Brewer of the Week: Mark Gres
Name: Mark Gres
When did you join the AHA?
I joined the AHA almost 3 years ago.
When did you start brewing?
The first time I tried brewing was close to 20 years ago when I was still in college. My roommates and I tried a brewing kit that basically involved adding water to a bag (that had a tap and pressure relief valve) which contained hopped-malt extract and dry yeast. We let it sit in the closet for a couple weeks and we had an inflated bag of beer. It tasted terrible, but we made beer!
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, but more of an obsession?
Since that first brewing experiment, I didn’t get back into the hobby again until a few years ago. In the last 3 - 4 years I’ve really taken it to the next level…which is obsession. I think it evolved into obsession when I started sharing my beer with everyone I know, and they actually liked it. I really love sharing my beer, almost more than I like to drink it.
What is your "white whale" beer (the beer you'd hunt to the ends of the earth for, and possibly die trying to obtain)?
I’m not sure if I could name a single “white whale” beer. There are just so many out there that I haven’t tried or can’t get, that sound like they could be “that” beer. Sometimes they’re best left to the imagination though, as the real thing never seems to live up to the hype. In the meantime, I’ll just keep enjoying what’s in front of me.
What are your favorite craft breweries?
Do I really have to narrow it down? There’s so many breweries out there making outstanding beers. With that said, I always like to name local options as my favorites, so…5 Rabbit, Haymarket Pub & Brewery, Revolution Brewing, Two Brothers Brewing Company, Wild Onion Brewery and New Glarus Brewing.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
Two things I’ve learned over the years… always check that all your valves are closed, and never try to brew a beer by a deadline, it never works out. Need I say more?
What is your favorite style to brew?
The one style of beer that I always have on tap…saison. I think I finally have my recipe for this one nailed down after two years of tweaking and experimenting. I like my saison more traditional, (if that can even be defined for this style) in that I want the yeast character to shine, supported by malt and hops, skip the spices. Unfortunately (or fortunately) more and more saison yeast strains are becoming available, so more experimenting is in order. Darn…
What style will you never brew?
Never say never. I enjoy brewing too much. If someone asks me to make a certain style because they like it, I'll most likely will give it a shot.
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
I can’t even remember what style that first beer was, but it fell somewhere in between horrible and disgusting.
Have you ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?
Well, it’s not so much a mistake as it is things not turning out exactly as intended. I entered two competitions this past summer which required a full keg of homebrew to be submitted. So I brewed an 11 gallon batch of my saison and split it between two different yeasts (WY3711 and WY3724). I brewed the beer plenty in advance. My intent was to blend (ssshh… this is a taboo term to some) the two batches together after fermentation to take advantage of the qualities of both yeasts. Well lo and behold, the WY3724 pulled the old “take a nap halfway through fermentation” trick on me and only the 3711 half of the batch was ready for the first competition. That 3711 half took home second place in a people’s choice competition. A month later, the 3724 half of the batch (yes, it finally finished) took second place in the second competition. The prize in the first competition was a gift certificate from a local homebrew shop that I cashed in for a pump, ending the days of my rickety and dangerous gravity set-up. The prize in the second competition is the opportunity to brew a seven barrel batch of my recipe at Two Brothers Brewing later this year. All in all, I’d say this crisis turned out fantastic.
What is your favorite recipe based off of a commercial style?
Bell's Brewery's Two-Hearted Ale clone recipe. It’s so simple, yet so elegant.
Are you a BJCP Judge?
I just took the BJCP tasting exam in August, so for now I’m a non-ranked provisional judge. I’m looking forward to getting my results and official rank.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
My $40 electric bucket water heater has been the best upgrade to my brewery. I have kids, so finding time to brew is always a challenge. With this simple device, I can get all my equipment set up the night before brewing, drop the bucket water heater into my HLT, plug it into a timer, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m ready to mash in. Less than four hours later, I’m done. If I get up early enough (yes, I’ve seen the sun rise many times) I can brew and clean up before anyone’s awake.
Describe your brew system:
Ten gallon HLT, 70 quart cooler mash tun (blue, the color is important for efficiency), and 15.5 gallon converted-keg boil kettle. I typically brew 11 gallon batches, although it’s nice to do a six gallon batch no-sparge on occasion if I’m short on time. I ferment in a temperature-controlled chest freezer and keg most of my beer.
How frequently do you brew?
I try to keep up a schedule of brewing every other week. One of my favorite parts of brewing is sharing my beer, so I need to brew often to keep up with demand.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
Tough question…I guess if I was on a deserted island and could only have one malt, it would be Maris Otter. You get so much character from it as a base malt. I also use Munich in a lot of my recipes. Spelt malt has also taken my saison to another level.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
I have to plead the fifth on this question, otherwise I can’t justify the freezer full of hops. Some of my favorites though...Magnum for bittering. Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe among the American varieties. Styrian Goldings and Lublin among the European varieties.
What is your dream beer and food pairing?
If you’re ever on the south side of Chicago, go to Jacky’s Hot Dogs on 54th and Pulaski (five minutes from Midway Airport) and order what my brothers and I have deemed the Holy Trinity…a Big Baby double cheeseburger, pizza puff, and mozzarella sticks. No, they don’t serve beer, but they will send you home with a lovely white paper bag which will become translucent from grease. When you get home, pour yourself a nice crisp German pilsner and enjoy. You’ll thank me one day.
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
Wyeast 3724 Belgian Saison. Sure, it’s not always easy to work with, but the end result is second to none.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
Yes, I’m part of the Northern Illinois Homebrewer Collective. We’re a pretty laid back group with our main focus on helping each other out and introducing others to the brewing world. We recently filled a barrel with an imperial pumpkin/squash ale, and plan on putting a Russian imperial stout in there next.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
Buy a bigger boil kettle! Seriously, take your time to think through equipment purchases. If you think you might need the bigger BK, HLT, MLT, etc. one day, you probably will, and sooner than you realize. If you can afford to go big right away, do it. It will save you money in the long run.