Brewer of the Week: Aaron B. Schecter Jr.
Name: Aaron B. Schecter Jr.
Hometown: Florida, NY
Brewing Since: 1998
When did you start brewing/What got you brewing?
I started brewing in 1998. What got me interested was when craft beer started moving into the Hudson Valley of New York around that time, and my first craft beer was an IPA. It was so different from anything I had ever had before, and I was intrigued by the process and the possibilities of what beer could actually be.
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, it was an obsession?
I have never considered homebrewing a hobby. I feel it is more of a art form and an expression of the individual brewer and their palate. I knew I was hooked when I would spend nights on end reading every bit of information on brewing: malting, hop growing, recipe formulation, brewing science and anything else I could find. I dedicated myself as a resource to recruit new brewers and made myself available as a resource to my local homebrew store to help new brewers gain a love and appreciation for the art.
When did you join the AHA?
I'm embarrassed to admit it...I've been brewing since 1998 but I recently joined the AHA in 2013.
What is your "white whale" beer (the beer you'd hunt to the ends of the earth for, and possibly die trying to obtain)?
If I was stuck on a desert island and had to choose only one beer to drink for the rest of my life, it would either be Chimay Cinq Cents or a very close runner up, Rodenbach 2008 Vintage. Please don't make me choose.
What are your favorite craft breweries?
I love my local craft beer scene! We are producing such great beer here in the Hudson Valley, so I guess my local list would go in no particular order: Rushing Duck, Newburgh Brewing Co., Sloop Brewing, Captain Lawrence, Defiant Ales, Peekskill Brewery, Mill Street Brewing Co., Keggan Ales and of course Funky Onion Brewing. Non-local breweries include: Russian River, Smuttynose, Left Hand, Otter Creek, Anderson Valley and Stillwater. There are just so many great breweries now to choose from!
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I was brewing Denny Conn's VBIP and I underestimated how vigorous the fermentation would be. Long story short, WY1450 is no joke! Within about twelve hours this beer was everywhere...literally everywhere! It was on the floor, the walls and the ceiling! Moral of the story is use a blow off tube every time and never underestimate the ability of any yeast strain. Head space is not a good gauge of if you will have blow off or not. On a final note, it was actually one of the top three beers I have ever made, despite the disaster the beer prevailed. It was worth my wife's screaming and hours of clean up. Not to mention, I learned a very strong lesson in homebrewing that day.
Do you have a special homebrew related project that you'd like to share?
I always seem to have some brewing related projects going on. I just finished building some ETC-1100 controls for friends so they can control their fermentation temps more accurately. I am also in the process of building a newer Rims setup with independent pump and heater circuits. Finally, I was reading in the Pimp My System section here on the AHA site about building your own mash paddle, so now I have three custom mash paddles and a traditional mash rake.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
Turbid mashed Lambic, Flanders Red, Dusseldorf Altbier, IPA, Rauchbier. Wow, I guess I just like to brew period!
What style(s) will you never brew?
Yeah right! I intend to brew every style I can at least once...so many beers so little time!
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
The first beer I ever brewed was a hefeweizen. Back in 1998 we didn't have the supplies we have today. It turned out OK, but at the time, I thought it was the best beer ANYONE had ever made. Looking back it was not that good, but as the years went on, supplies became more available and the yeast (OMG the yeast!) became much better. To this day, it is still in my rotation though it has been fine-tuned over the years.
Have you ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?
I brewed a pumpkin ale a few years back and mashed the pumpkin puree in the mash. I did not use any rice hulls and I prefer a pretty fine crush, so you see where this is going. Stuck sparge. Long story short, the sparge took a bit over two hours. However, I had the highest efficiency (85%) I had ever had at the time. The beer itself also turned out great and all 5.5 gallons were gone in one day. It has now become my family's traditional Thanksgiving beer.
What is your favorite recipe based off of a commercial style?
I would probably be my Belgian Dubbel. I love Chimay beers and I loosely designed my Dubble after the Chimay Primier (red).
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
Well it's not really a trick, but I have found that a fine crush and the appropriate amount of rice hulls can do wonders for your mash efficiency. When I started brewing I was using a corona mill, and I averaged about 60-70% efficiency. The results were hit or miss. I eventually invested in a better monster mill and tightened the crush down with a feeler gauge. Now I stay at a consistent 86% mash efficiency. I also built a DIY stir plate that has taken my fermentation to the next level! Who are we kidding, it's awesome to just watch a yeast vortex for hours on end!
Describe your brew system.
I have two brew systems; a Brutus 10 system that utilizes all stainless steel vessels custom made to my specifications, as well as all the March pumps and PID controllers that go along with such a system. I also have (believe it or not) my preferred system which is two converted Igloo coolers, a sparge arm and a 42 qt Polarware brew pot, and it's just a simple brew system. I actually prefer the simpler system as it allows me to connect with my brewing on a whole different level. In my opinion, there is a much more personal touch in the basic systems. The automated systems are great, but I have not connected with the brew in the same way.
How frequently do you brew (times per month or year)?
I brew to the legal limit of my household which is 200 gallons per year.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
Marris Otter. I just love the flavor profile, and I use it as a base for the majority of my beers regardless if its a traditional English bitter, or to just make a American Pale Ale stand out a bit more even. I'll use it even if its not the traditional base malt for the style.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
Hands down, Kent Goldings! I love the earthy yet floral aroma that hop has. I also grow my own hops and the East Kent Golding always has been my best producer.
What is your dream beer and food pairing?
I love barbeque, so I would have to say a smoked pulled pork sandwich paired with a Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen.
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
It's a tie between Wyeast 1056, White Labs 001 and Safale US-05. It's such a versatile strain. Although I do use other yeast, depending on if what I'm brewing calls for a particular strain.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
It was March of 2010 and I was talking with the owner of my local homebrew store about starting a home brew club as we had nothing in our area. His answer was "Aaron if you think you could put something together go for it!" Long story short, I created the Mohonk Home Brewers Association. Since then, we have grown the club to over 65 active members, and continue to promote craft beer awareness and education. We have group brew days, and we sponsor/judge events that draw over 2,000 people, which feature NYS craft breweries as well as international breweries. We are also now being asked to co-sponsor events. We have arranged and had guest speakers come all the way from Saigon and we have held everything from beginner to advanced classes on a regular basis. It was a lot of hard work that really paid off in the end, and we continue to grow. I'm happy to say it was my dream come true, and to watch it come to life has been nothing short of a miracle for me.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
In the famous words of Charlie Papazian, "Relax, don't worry and have a homebrew!" To add to that, I would strongly recommend you take your time. Don't rush, enjoy the journey that brewing has to offer you. Learn as much as you can about this craft and find the aspects that interest you most. Then make sure to share that information with your other brewing friends so we all grow as a community. As to practical tips; learn the basics of sanitization, pitching rates, fermentation temperatures, etc. Above all, never ever forget to have fun every step of the way. Prost!