Brewer of the Week: Michael Mitchem
Name: Michael P. Mitchem
Home Town: Wilmington, NC
Homebrew Club: Beer & Ale Research Foundation (B.A.R.F.)
I've been a homebrewer: Around 4 years
When did you join the AHA?
I have been an AHA member since 2011. Since joining, a bigger homebrewing world has really opened up. The knowledge and passion is palpable, and everyone in the AHA that I have encountered is willing to help. I try to do the same as an AHA member on the forum (username: mmitchem) and make myself available and open to anyone who might have a question. I am nowhere near knowing it all, but I know some. :)
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I am currently renting a house in Suffolk, Va., and brew in the garage. One day my wife called me up very frantically to let me know that a English barley wine I had recently brewed had exploded and coated the ceiling with yeast. The pressure of this big beer had apparently blew the blowoff tube right out and the beer had volcanoed onto the garage ceiling. My ceiling now has three distinct brown marks directly above the carboy location. I have though about scrubbing it off, but I feel it adds character to the brew house—a badge of honor if you will!
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
There are three German beers I really love brewing: doppelbock, Munich dunkel and marzen. Doppelbock has been one of my favorites just because it is so big and malty. It demands drinking, and respect—so I respect the goat! Munich dunkel probably for the same reason, but also for it's session strength, and no goats. Marzen is a beer I really came to love when I brewed for my sister in law's wedding that took place last month. I really played around with grain bills, mashing and conditioning to make the best beer I possibly could. The beer went fast and everyone thought it was a commercial quality beer. High praise for a homebrewer indeed! What ties all of these beers together for me on brew day is the fact that they are all decocted using the Hochkurz Decoction schedule. I am a believer in decoction mashing, and it allows me to be active in my brew day. The taste and efficiency are both amazing.
What style(s) will you never brew?
Not sure if there is one. It is like Pokemon—gotta brew 'em all...right?
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
The power went off in my house in mid-winter while I was brewing a robust porter kit and the fermentation temperature was all over the place. When I served it I asked: "So who here likes band-aids?"
What is your favorite beer recipe?
I would have to say my strong scotch ale: "The Scourge of Edinburgh." I was inspired by Oskar Blues' Old Chubb and used Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels to formulate my own recipe with British and chocolate wheat malt. This beer was the first time I made a recipe and produced exactly what I was looking for. My friends clean me out every time I make it! This was also the first beer I ever competed with, and it scored a 45 at the Palmetto State Brewers Open.
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging?
I am a BJCP Recognized Judge, having passed the new online entrance exam a few months ago. I am off to Charlotte in January 2013 to knock out the tasting exam. Fingers crossed...
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
No real tricks. Everything that I have learned is out there and has been pioneered by far better brewers than me. My only real trick is to sanitize like crazy and control the fermentation temperature. Nine times out of ten the beer will be good.
Describe your brew system:
I started off with a 4-gallon kettle doing extract batches on my kitchen stove. After a few batches, I started to get together equipment for all-grain, full boil brews. Once I moved to Virginia, I started toying around with the idea of a brewstand. I wanted something I could brew consistently on, as well as use as a pilot system if I decide I want to try and go pro. The result is my 2-tier, 3 vessel, half barrel brewhouse that me and my buddy Roy Damuth built in early 2012. You can read more about it in the Pimp My System post: Backwoods Brewery.
How frequently do you brew?
I try to brew 2-3 times per month...more if I can or have the room.
What is your favorite malt?
Weyermann Dark Munich Malt. It is so versatile and has a wonderful character. It is the bees knees!
What is your favorite hop?
German Magnum. This hop is a real workhorse. It is such a clean, bitter hop, with such a high alpha acid level. Awesome and cheap—just like me!!!
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
I like to use WLP001 for my ale fermentations just because it is so clean and attenuates well. On the lager side, I am a huge fan of WLP833 German Bock Lager. That maltiness is so, so nice. MMMMM!
Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
My homebrew club is awesome. Beer and Ale Research Foundation (B.A.R.F.) has really shown me what brewing in a community is all about. No interesting stories, just a general feeling of pride in my club. They really are a great crew!
What's the most unusual ingredient you've ever used in a brew?
One time I went outside the German Purity Law and brewed with, dare I say, CORN SUGAR!!! Hahaha, nothing too crazy. Spices and herbs, stuff like that.
How many medals have you won from homebrew competitions? Any stories?
Since I started competing in December 2011, I think I have medaled ten times, maybe? I entered the first saison I made into a couple of inter-club competitions and it did not do well at all. Having a few bottles lying around, I decided to enter them into the2012 Dominion Cup, and ended up taking second place in the Belgian and French Ale category. Now I always save a few beers from a questionable batch just to see if it gets better because sometimes they really do!
List some of the names you've given your beers. Which is your favorite?
I made a milk stout this year called "Sweet Sweater Cows." I also named a kolsch "Helen's Opera" after my opera-singing cousin who is singing in Cologne, Germany. Ah...family
What advice would you offer to new and aspiring homebrewers?
Brew often. The more you brew, the more you will fine-tune your process, and the brew day will become second nature. Read. Smart people have made a lot of great information available, so soak it all up. Don't do anything on your brew day without a reason behind it. If there isn't really a good reason to do it, it is probably just wasted effort. I am an advocate of the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method, for sure!