prospect of owning and operating a small brewery one day. But, then I wonder if it would be possible to maintain the same enthusiasm and enjoyment that I get from brewing if it were to become a job instead of a hobby/creative outlet.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

 Like many others have said, its the one I'm drinking right now.

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?
One of my favorite things about home brewing is that can I brew whatever style of beer I am in the mood to drink. When it comes time to formulate a recipe, a find a good basic starting point in books like Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, Brewing Classic Styles by John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff, or more narrow scoped books like Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus and Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. I also look at recipes homebrew bloggers post as well as recipes shared on forums like Once I have a basic idea for a recipe, I look at my favorite commercial beers of the subject style and tweak my recipe to include ingredients or procedures that give those beers the characteristics that I enjoy. After I brew a beer once, then the trick is to begin slowly tweaking the recipe in future re-brews to get it closer to where I want it to be for my system. I still have not brewed a beer that turned out exactly like I wanted it to.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

That would have to be my Chili Pepper Lager. Its has a crisp clean golden lager base with lot of prominent smoky roasted jalapeno pepper flavor and a touch of habanero heat on the finish. Its a pretty funny juxtaposition to spend six or seven weeks slowly fermenting and lagering a beer in the style of a clean delicate golden lager that all the while has jalapenos and habaneros floating around in it.
If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

I can't choose one in particular, but I would be interested in brewing with one of the small micro or nano-breweries that are sprouting up around the country. I like the flexibility they have to be creative with small batches. I also like the way they are more closely tied to serving the area and community in which they exist. These kinds of breweries have the opportunity to form close relationships with the people who purchase and consume their beers and cater to niches of small demand that aren't profitable for larger breweries. There are small nano-breweries that have started up here in Virginia recently that I have been following with interest such as Wolf Hills in Abingdon and Shooting Creek in Blacksburg. As far as what kind of beer I would like to brew, today I would have to say a nice golden, hoppy, and aromatic American IPA but tomorrow it might be a big malty dopplebock.

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