Brewer of the Week: Ric Cunningham
This week we bring you homebrewer Ric Cunningham a Colorado transplant from Niagra Falls, New York.
What got you brewing?
On my last deployment while serving in the Navy one of my watch team members was a brewer and loved to talk about the hobby. When I got out of the service I moved to Tennessee, found a homebrew supply shop, one and a half hours away, where I bought my initial setup and from there I started making extract kit beers.
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, it was an obsession?
After moving to Niagara Falls NY I found the Niagara Association of Homebrewers. The group gave me the feedback and encouragement to fully embrace the brewer within me. After a couple of years I was holding BJCP classes, brewing demonstrations three to four times a year and getting involved with the local competition (Amber Waves of Grain).
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 don’t really have one. I have been fortunate to have worked in a job that allowed me to travel around the world and have time to check out the local brewing scenes of the places I have been. I spent the majority of three summers in Southern Holland where I spent my weekends traveling around Belgium and western Germany enjoying the great beers.
What is your favorite local craft brewery?
I recently moved to Colorado from Western New York. In New York I was a big fan of Flying Bison and Southern Tier. Now that I live near Loveland and Longmont I am having a hard time picking a favorite with so many great breweries, although I am leaning towards Funkwerks.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
Nothing more than leaving the spigot open on a bottling bucket as I racked over an IPA. I lost half of the batch to the floor drain.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
I am generally an ale brewer. My house beer is an English or American style Ordinary bitter, a nice session ale that can be enjoyed everyday. I had a reputation at one time for my Belgian styles, English styles and even historical beers. I also have been very successful with my ciders and meads.
What style(s) will you never brew?
Never say never. I have been involved in Stein beer projects and barrel aging. I prefer not to brew Lagers just because the nature of the beast. Lager yeasts are too finicky for my style of brewing.
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
My first beer was a simple pale ale kit and it turned out well enough for me to continue brewing.
Have you ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?
I made a Northern German Alt one time that I added a bit too much chocolate and black malt. It turned out to be a German Porter and was enjoyed by all.
What is your favorite recipe based off of a commercial style?
I have an Irish Red Ale recipe that I developed after a summer in Ireland that is based on Smithwicks. It has taken many awards including the Red Mrozek Award at the WNY homebrew competition AWOG.
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging?
I have been a certified judge since 2005.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
I have several. The first is my Hopstopper, It is a screen and dip tube assembly that is installed in my kettle. I made the Hop juice recipe during a demonstration on Big Brew day one year using 19 ounces of mixed pellet and whole hops without a clog while transferring the wort to the fermenter and filtering all the break material in the process. I also love my Beergun, counterflow chiller, and refractometer.
Describe your brew system.
I use an Igloo rectangular cooler with a slotted copper manifold for a mash/lauter tun. My kettle is an old Firestone round keg. I sparge with a pitcher so I don’t have to lift a cooler or kettle over my head. I do mostly single infusion mashing but occasionally I will do a turbid mash for sour styles. I ferment in Better Bottle fermenters and corny kegs. I even have a spunding valve set up to carbonate during primary fermentation when I need to have a quick turn around for a beer. It only takes five days from kettle to glass.
How frequently do you brew (times per month or year)?
I used to brew three times a month. Over the last three years I have been able to brew only about three times a year. I would like to get in a routine of brewing about once a month to keep the stock up and get a bit of variety.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
Golden Promise, I love the color and flavor that it gives a beer. It is very versatile, I can use it as the base for: English, Scottish, Irish, American and Belgian styles. If I need a beer that calls for a large amount of pils malt I usually substitute half Golden Promise for the base grain bill.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
I have two really. CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk, Zeus) is my favorite American hop. High Alpha but enough character to be used as an aroma and flavoring hop. Perle is my favorite European style Hop. A touch of both floral and spicy at the same time
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
I do not have a favorite yeast other than the indigenous yeast I harvest from my cider making. It is a tricky character but is very interesting in beers.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
I have been a member of the Niagara Association of Homebrewers since 2002 and since moving to Colorado I have been associating with the Liquid Poets Society in Fort Collins and Weiz Guys in Loveland.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
Join a club and enter competitions. The greatest leaps in my skills as a brewer were made due to the support network and feed back I received participating in these those organizations and activities.
What is a beer style that is underappreciated and/or could take off given the opportunity and exposure?
I am a big fan of sour ales and brett beers. The best barley fermented beverage I ever drank was a fifteen year old Framboise in Holland. If the beer drinking world was given the right education concerning these styles, they could gain much greater acceptance and appreciation.
Do you have a mentor or someone you think the world should know about? Or, tell the homebrewing community a little bit about yourself so we can get to know you! Post some background info on the AHA Forum under the Hombrewer Bios category, and that person may be selected as the next Brewer of the Week.
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