Brewer Profile: Ric Cunningham
Club Affiliation: Niagara Association of Homebrewers
BJCP Status: Certified
Brewing Since: 1997
Ric caught the homebrew bug while serving in the US Navy. During his last deployment in 1996, a fellow sailor gave him of the New Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian, one of the best books available for beginning brewers. After leaving the Navy, he took a job in McMinnville Tennessee, a city that's located in a dry county. As a beer lover, Ric had to learn to brew his own.
The closest homebrew shop was 1.5 hours away. After buying a basic homebrew kit and a large kettle, Ric's brewing adventures began. At first, his progress was slow, partly because he lived in an isolated area and at the time there were few resources available on the Internet.
Ric moved from Tennessee to Indiana and finally to Niagara Falls, New York, where he was delighted to discover an active and involved homebrew club, the Niagara Association of Homebrewers (NAH). Ric refined his brewing skills as a member of the club and read voraciously about beer and brewing. One of the core books that influenced him was Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels.
Around that time, Ric began entering homebrew competitions and, like many other brewers, the spirit of competition helped him improve the quality of his beer. He learned about beer styles and began to understand that brewing to style is an important part of the competitive spirit. The first beer he brewed to style was created at "Brew on the River," an annual outdoor event held by NAH where members gather for a marathon brewing session that often involves 20 or more brewers, each using his own brewing equipment. That year, NAH elected to brew all 26 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) styles, in one day, in one location. Ric's choice was strong Scotch ale, a beer that subsequently won multiple gold medals in homebrew competitions in New York State.
Ric's job required him to travel extensively, both in and outside the US. He spent 3 years in southern Holland near the city of Breda, which isn't far from Antwerp and Brussels. Here Ric learned about Belgian styles firsthand. He befriended a local café owner, which enabled him to sample and study in depth the many fine beers of Belgium, Holland and Germany.
In 2001, Ric upgraded from a 5 gallon brewing system to a 15 gallon keggle. Besides Belgian styles, he also explored and brewed English and American ales. Around this time, he also moved from kits to extract recipes of his own. Finally, he switched to all-grain brewing and drew upon all his previous experience to continue brewing medal-winning beers.
In 2004, Ric became interested in historical brewing, including styles, ingredients and processes. The first historically based beer he brewed was a turbid mash lambic style that took 16+ hours to brew. After reading Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers by Steven Harrod Buhner, Ric turned his attention to designing a new group of historical beers. He eventually made over 20 such beers, including gruits.
Also in 2004, Ric decided to pursue BJCP certification to become a beer judge. He organized a study group that met in his basement, a section of which is fitted up as bar -- place with just the right ambiance for studying and sampling beer. All 10 members of the group passed the exam, achieving at least the BJCP rank of "Certified." He organized another successful 12-week study group in 2008.
2008 was a busy year for Ric. He was the organizer of the "Amber Waves of Grain" (AWOG), a national homebrew competition based in western New York state. The competition receives over 350 entries every year. AWOG has 3 judging sessions held over 2 days. There's also a best of show (BOS) round for both beer and mead and cider. As the BOS referee, Ric was responsible to see that the BOS round was completed in enough time to allow the judges and organizers to complete their task and arrive at the awards banquet on time.
As a core member of the Niagara Association of Homebrewers club, Ric makes himself available to teach classes, to do brewing demonstrations and to help customers at a local homebrew shop. He is an active member and moderator of the Grow-Hops Yahoo group as well as a member of several other brewing-related forums on the Internet. Ric also travels around the country looking for great beer and other homebrew clubs.
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