When did you start brewing/What got you brewing?
I started brewing in college—a guy I knew was making beer, and my first reaction was, “What do you mean you can make your own beer?!” After tasting his brew, I thought, “I’ve got to give this a try!” I brewed my first batch in late 1990 (I think), back in the days of brown hops and bad dried yeast.
What are your favorite craft breweries?
There are a lot of great Seattle-area craft breweries, but I especially like Big Time, Elysian and Black Raven. New ones are cropping up all of the time, and this leaves out all of the great breweries that are not local to me. Let me say this—it is a rare night when I drink the same beer twice in a row, I love a wide range of breweries and beers.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you’d like to share?
There have been so many disasters over the years it is hard to pick just one. I have never cut myself that I recall, but I have made and dumped bad beer, been burned numerous times and had a couple of carboys smash (but thankfully when no one was around). The latest carboy was full of sour cherry mead, I moved it on to a box of bottles when I was rearranging some stuff and then left it there before I went out of town. As it turns out, the box was not completely full of bottles and when I came back a week later the side of the box had collapsed, the carboy had fallen and smashed—you can imagine the rest.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
My favorite beer to brew is a dry Irish stout. Every year my neighbor’s father comes to visit from Dublin for a month and they throw a party for him. I make a batch of stout in his honor and have named it after him, Seamus O’Brien. The first time he tried it I asked what he thought and he said, “It’ll do until I find something better.” Later his son asked me what his dad thought, and I said I don’t think he liked it. He asked, “what did he say?” and when I told him, he got a surprised look on his face and said “That’s high praise!” I’ve toned down the ABV since the first year, but he goes back to Dublin and brags to his friends at the pub that his son’s neighbor in America makes beer that is better than Guinness.
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging?
I’ve been a judge since 2002, and I’m a National Judge. Someday I’ll retake the written exam and go for Master (tasting is already high enough), but I haven’t spent the time yet. I might have to see if it will be possible to go straight from National to Grand Master, that would be cool.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick or gadget?
I love my stainless racking cane. I use it with a carboy cap and a sterile filter to rack the beer, and it is way better than the multiple plastic gadgets I have broken over the years. I know that’s a boring answer, but strictly in terms of removing stress and hassle it’s been huge.
Describe your brew system.
It’s a three tier, gravity-fed keggle setup. I fly sparge and use a counterflow chiller. It is really pretty basic. I’ve got a pump and a therminator that sit unused.
How frequently do you brew?
I just looked and realized I’ve only brewed four batches for a total of 35 gallons in 2013, but that’s at home. I started brewing professionally (part time) in 2012 as the only employee for a small brewery in Seattle. It’s been a lot of fun, I can brew whatever I want 2 bbls at a time. It has given me the chance to do a lot of experimenting, although the customers keep demanding the chocolate stout.
What is your favorite hop?
I love the typical American hops like Cascade, Amarillo, Simcoe, Mosaic and Centennial, Galaxy is great, and I really like Sonnet Goldings in British styles. There are too many great hops to just pick one, they all have their place. Even Summit has its place—the compost pile.
Do you belong to a homebrew club?
I am a member of a few different clubs with varying levels of participation depending on how often I can make the meetings. One of them is the Washington Homebrewers Association, which is not exactly a club, but more of a club of clubs. We formed that group in 2007 to help organize homebrewers in the state, pooling resources to get big things done. One of the first things we did was get a bill passed so that homebrewers could remove homebrew from their homes to share with friends. We traveled to the capital, testified before congress and eventually got our picture taken with the governor. That led to the National Homebrewers Conference being held here in 2012, since it would have been illegal prior to that.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
Worry more about fermentation temperature control than sanitation. Sanitation is easy if you follow the directions, but there is a huge gain in beer quality that comes from fermenting your beer at the proper temperature. That, and join the AHA forum—it is a great resource for nearly instant advice and reassurance for all of your beginner (and advanced) questions.