The difficult yet rewarding craft of home brewing

Paul Minzner’s collection of coasters and bottles at his home in Lexington on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Adam Pennavaria | Staff

Adam Pennavaria

The art of home brewing is a task few undertake, and a task in which even fewer succeed. It takes a serious devotion to craft, a heightened sensory instinct, as well as a whole lot of patience — and usually a hefty sum of cash — to become proficient in brewing one’s own beer.

Paul Minzner is a shining example of how to be successful in the home brew sphere. For the last 22 years, Minzner has brewed a plethora of beers in many different styles, including everything from Halloween-themed steam beers to English bitters. Currently, he has a Berliner Weissbier and American Pale Ale bottled.

“Cleanliness and cooking sense (are the most important things),” Minzner said. “And don’t make beer by yourself, it’s boring as s—.”

Minzner began brewing because a college friend suggested they try to start brewing from a kit. After they completed the first batch and it tasted similar to one of their favorite brews, he was hooked.

The process is basically the same as what large-scale breweries go through on a daily basis, but instead of processing thousands of gallons of hoppy delight, he’s working with a maximum of 15 at a time. Boiling water, hops, barley and yeast are combined, along with enzymes and other ingredients to produce Minzner’s small batches of brew.

As far as big breweries go, Minzner says that Sierra Nevada is consistently his favorite.

“I went on Sierra Nevada’s tour, and they have these massive copper doors that open to their hop room. There are bales of hops a yard wide and three yards tall! Everyone was hugging them and smelling them and carrying on for the whole tour,” Minzner said.

Although he doesn’t distribute his concoctions for profit, Minzner sometimes gives them away as gifts or brews certain beers for special occasions.

“I’ve done two weddings, (one in South Carolina and one in New Jersey),” Minzner said. “At the South Carolina one, the caterer wasn’t too happy because the guests weren’t drinking what they brought; they were lining up for the beer. I got invited to the after-party at that one.”

Quality products aren’t always a guarantee, even for someone with two decades of practice. He recalled a recent brew he made, intended to be a pale ale, which ended up being a fail ale instead.

“It had this awful rotten and acidic taste, like spoiled milk or something,” he said.

Before Minzner’s explanation of his process ended, he dispensed one more invaluable piece of wisdom to those looking to enter the home brew culture.

“All the home brew books talk about having a beer while you’re making beer. This is an important one — don’t drink while you’re making beer. You’ll do dumb things,” Minzner said. “You’ll get things dirty, you’ll mess up the recipes, etc. Plus, 15 gallons of boiling water is very dangerous. Don’t drink while you make beer. Drink after you’re done.”

Home brewing is an upper echelon skill for serious beer enthusiasts. Recipe kits for many different types of beers are available from a wide variety of sources; Lexington Beerworks on North Limestone sells an excellent selection of home brewing supplies.

Good luck and cheers!

Adam Pennavaria is the beer columnist of the Kentucky Kernel.

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