Brewer of the Week: James Lafferty
I’m James Lafferty, not the actor from One Tree Hill. I’m a little off kilter. I consider it a prerequisite for being a brewer. I have a passion for brewing driven by creativity that motivates me to brew as many styles and unique beers that I can. I work in the IT industry where I deal with upset customers day after day. The most satisfying part of brewing for me is watching people enjoy what I have created. My wife is the only upset customer when it comes to my beer, but she doesn’t like beer, so does she really count?
Check my profile on Beer Army to see what’s going on at the Lafferty Brewery.
I post most of my recipes on my Hopvill profile.
Home Town: Born in Illinois, raised in Florida, spent six years in Japan and am now living in Jacksonville, N.C.
Homebrew Club: Beer Alchemists of Coastal Carolina (BAC²)
I've been a homebrewer since: April 17, 2010
You mentioned being a part of the Beer Army. Can you tell us about it?
Beer Army has a simple goal: establish a robust craft beer scene and community in Eastern North Carolina. They began by offering two annual beer festivals in eastern North Carolina. Brew Bern takes place in June each year at the New Bern Convention Center in New Bern, N.C., and Jollby Skull takes place in January each year at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville, N.C. Both are indoor and encourage the local homebrew clubs (BAC², DEA, ATF, and Wort City Brewers) to be involved by serving homebrew. Both festivals also include VIP sessions, musical performances and food vendors. They also use the festivals to raise donations for local charities.
They have since opened a bottle shop and tap room in New Bern, N.C. named the Beer Army Outpost. The next goal is to open Beer Army Combat Brewery in eastern North Carolina. They are currently offering some great deals at for those who donate to their cause. The official Beer Army website, is a social outlet for beer enthusiasts to gather and discuss all things beer. They also use it to promote festivals and events at the Outpost. Members can start groups and make friends on their site as well.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I brewed a ginger beer once. I needed keg space, so I filled a gallon growler to the brim with the ginger beer. I placed it in the closet. Before bed, I checked it and thought, “Will the CO2 expand and break the bottle as it warms? Nah.” As I turned off my closet light I heard a loud pop followed by a rushing fizz. When I turned on the light I saw the growler laying in pieces and ginger beer flowing off of the dresser onto my carpet and into the drawers where I had my clothes stored. I spent the next three hours cleaning the mess and got to bed around 2 am.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
I’d have to say American pale ales and light hybrid beers, because they’re easy drinking and great for bringing people to craft beer. I also really like brewing Belgian-style beers, because of their unique complexities. However, I tend to brew what pops into my head, so I don’t get a chance to brew my favorite styles very often.
What was the first beer you ever brewed?
Brewers Best English Pale Ale Kit. At first taste, I thought, “I can’t believe I made beer...this is amazing. Is this how it’s supposed to taste? Well, I guess I can get used to it.” In reality it was far from what beer should taste like, but my memory of that beer is that it was amazing. If I tasted that beer today, I would probably dump it.
Have you ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?
Once I tried a Duvel clone with recultured Duvel yeast. It didn’t start fermenting, so I decided to reculture Chimay yeast. That didn’t work either. After about 40 hours of my wort sitting, my buddy gave me some White Labs Cali 001 yeast from his primary. I pitched it and within three hours it took off. After fermentation we were surprised to find out that the two Belgian yeasts contributed quite a unique character to the beer. I entered it as a specialty beer and a Belgian Tripel and won first place in both categories in the same competition!
What is your favorite beer recipe?
I’m in love with my American IPA, Hop Grenade IPA. It’s the only beer recipe of mine that I’ve brewed more than twice.
Describe your brew system.
My system is an affordable time waster. It consists of a cooler for a mash tun, a keggle, a banjo burner, a copper wort chiller, lots of stacked objects, and plenty of gravity. I ferment in a rusty old fridge with an analog Johnson Control external thermostat or in my closet with wet towels and a fan.
How frequently do you brew (times/month or /year)?
Regularly, I brew one to two times a month. All in all, I’ve brewed around 75 - 90 different beers (I lost track around 50) that fall within 18 of the 23 BJCP categories.
From late April to early June I was preparing to serve beer at the 3rd Annual Brew Bern Beer Festival and I really got a chance to push the limits of my skills/brewery by brewing 10 gallons once every week. In the end, I brewed 10 unique beers for that festival that fell into 10 BJCP categories.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
Munich malt. I like to throw a little in almost every beer I make. I really enjoy how it enhances the base malt by adding a little more malty sweetness and bready toastiness.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
Simcoe. It can be used for bittering, flavoring and aroma. It’s the key to brewing my Hop Grenade IPA. My favorite application is dry hopping. I love its piney, grapefruit aroma. My buddy is in the air freshener business and I’m trying to convince him to make a Simcoe scented air freshener. Man would that be great!
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
Belgifornia Blend. It’s my own blend of four yeasts…Duvel, Chimay, Cali 001 and Trappist High Gravity. It creates the perfect Belgian character…spicy, fruity and funky. If I’m not making a Belgian with Belgifornia Blend, I’m using White Labs Cali 001. I love it for its clean profile, which really brings the character of the ingredients to the forefront of the beer.
Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
My buddy Clay brewed a Belgian that soured by accident. He didn’t like it so he asked if anyone wanted a keg of it. One of our members took it. A few months later that member won a gold medal for a Flanders brown in the U.S. Open in Charlotte, N.C. Everybody congratulated him. A year went by, and I asked him about his Flanders brown. He revealed that he had entered Clay’s beer. So, we told Clay. It turns out that if Clay would have decided to enter that beer under his name, he would have placed third in the Carolina Brewer of the Year standings for 2011. Instead he placed sixth. This month, that same member won another gold in the same competition. The best part, nobody got upset and we all had a good laugh. Just another reason I like homebrewers.
What advice would you give to new brewers?
Here are the most important things in brewing, in order…sanitation, temperatures and ingredients. Those are encompassed by a solid understanding of the brewing process. Read How to Brew and The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Also, find a good homebrewer and ask him any questions that come up. I usually offer my email and cell number to new brewers. I am currently teaching three friends how to brew. My buddy Seth recently won a gold medal for his English IPA at the U.S. Open in Charlotte, N.C. It was his first homebrewed beer. He followed the above advice and had a little help from me with recipe calculation.
If you could serve your homebrew to someone famous, who would it be and what would you give her/him?
I can’t pick just one! I would have a tasting from my award winning vintage collection for all of the brewers and people who have inspired me. The following would get an invite. My buddies, Justin, Tom, Clay, Jason, Dustin, Jeff, Ryan and Seth. The guests of honor would be Charlie Papazian, Jamil Zainasheff, Sam Calgione, Jim Koch, Kevin Kozak, Christopher McGarvey and Ian VanGundy.
What's the most unusual ingredient you've ever used in a brew?
Japanese Kombu (seaweed), a natural flavor enhancer. I made a Japanese green tea beer and wanted to incorporate as many ingredients from Japan as I could. It got an honorable mention in the Spice, Herb and Vegetable beer category in a BJCP competition in Ohio.
How many medals have you won from homebrew competitions?
After my double gold medal beer, I caught the competition bug and entered every competition that I could find. I even entered a few beers in a Japanese competition and won some silver medals. I don’t like to admit it, but since you asked, all in all I have won 35 awards. My two most notable were Best in Show at Front Street Brewery Wilmington, N.C., for my Black IPA and Best in Show at Lonerider Brewery Raleigh, N.C., for my Smoked Oatmeal Porter. Both breweries have brewed and are now serving “our” beer. The coolest thing is, I got to help!
What was it like getting to brew you recipes on a commercial scale?
Both breweries allowed me to be totally involved in the brewing process from recipe tweaks to the actual brewday and both beers came out better than the original versions! I really enjoyed bringing my ideas together with the brewers to recreate the beers on their systems. It reminded me of trying to brew one of my recipes with a good friend at their house… just on a huge scale. Each system was a little different and had its own quirks, which reminded me of homebrewing systems. While the process was the same, I enjoyed the educational value of experiencing a brewday on a large scale. I also learned that commercial brewing is a lot of work and heavy lifting!
List some of the names you've given your beers. Which is your favorite?
Hop Grenade IPA, Pop’s on Hops, Winter Trailblazer Sweet Potato Ale, Hugh Hefeweizen, Belgifornia Tripel, Czech in the Box Pilsner, Sticky Leg Mild, Laffenbrau Weizenbock, Gunsmoke Oakmeal Porter, Ninja Nectar IPA, Betty Witbier, Jack Lion Irish Red, and Bank Job Brown Ale…to name a few.
My favorite is Hop Grenade IPA. First off, it tastes great. Second, I had a bottle explode in my closet, which is how it got its name. My closet smelled great for weeks. Lastly, I like the Google results when I search for “Hop Grenade IPA.”