Brewer of the Week: Lance Harbison
Who Are You: Lance Harbison
Home Town: Born and raised in Saxonburg, Pa., home of John Roebling, the civil engineer best known for designing the Brooklyn Bridge. I currently live in Gibsonia, Pa.
Homebrew Club: Three Rivers Underground Brewers (TRUB)
How long have you been homebrewing? I've been homebrewing since 1991. I met some good friends during college who brewed and they turned me onto it. I brewed six extract batches and then switched to all-grain. This forced me to build my first piece of equipment, a fully adjustable grain mill.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share? A couple of years ago, I worked with a guy who farmed in his spare time. I asked him if he was growing wheat as I was hoping to make a Wit. So he brings me two sacks of wheat totaling 130 lbs. On brew day, I opened one sack and started measuring out 25 lbs for a 20 gallon batch. I was continually picking out bits of grass and was getting an oniony smell. My yeast was ready to go, so I went ahead with the batch. Since the wheat was raw, I decided to boil and do a cereal mash. Of course, I wasn't stirring enough and I burned the wheat on the bottom of the boiler. That smoke carried on through to the finished beer. The next week I asked my friend about the oniony smell and he explained that he had wild garlic growing in the wheat field and some of it was cut along with the wheat. The beer was barely drinkable, so I donated one keg to that year's Brewing up a Cure. I called the beer "Smoked Garlic Wit," and I served more of that beer during the event than the three other great beers I was also serving. Goes to show that advertising is everything.
What style(s) will you never brew? I'll probably never brew many Belgian styles, other than Wits. I can't see myself drinking 15-20 gallons of a style I really don't care much for.
What was the first beer you ever brewed? My first beer was an amber kit from the Whip and Spoon in Portland, Maine.
How did it turn out? Must not have been too bad since I'm still brewing 20 years later.
Have you had any homebrews that you thought were doomed turn out to be a favorite? A couple of years ago, I made my yearly fruit beer—a strawberry wheat. The beer finished very dry and not to my liking, so I decided to pitch a Lambic blend to turn it into a psuedo-Lambic. Over a year later, I tapped it and still didn't care too much for it, but it did win first prize in the local TRASH competition with a Grand Master as one of the judges. I couldn't really see myself drinking any more of it, so I donated it to the local Brew at the Zoo fundraiser for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. The keg was kicked within 45 minutes because everyone wanted to drink the strawberry beer. I tried telling/explaining to them that it was actually a Lambic but they didn't care or know.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier? I have been fortunate to have four gadgets published in various Zymurgy magazine gadget issues: my sparge ring and CIP ring in the second edition (2008), conical valve unsticker in the third edition (2009), and chill from within in the fifth edition (2011). I should have filed for a patent for the sparge ring, as at least one major internet supplier was selling them the next year.
Describe your brew system: I was formerly the metallurgist and welding engineer for a nuclear fabricator, so I had an unlimited supply of stainless and access to the best welders in the nuclear industry, allowing me to build a 25 gallon system including conical, HLT, MT and boiler.
How often do you brew? Do you have a dedicated team of drinkers to help you get through all those 20 gallon batches? I brew whenever I have two or three open kegs, as I've started bottling up to five gallons of each batch. TRUB hosts Brewing up a Cure, a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, every fall and I donate four kegs of beer. So far, for the first five years of the benefit, we've raised over $130,000.
Another outlet for my beer is the Holiday Refreshment Association, a tradition with my co-workers that takes place during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each of our 12 members picks a case of craft/import beer to share, and each person ends up getting two bottles from each case. For the past two years, I've bottled a case of my beer for my contribution.
What is your pet peeve? Being a metallurgist, I have etched dozens of stainless samples with oxalic acid. It drives me crazy when someone writes that Bar-Keepers-Friend will passivate stainless since it has oxalic acid in it. The only way that oxalic acid will passivate or etch stainless is electrolytically.
Knowing what you do now, what advice do you ahve to offer newbies? Pitch enough yeast and know what water you have.