Students brew homemade beer

Seniors learn through trial and error how to make the perfect beer

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Students brew homemade beer

Lily Stanicek

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Two five-gallon white buckets, emblazoned with the gold Northern Brewer seal, rest haphazardly on the kitchen table in senior Corey Lemay’s house. Newly-cleaned siphons and a massive silver pot lay on the counter to dry. A cardboard box sits nearby, half opened to reveal packets of hops, a bottle of malt syrup and a bag of priming sugar, its contents peeking out as if anxiously awaiting the moment they’ll be turned into the cool, golden liquid they were always meant to be. On the table, a six-pack of freshly bottled beer sits waiting to become carbonated enough to finally be consumed.

It’s a scene somewhat foreign to college kids today, when a quick walk down the street will get you access to as many types of beer as you can imagine. But for Bridget Perry and Lemay, seniors in the College of Business and the College of Engineering, respectively, it’s the beer-making process that makes all the difference.

“It’s cool that we’re the ones that made it and saw the whole process,” Lemay said. “Because normally you just buy a bottle of beer and drink it and don’t really think much of it. But now it’s a little bit more personal.”

The pair began brewing at the beginning of this school year, when a friend of Lemay turned him on to the idea of home brewing.  It was something that appealed to both of them enough to make the leap to buying a home brew kit.

“I’ve always wanted to do it, and Corey did too,” Perry said. “And we ended up talking about it and we were like, ‘Let’s actually do this.’”

“It was kind of an impulse purchase,” Lemay said. “But we also really wanted to do it.”

In addition to help from Lemay’s friend, Lemay and Perry did some initial research before settling on Northern Brewer as the place to purchase the recipes and equipment from.

“I just looked at different websites that had home brewing stuff,” Lemay said. “A few of my coworkers also do a lot of home brewing, and they also gave me some recommendations. We just looked at prices to see what we got for our money.”

With a location right here in Milwaukee, Northern Brewer is a popular outlet for those who want to start home brewing. Starter kits are reasonably priced and the website houses a comprehensive collection of video tutorials and demonstrations that make the home-brew process seem a little less daunting.

The pair did as much planning as they could, despite their eagerness to jump right in. The list of directions were ambiguous at times, and Perry mentioned that watching Northern Brewer’s videos and taking notes were helpful tools for their first batch.

In fact, Northern Brewer’s videos, tutorials and even in-person classes, which they hold on various Saturdays throughout the year at their Milwaukee location, are what Rock Bottom’s Head Brewer David Bass recommends for anyone just starting out.

“It’s just like going to any class,” Bass said. “It’s good to have a person teach you how to do it, instead of reading it out of a book and trying to figure it out.”

Lemay and Perry have been taking things slow at first, sticking to prepackaged recipes and staying low-end with their equipment. While Bass says that even if the equipment changes, “the principles are all the same,” he does note that most home brewers eventually start experimenting with flavors and methods as they become more adept.

“Most people go nuts. I’ve heard of people putting chicken into a beer, I’ve heard of people putting onion into a beer,” Bass said. “Here’s the thing, you make five gallons, and if it’s not so good, you can just give it to your friends. That’s the way the craft beer movement really started, is people saying, this is all relatively boring and I think I can do better.”

“At the moment I don’t think we’re at the caliber to be able to do that,” Lemay said. “But I think we could try it someday.”

As would be expected on the first go-around, Perry and Lemay hit a few bumps along the way. As simple as brewing kits try to make the directions for first-timers, the detailed and non-linear guide proved to be a bit harder to follow than expected. Timing, more than anything else, was the hardest thing to stick to for the pair.

“There was some stressful times in the middle of it,” Lemay said, “where both of us were like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’”

“We were elbows deep in syrup,” Perry said.

“Things were burning at the bottom of the pot,” Lemay said.

“And I was like, ‘Let’s watch the video one more time,’” Perry said. “And then at certain points in the process it’s supposed to be covered and stay covered for a while. And we missed that part of the directions.”

“We just missed different details,” Lemay said. “And we were trying to keep each other on track. It was a good learning experience.”

Despite the challenges, and before their first batch is even completely finished, Lemay and Perry are already planning their second brew. They have a long ways to go before they are ready to jump into the realm of chicken and onion beer, so for now they’re sticking with prepackaged recipes. Their next batch has the intriguingly unfortunate name of Caribou Slobber, a holiday brew, naturally.

But the two of them are going into this batch a little wiser to the process.

“I think the beer process is kind of obscure to a lot of people,” Perry said. “So seeing it all the way from the beginning to the end, I think it makes a lot more sense now.”

The brewing industry has exploded in recent years, with the amount of craft breweries in Wisconsin alone pushing into the upper nineties, according to the Brewers Association. While Lemay and Perry have already given their fledgling brewery a name Blackstone Brewery, named after Lemay’s house where all the brewing takes place the pair is not yet thinking too far into the future. For now, they are excited for their friends to taste their first batch and to begin their second.

As far as the brewing process is concerned, Bass is hesitant to give any concrete advice, saying, simply, “keep trying. Figure it out. There’s some things you have to learn on your own.”

Lemay and Perry aren’t on their own, though, and their partnership has made the process that much easier and enjoyable.

“We’ve kind of been on the same mindset for a lot of this stuff, so it wasn’t too tough to decide on things,” Lemay said. “It makes it a lot easier to have a partner.”

 

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