What got you brewing?
I think there were a few factors that got me brewing. I always enjoyed cooking and baking, so when I heard about this place in St. Paul where you can buy the parts to brew your own beer, I had to try it.
Then there was my first trip in an airplane. I went to Belgium to visit the exchange student I fell for the year before. Wow, I thought I liked beer before. Finding beers like this in the USA was still extremely difficult in the early '90s. The best option was to brew my own.
What is your favorite local craft brewery?
I'm originally from Minnesota, so while I lived there The Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery was my local of choice. It's still where I go back to when I visit. In Belgium, where I live now (remember that exchange student?), well... do I really have to pick one? This week I'd have to go with Brouwerij Kerkom. But Jandrain-Jandrenouille does some really interesting things with American hops. Cantillon is on a plane of its own. Once they finally get their brewery up and running, Brasserie de la Senne will likely be a top pick.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
I've never had any disasters, only learning experiences.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
I'm usually inspired by the beers I can't get. When I lived in the US, I usually liked to brew Belgian and Scottish inspired beers. Now that I'm in Belgium, my beers are usually American or German inspired. I've also been on a low-ish alcohol kick lately. Then again, my last beer was what I'm calling a Honey Tripel (no sugar, just lots of malt and 900g of honey) with an OG around 1.083. Not really an answer, is it? OK, my favorite style to brew is beer.
What style(s) will you never brew?
I won't brew anything that one might mistake for something other than beer, like those nasty, fruity-sweet alcopops. Bleh.
What was the first beer you ever brewed? How did it turn out?
Wow, going way back here. I think it was an Irish Red extract kit from Northern Brewer. I think I doctored it up with a bit of ginger. I don't remember it being bad and I kept brewing, so it must've been alright.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget that you've found to make your beer better/brewing easier, etc?
No. I wish I did. Got any suggestions?
Describe your brew system.
I mash in a blue Coleman cooler. I'm not sure what the capacity is. My bottling bucket doubles as a lauter tun with a false bottom. My primary fermenter is a 30 liter purpose-made heavy plastic bucket. I also have a couple demijohns for secondary fermentation (It's the closest thing I could find to a glass carboy). For a brew kettle, I have a 29 liter electric pot normally used for making jam with a hole drilled through it and a tap inserted. The kettle has a built-in thermostat and does a pretty good job at hitting temperatures. When I lauter, I scoop my grains into the lauter tun/bottling bucket, heat the water in the kettle, dump it into the cooler and hold a plastic colander between the drain and the grain to sparge. Pretty primitive, but I somehow seem to make decent beer and the small setup works well in our small kitchen.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
I love 'em all, but I seem to use Hallertau and Spalt a lot. I guess I like the nobles, especially as a flavoring hop.
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
I usually jump around a lot with yeast, but I've used Wyeast 2112 (California Lager) more often than any other. It seems to be pretty tolerant to temperature fluctuations and I love how it gives fairly clean, lager-like characteristics without needing extra equipment for proper lagering. My cellar gets pretty cool in the winter, but not that cool.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
Charlie P. said it all years ago: "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew".
What is a beer style that is underappreciated and/or could take off given the opportunity and exposure?
American Pale Ale, at least around these parts. Actually, after many years of American brewers being influenced by Belgium, things are finally going the other way, but very, very slowly. At least I can now get Cascade and Amarillo hops at my homebrew shop. That wasn't the case just a few years ago.
Have you found other people interested in homebrewing in Belguim?
The language barrier has made things a bit difficult, but I know they're out there.
Are there any challenges/difficulties with brewing outside the USA? (Ingredients, laws, etc?)
The biggest challenge is the supply and cost of both ingredients and equipment. There is really only one supplier for Belgium and the surrounding countries and they're an hour away from me. They do have resellers closer-by, but their supplies are even more limited. The variety of ingredients seems to be growing slightly every year, but I get a bit jealous when homebrewers talk about all the different grains they can use, not to mention good quality extract. I also have to buy my grains in bags of pre-determined quantities. The American bulk concept hasn't hit here yet. Still, it's a whole lot better than not brewing at all.