Brewer of the Week: Denny Conn
Name: Denny Conn
AHA Member since: ~1999 - 2000
Batches to date: ~425
Words to live by: "The best beer possible with the least effort possible while having the most fun possible!"
When did you start brewing? What got you brewing?
I started in March of 1998. My business partner had been brewing for a little while and showed me that it wasn't as difficult or took as much space as I had thought it would. My wife bought me a kit of equipment and ingredients from Liberty Brewing that was sold at Costco. It also came with Randy Mosher's "Brewers Companion" book. Of course, 14 years later I've kind of expanded a bit!
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, and more of an obsession?
I'd say when I popped the cap of the first batch of APA I made with the kit. I heard the "psssss," and it just seemed like magic. It tasted great, though it would be interesting to have a time machine to go back and try that beer again, now that my tasting has become a bit more sophisticated. I had been cooking as a hobby for many years before trying to brew, so I had noticed the similarities between the two. I was hooked!
What is the connection between beer and food for you? Do you ever cook with homebrew?
It's more in the techniques and processes, and how I think about recipes. I find that a methodical approach benefits both brewing and cooking, while leaving room for inspiration. In terms of recipes, cooking has taught me to use "taste imagination" when developing a recipe...in effect, taste it in your mind before you start to get an idea of how ingredients will interact with each other. I put homebrew in the food I cook sometimes—something like a porter in a chili recipe. I always cook with homebrew, in that I have a glass beside me when I cook!
Tell us about your role on the AHA Governing Committee.
I've been on the AHA Governing Committee for six years at this point and I have one three year term left to serve. I've seen a real evolution in the AHA and the duties of the Governing Committee since I began. Due to the fantastic job Gary Glass and the AHA staff has done, the Governing Committee has been given more latitude to come up with ideas and get them implemented. I'm extremely happy that we have been able to make genuine contributions to the member experience at the AHA. Gary is committed to making the AHA serve its members and we get to help come up with ideas about how to do that.
I'm the chair of the web subcommittee. As such, the committee and I have been able to have input on the direction of the AHA website (which rocks!). I set up the discussion forum on the website and am one of the administrators/moderators who tries to keep things running smoothly there. In addition, I conceptualized and implemented the "Ask the Experts" section of the website. We have lots of ideas for the future, so expect the website and forum to just keep getting better!
What is your "white whale" beer (the beer you'd hunt to the ends of the earth for, and possibly die trying to obtain)?
Wow, it wouldn't do me much good dying for a beer, would it? ;) I can't think of a particular beer, but I have dreams of someday going to Belgium, Germany and other European countries to taste what have become some of my favorite beers. I've been lucky enough to get to taste a 74 year old bottle of Ballantine Burton Ale, so maybe I've already found my white whale!
What are your favorite craft breweries?
Rogue, of course. I love pretty much all the Trappist breweries, although I don't know if they qualify as craft breweries. Oakshire here in Eugene is a little known brewery making some incredibly well crafted small batch beers. Jolly Pumpkin has always impressed me. There are just too many out there making really great beers to list them all, and even if I could, I know I'd end up leaving some out.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I guess my biggest disaster was when I broke two carboys at once, losing 10 gallons of double decocted German pils in the bargain. Who knew that such a gentle touch of one on another could cause that! I still recall watching almost in slow motion as the beer ran across the garage floor to the drain. That was the last time I ever used carboys! I use buckets or cornies for fermentation now. I'm not interested in non-glass carboys either because I find the shape and small opening makes them harder to clean than buckets. Buckets also take up less storage space.
Do you have a special homebrew related project that you’d like to share?
I like to test the "conventional wisdom" to see if it holds true for me. I've done experiments about the effects of decoction and first wort hopping (FWH), for instance, that have taught me a lot about how pre-conceptions influence perception. I think FWH is a great technique for hop flavor and I use it on the majority of beers I brew. I do, however, question the value of things like step and decoction mashes based on my experience and testing of the techniques. I think that all too often people assume that if they do more work, it automatically makes better beer. That hasn't been my experience.
These tests have also taught me to gather information, try anything that seems to make sense, and draw my own conclusions rather than always simply accept what someone has written or said. I encourage every homebrewer to do the same.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
Personally, I really like Belgian and German styles like alt and pils. Not a hefeweizen guy at all. My wife loves super hoppy beers (as do I!), so I brew a lot of APA/AIPA also. Neither of us is a fan of British styles, so those don't show up around here. Fruit/herb/veg beers don't really appeal to me either...I prefer beer flavored beer!
What is your favorite recipe based off of a commercial style?
I'd have to say it's probably Crispy Frey's "Nearly Nirvana" recipe, which is based on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It's a solid, delicious recipe I go back to again and again. I also repeatedly brew Dean Larson's "Christmas Tree Ale", based on Sierra Nevada's Celebration, and Hermann Holtrop's incredible Rochefort "clone" recipe. In my own recipes I don't really try to duplicate commercial beers. I start by imagining a taste I want and go from there.
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging?
I took the BJCP exam in February of 2004. Missed Master by a couple points, so I'm a National judge. I may try to get to Master one day, but on the other hand I'm pretty lazy!
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
I guess that would have to be my cooler mash tun and batch sparging. When I started brewing all grain, I fly sparged the first couple batches. Then I learned about batch sparging from writings by George Fix, Ken Schwartz and Bob Regent. I tried it and decided I'd never go back to fly sparging. The beer came out great, it took less time and equipment, and it was so much easier for me! Now, 14 years and 425 batches later, I'm still batch sparging with the same equipment I started with.
Describe your brew system.
It's pretty basic, and can be seen at DennyBrew.com. I have a 48 qt. rectangular cooler with the drain spigot removed and a rubber mini-keg bung inserted in the hole. A piece of tubing runs through that. On the outside of the cooler there's an inexpensive nylon valve to control the flow rate. On the inside of the cooler, I hose clamp a piece of stainless steel braid from the outside of a (new!) toilet hose to the tubing to act as a filer. Other than that, I use a propane "banjo" burner, a converted keg for boiling, and a seven gallon aluminum pot for heating water. I use an immersion chiller made out of 50 ft. of 3/8" copper tubing. I recently acquired a pump to use for recirculated chilling and transferring wort to my bucket fermenters. Before that I used a WortWizard for transfers. A great little piece of equipment!
You are a proponent for the “cheap 'n easy” batch sparge method. What makes you favor this methods over some of the other techniques brewers implement.
I like to brew like I cook, hands on. I don't dislike other forms of brewing procedures....it's a hobby and it's a personal decision for everyone. Also, I prefer brewing to building equipment. Some of that may stem from the fact that I'm about the world's least handy person! My one concession to "fancy" brewing at this point is that I've added a March pump so that I can do recirculated chilling. But my setup for that is more primitive than what a lot of people use. The brewer makes the wort, not the equipment!
What is your favorite malt? Why?
Hard to pick a single favorite. I'm a fan of Rahr two row pale malt for most domestic beers, and I love Best pils malt for Belgian and German beers. I've tried a lot of continental pils malts and Best has the most flavor of any I've tried. I really like their Munich malt, also, for continental styles, but for domestic beers using Munich I really like Great Western 10L Munich malt.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
That's like picking my favorite food...there are too many! I love Columbus, Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial, Summit and Mt. Hood for domestic hops. Spalt Select is one of my favorite continental hops. It's great for a number of styles.
What is your dream beer and food pairing?
There's just too may to pick one! We have great seafood here in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), so I guess I'd pick shrimp and scallops off the grill with a nice PNW style IPA.
How did Wyeast come up with your name for Wyeast 1450? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
Long story as short as possible: Years back I decided I wanted to start yeast ranching. I ordered equipment and some slants from a company called Brewtek that was around back then. One of the slants was a yeast called CL-50. I was developing my Rye IPA recipe at the time and discovered that CL-50 worked great in it; attenuated nicely and left a silky smooth mouth feel. I started talking it up on the internet, but because you had to work from a slant it was daunting for a lot of people. I started talking to Dave Logsdon (then owner of Wyeast) about them carrying it, and once other sources dried up they decided to go ahead with it. The sample they got came from my yeast bank in my fridge. We talked about a name for a while and they eventually came up with the "Denny's Favorite" name. It's a pretty clean fermenter, works well in the low 60°s, (the temp I generally prefer) and leaves the beer with a smooth, silky mouth feel.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
I belong to the Cascade Brewers Society in Eugene, Ore. I am the Tech Tsar and do tech presentations at meetings, as well as host our annual Big Brew. I've been a member of the AHA Governing Committee for six years (three more to go!); chairman of the web subcommittee; and administrator of the AHA forum.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
Take good notes. Brew the same recipe over and over, changing one thing at a time, until you get what you want. Absorb knowledge, try things that make sense and decide for yourself. Don't blindly believe and brewing "expert". Collect knowledge and opinions and run them through the filter of your own experience and thinking. Join the AHA. Become a forum member, ask questions and listen to the answers. Read about beer. Think about beer. Taste beer. Join a club.