Who Are You: Steve Cook
Home Town: Warrensburg, Missouri
Homebrew Club(s): Kansas City Bier Meisters & ZZ Hops
I've been a homebrewer since: I knew I wanted to be a homebrewer long before I ever brewed my first batch of beer. I bought my first homebrew book in 1978, but as a college student, it just looked too time consuming to be practical. So I never pursued it.
A quarter century later in 2003, I came across a copy of Zymurgy magazine and that sparked my interest in homebrewing and inspired me to purchase and brew a few extract kits. While those early efforts did yield “beer” it wasn’t matching the styles I was trying to replicate. My final extract beer, supposedly an American wheat looked like a stout and tasted like soap. Of course, I now know that the problem was caused by old and oxidized liquid malt extract but at the time it was just too frustrating.
I quit brewing until 2011, when I discovered Denny Conn’s “Cheap an Easy” Batch Sparge article in BYO magazine. My first all grain beer, using that method, was a Goose Island Honker’s Ale clone. I thought that beer was a spot on clone and was hooked on all grain brewing after that. Thanks Denny!
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging? Do you have a good beer judging story you'd like to share with the rest of the homebrewing world? Yes, I am proud to say that I now am a BJCP National judge. The first time I judged a beer competition was in April 2011 at the Garage Brewer’s Society’s Champion of the Pint Competition in St. Louis (technically O’Fallon), Missouri. While, I have since judged at many different competitions, including the NHC Final Round Competition Philadelphia last summer, I was a complete novice then.
I’ll never forget that day in St. Louis because it was not only my first judging experience but also the first beer competition I had ever entered. The first thing that happened after I met my judge partner, David Blue, is that we were asked to judge Category 21 Spice, Herb and Vegetable Beers but we both had to decline since we both had a chili beer in that category. (More on that later.) We were then assigned to Pilsners, which was a big disappointment to me because, due to my inexperience and limited knowledge of the beer style guidelines, I was thinking we would be judging Budweiser-ish clones. I had never tasted flavorful lagers like German and Bohemian Pilsners so I didn’t know what to expect. To my surprise the first beer we opened was a German Pilsner brewed by David Darity of the Tulsa Oklahoma FOAM club. It was amazing! If hearing the angles sing had a flavor, it would have been that beer! It not only was it the gold medal winner in the Pilsner category but later that day when I got to judge the Best of Show panel that same German Pilsner won Best of Show. So the very first competition beer I ever tasted was a Best of Show winner!
Also, earlier in that same competition, the judge pair seated next to us was judging the Category 21 beers. They gave us a taste of the 1st and 2nd place beers. After tasting them my judge partner and I both knew those were our two beers. Eventually, I found out that I had won 3 medals that day. No gold medals, which is why I got to judge the BOS round, but none the less, 3 medals in my 1st homebrew competition. With that taste of success, I knew competing in homebrew competitions would become a passion for me.
During 2011 and 2012 I won at least one medal in every competition I entered. I was fortunate enough to win a bronze medal in the final round of the 2012 NHC for my Oktoberfest. Additionally, I won Homebrewer of the Year in 2012 for the High Plains competition circuit. However, I’ve not been so fortunate lately. My brewing and competition good fortune took a turn for the worse in late 2012 when I had a persistent Brettanomyces infection in all my beers. I made and dumped well over a dozen batches before I could get that eradicated from my brewery. Wow, that was humbbeling. Now, thankfully, after many months I have been able to make “clean” beers again.
What style will you never brew? I know this is not the beer geek thing to say but I really don’t care for sour beers. I love the taste of all malt beers and too me that is what beer is supposed to taste like. Sour beers remind me more of strongly acidic white wine than beer. If I want something that tastes like wine, I’ll just drink wine. Not that I mind lactic acid sourness in other foods, because recently I have been home fermenting sauerkraut and kefir. I just don’t like that sour acidity in my beers. Plus, as I alluded to earlier, I’m scared to death to have Brett and bacteria anywhere near my brewery.
Do you have a favorite homebrew trick that you've found to make your beer better? The best trick I have learned is to split my 6-7 gallon batch of wort and pitch each separate portion with different yeast. I have consistently been amazed at the huge difference in the finished beer this makes. The first time I did this was by accident because I had more wort than would fit in my fermenter. I brewed an Irish red ale and pitched 5 gallons with an Irish ale yeast as specified in the recipe. The other couple of gallons I pitched with a left over slurry of Wyeast 1968 London ESB. I took samples of each to our BJCP study group a few weeks later. Everyone agreed the beer from the Irish ale yeast was unremarkable but the beer from the London ESB yeast was amazing. I had always heard that yeast could make a big difference in the final beer but I never really believed it until then. Now every time I try a new recipe, I always split the wort and pitch with at least 2 different yeasts.
Describe your brew system. As I mentioned before, I use Denny Conn’s “Cheap and Easy Batch Sparge” method. So my brew system is still a turkey fryer and a blue cooler for a mash tun. I have, however, invested quite a bit into fermentation temperature control. I have 2 temperature controlled refrigerators and a 4 tap keezer that I alternately use for lager fermentations.
How frequently do you brew (times per month or year)? I brew six or seven times a month from December to April. As for the rest of the year, spring and summer are for fishing and fall is for duck (DUXX) hunting. But I will sneak a batch or two in there if I am low on homebrew.
Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share? There are many good stories that come from being in a homebrew club but mostly I want to say that in general homebrewers are just a great bunch of people. I think every homebrewer should belong to at least one homebrew club. I’m serving my second term as president of the KC Bier Meisters and I have never met a more interesting, hard-working, and passionate group of people. They are just more fun to be around than any other group. Plus, there is always beer!
Come to Kansas City and see for yourself. You are all invited to join us for our 31st annual homebrew competition in February 2014 and for the 1st round NHC competition in March 2014. We’ll be serving up great KC Barbeque along with great mid-western hospitality. Plus, there is always beer!