Pat Jones is a man’s man. He resides in Mid-Michigan where he spends his time repairing bad Internet connections, exploring the wilderness and of course… brewing his own beer. Jones spoke with BOJ regarding the world of home beer making while taking a break from his hefty brew schedule this spring.
BOJ: First of all, Patrick… that beard… bravo!
PJ: Thank you! That just made my week.
BOJ: You are a home brewer Patrick! What made you think, “Yeah, I would be good at that.”?
PJ: I love drinking beer. I also work in IT, so I’m predisposed to taking something and working with it until I can find the ins and outs of what makes it work and then applying that knowledge in order to fix or maintain that equipment. Taking that sort of approach to something like beer led me to first becoming very conscious of what I drink and what different breweries do for each beer. The next step was taking my own shot at making some myself.
BOJ: What does one need to begin brewing their own beer?
PJ: All you need is a big stock pot, a source of water, the ability to boil that water, and a vessel to ferment in. Of course, there are always more pieces of equipment to buy to make your brewing easier or more complex, but those are the basics of it.
BOJ: Where do you concoct your delicious libations Patrick?
PJ: I used to brew inside my apartment, but I got sick of it turning into a rainforest after boiling a couple gallons of water for an hour. Brewing has become much more fun after moving outside and using a propane burner.
BOJ: Sounds dangerous, which usually means fun! How often do you make a “batch?” …if that’s what it’s called…?
PJ: That mostly depends on my paychecks, but I probably average a batch every month and a half.
BOJ: How have your methods changed since your first brew, and what has this process taught you about your trade?
PJ: I started out using pre-made extract syrups that really simplify the process, but since then I’ve moved onto partial-grain and then to all-grain brewing. Anyone can make a great beer using extracts, but I have far more control over how everything pans out by doing an all-grain process. Something as simple as the temperature of the water I soak grains in can have a huge effect on the outcome of a beer. A difference of less than 10 degrees can determine whether the beer comes out as light and drinkable, or thick and heavy. Picking out the grains and other ingredients that go into a batch also helps me learn the characteristics of different ingredients and what ingredients pair well together. My brew days are much longer since the jump to all-grain, but I feel far more involved in the process and that I am actually making something unique rather than just dumping a bunch of stuff in some hot water.
BOJ: How much does it cost to begin a home brew?
PJ: The bulk of the start-up costs are from equipment, so if you’re able to repurpose some equipment or get some second-hand, you can really cut down on costs. Most online stores sell “starter kits” that run about $100, but all you really need is a 7 to 10 gallon pot, 6 gallon plastic buckets or glass carboys, a siphon hose, a sanitizing solution, a hydrometer, and a few other odds and ends. If you’re thrifty, you could probably cut the costs down to $50.
BOJ: What type of libations do you create? What are your favorites?
PJ: I always enjoy drinking huge dark beers like stouts and porters, but I’ve yet to brew the same style twice. Each style has its own nuances that require different techniques and ingredients. Beer styles from different countries also have very distinct characteristics. I’d approach brewing an American-style pale ale far differently than I would a Belgian-style pale ale. The endless possibilities of what to make is what appeals most to me about brewing.
BOJ: Absolutely! Certainly, jerky making shares this characteristic. Do you have any tips for amateur home brewers?
PJ: The most common wisdom I’ve heard from other brewers is probably my favorite advice, “relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew.” Beer has been around for thousands of years, before refrigeration, before sanitization, and even before we knew what microscopic organisms were. If Vikings could brew a batch between raids without even knowing what yeast was, there is no reason to be scared or intimidated about the process with the scientific understanding that even a layperson has today. Even if you mess something up terribly, the worst thing that can happen is you made beer. It may not be good beer, but it’s still better than no beer.
BOJ: Amen to that! What are your brewing plans for the future?
PJ: The only downside of this hobby is that you will always find a way to sink more and more money into it, so of course my future plans include bigger and better equipment that will allow me to brew more varied styles. I’d also like to start growing my own hops once I’m in a more permanent residence.