This week's homebrewer interviewee is the winner of many awards at things like the Dominion Cup and Virginia Beer Blitz, as well as being the person who encouraged me to join the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA).
Name: Jamey Barlow
How did you get into home brewing?
I started homebrewing back in 1996 when I was living down in Charleston, South Carolina. I guess there were two forces at play at that time. S.C. still had limits on the ABV for commercial beers back then, and brewing the beers and styles that I couldn’t buy sounded like a fun experiment. Also, I was managing restaurants back then and I still believe there are many shared personality traits between chefs and brewers. Both want to craft something special where they can show off their creativity, technical skill and, most importantly, share that with others.
Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?
I’m all-grain brewer, but I partial-mash brewed for a long time. I’ll never disparage extract brewing because you can make some amazing beers with extract and some grains. I think it mostly gets a bad rap because everyone starts by brewing with extract and, when you are new, your first few beers can be trying because you are still getting your head around pitching rates, sanitation, the boil and temperature control. When I was new, there were a lot of things that went wrong, but you can’t blame the extract until you have a good process.
What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?
Most of my tasting friends (guinea pigs) would say it was one of my hoppy IPAs, but I think the best beers I’ve created are my sours. Flanders Reds can take almost 18 months to turn the corner and be drinkable. And once they do, they are amazing. But the technical skill and sanitization needed to make those beers (and not infect your other beers) is higher than your normal batch. And the stakes seem higher when you have one that takes that long to mature. That makes them more rewarding to me, right now.
What is the worst, and why?
I’ve made some bad ones over the years. One that tasted liked 5 gallons of wet cardboard always comes to mind. I think the worst was a pumpkin beer. Spices are so hard to do just right. I find you have to use half as much as you think you will need, and then I make a spice tea to blend to taste at bottling time. A made a pumpkin beer that was undrinkable. It literally tasted like liquid nutmeg and allspice.
What is your favourite beer that you brew?
I think it is whatever I’m making right now. In the fourteen years I’ve been brewing, I’ve never made the same batch twice. I get obsessed during the planning stage and I love the research and formulation of the recipe.
Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?
That’s a great daydream that I have, but I think I’ve missed my window. I feel like I’ve gotten too old to take the risks, financial and otherwise, necessary to brew for a living. I’ve thought about doing the nano-brew thing a few times, but there aren’t enough hours in the week.
But I might have been a brewer in another life. I say that because I like to brew more than I like to drink beer. And I like drinking beer A LOT.
Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?
Usually it is a nice, balanced American Pale ale, or a Berliner weisse. When the hops and malt are balanced, and the ABV isn’t too high, nothing is easier to enjoy than an APA. Berliners are wonderful, too, because they are session beers and they have a refreshing sourness to them that can pair with many things. Whether that be food, or having a cold one on your porch on a nice day.
How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?
I really have to be excited by a beer in order to be motivated to make it. I’m like that about a lot of things in life. If I’m not interested, I’m probably going to do a piss poor job. If I’m hooked, then I’ll knock it out of the park. Lately I’m about challenges. I like to clone beers that I’ve never had before. I like to try unusual ingredients or styles. I’m looking to make brown ale with wild rice soon, and I want to take a swing at a Gose.
What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?
Well, I’m known for my strange ideas, so that’s a hard one to answer. I did a coconut curry hefeweizen a few years ago that was inspired by a Charlie Papazian recipe. I used fresh ginger, fenugreek and a good friend sent me Kaffir lime leaves from Thailand for it. It was a very interesting beer but it had a slow, spicy burn to it. I called it “Bombay the Hard Way”.
My other infamous one was my oyster stout where I added actual raw oysters and their shells during the last few minutes of the boil. Although it was a challenge to get my friends to try it, it turned out great and had a mind hint of brine to it.
Which professional brewery do you look up to and why?
This changes all the time but I’ve been a fan of Jolly Pumpkin for quite some time. I’m a big sour head and they do some amazing things with their oak barrels covered with wild yeast and bacteria. I have never had a bad beer from them, and the fact that they have a sour session beer, the Bam Biere, is genius and quite inspirational.