Homebrewer Interview : Brew Talk

By: Adam Orrick, head brewer at Grove Street Brewhouse in Shelton Washington

I wouldn’t say my family celebrates sophistication.  We are a meat and potatoes kind of people.  We like our tomato soup and grilled cheese, so long as the sandwich is made with Kraft singles.  Our idea of the finer things in life tends toward lawn furniture and a fire, except maybe for my brother, who prefers his recliner and any dish made in a Crock Pot.  In fact, once at a decent restaurant while visiting me in Seattle, he loudly inquired why the hell he should care what the cow ate.  Cooking it and putting it on a plate with A-1 will be a perfectly suitable steak, by the Orrick standard, thank you.  However, there are certain areas where we are unwilling to compromise.   Sure, my mother is primarily a wine drinker, and if you point out that a box of wine on the counter is the opposite of classy you’ll likely be staring at both of her middle fingers, but as for my dad and brother and I, we are beer drinkers, and picky beer drinkers at that.

I spent several years doing whatever I could to turn my dad, a Miller guy, and brother, a Bud guy, into craft beer drinkers.  My efforts typically manifested themselves in any form of beery insults, and were usually met with apathy or annoyance.  Presented with a Sam Adams or a Sierra Nevada, tolerance was the only reaction my dad and brother could afford.  Eventually, I gave up and resigned myself to enjoying quality brew on my own, my passion unshared by the other Orrick boys.

Much later, when I was faced with the very real opportunity to become a commercial brewer, an incredible transformation occurred.  For my brother’s part, he had his first taste of Rochefort 8, and drunkenly declared it the best beer he’d ever had.  And for a brief time, his beer drinking was actually limited to the Trappist beers he could find in Illinois, and Budweiser.  My dad, on the other hand, had come across the nutritional information of a Guinness, and decided on the spot that he was now a Guinness drinker, having tossed the last empty Miller into the recycling bin only hours before.  At this point, the two of them began taking beer a bit more seriously, began exploring different beers and beer styles, and ultimately gave light lager the old heave-ho.  And with some urging on my part, this led my dad to homebrewing.

Readers may recall that last week’s article was about a new brewer and brewery, Valholl Brewing, in Poulsbo.  This week’s is about a new homebrewer.  My father, who I am pleased to say is now moving away from extract brewing, and is building his own all-grain home brewery.

Sophistication.  At least sort of.

Adam: For starters, what is your favorite beer style(s) to drink?  To brew?

Mike: My favorite beer varies with the seasons.  In the warmer months I like the bitter taste of IPAs and ESBs.  In the colder months I enjoy Irish Reds and Stouts (Smithwicks and Guiness)

A: I started homebrewing about 6 years ago, at a point when you were pretty much an exclusively Miller Lite drinker.  I tried and tried and tried to get you and Andy (my brother; formerly the Bud drinker of the family) to try other beers.  What was it that changed your mind?  I recall you going from Miller Lite to almost exclusively Guinness Foreign Extra in a period of about 20 hours.  In your recollection, take us through how you went from domestic light lagers to brewing your own.

M: I think a six pack of Sierra Nevada ESB is what really turned me on to flavorful beers.  I loved the bitter taste and the fact the taste remained on your tongue for a few seconds.  A Guiness Stout is a great beer on a cold winter night.  The rich roasty flavor is just so much better than a light beer when the snow is flying.  I got into homebrewing because you all bought me homebrew gear and two recipe kits.  What else was I supposed to do?

A: Like most homebrewers, you began as an extract brewer.  You are in the process of moving to all-grain brewing.  What motivates you to get more technical and sophisticated with your brewing?

M: The reason I want to try all grain brewing is because I think I can make a better beer than I can with an extract kit.  I’ve had some decent drinkable beers with extracts, but I think an all grain brew

—- if I can do it right — will produce a better beer than extracts.

A: Most homebrewers have no trouble finishing their 5 gallons of beer, mostly because excited friends try to get as much free beer as they can.  Are your friends raiding your fridge, or are they not yet sold on craft and homebrew?

M: No my friends aren’t raiding my fridge — at least not yet.  A few family members and a neighbor have tried my beer, but I mostly make beer for myself.  My beer (most of it) has been okay, but it still does not compare to Sierra Nevada beers or Guiness.  So I still buy beer as well as make my own.

A: Are you more of a ‘by-the-book’ brewer, or do you like to tweak recipes with new or weird ingredients?  I really enjoyed your ESB and stout.  To you, what is the best / worst / and most experimental brew you’ve made?

M: For the most part, I am a by the book brewer.  I have tried some small tweaks with mixed results.  I added some extra hops to an extract wheat beer and it was pretty good.  I also tried adding some orange zest to a wheat beer and it was not so good.  I was able to drink it, but it was far from great.  I haven’t tried any “off the wall” ingredients like peppers or licorice or anything like that.  I probably never will because I like good basic flavorful hoppy or malty beer.  Really unusual ingredients isn’t something I am into.

A: Between the two of us, who makes better beer?

M: You definitely make the better beer and most likely always will.

A: That is kind of a boring answer dad.

M: Okay.  Whatever.

A: Where do you see your homebrew going?  Ultimately, what do you want to do as a homebrewer?

M: My goal is to be able to make a good beer that I can enjoy on a warm summer evening or a cold winter night.  At this point, I am very much a novice and still learning.  Learning to brew has been a fun, challenging and sometimes frustrating endeavor.  But overall, it has been a rewarding experience.  I would encourage anyone who enjoys good beer and a challenge to give it a try.  If you like beer, and are willing to endure some failures you will enjoy home brewing.   I have produced a couple of sour beers that were not drinkable.  I want to figure out why this happened and I know these bad brews will be a learning experience that will help me as I continue to brew.  The end result will be better beers in my future.

…”The end result will be better beers in my future.”  Indeed.

For those interested in homebrewing (and I highly recommend the hobby) visit Rocky Top Homebrew in Olympia (www.rockytopbrew.com).  Shelton will be getting its own homebrew supply shop soon.  Please follow their progress at www.masonbrewsupply.com).

About the author

Adam Orrick is the head brewer at Grove Street Brewhouse in Shelton, WA.  He has been brewing professionally since June of 2009, all of which has been spent at GSB, save a brief internship at Lazy Boy Brewing in Everett, WA.  For more about Adam and Grove Street, visit their brewery, their facebook page, or the GSB blog at grovestreetbrewhouse.wordpress.com

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