For this home brewer profile we talk with Joel Mahaffey.
Where are you from?
Depends on how far back you want to go. I grew up mostly in Virginia Beach as a Navy brat, went to college in Pennsylvania, and then moved to Washington D.C. for 2 years until I decided to pack my bags and move to Maine. I’ve been in Maine for 8 years now, which is awesome.
What is your favorite brew pub in the area?
It’s not really close, but I love Gritty’s in Freeport, Maine. It’s 120 miles away, but it’s a favorite pit-stop when traveling out-of-state. They have two cask ales on at all times, which is a novelty up here.
Do you focus on one style or do you mix it up depending on the conditions and mood?
I’ve been mixing it up for a long time, but I’m now trying to repeat a few of them to improve on my recipes.
How long have you been brewing and what made you decide to start?
I’ve been brewing for about six years. My brother-in-law started before me, and got me hooked on the idea. It began as a money saving hobby, but has developed into so much more.
What are you brewing with?
I have a 10.5Gal boil pot which I also use as a mash tun, a 6Gal pot that I use for heating on the side or to continue to pull runnings as I begin the boil, etc. I use 5 Gallon buckets for sparging (Papazian’s Zapap Lauter Tun). I’d like to build a cooler mash/lauter tun next year, as I hit the capacity of my 5Gal buckets for grain sparging 3 times this year. The buckets were a cheap way to get into all-grain, as I already had them from my first kit.
I know a lot of home brewers end up building there own equipment. Do you have any untraditional brewing equipment that you won’t find at a home brew shop?
I made my own wort-chiller from parts at Home Depot, and have 3 benches that I made which stack well for sparging, but that’s as fancy as I get.
Did anyone inspire you to start brewing?
My brother-in-law, Mike, got me going, but Charlie Papazian was there for the “Don’t worry, have a homebrew” philosophy that has gotten me through whenever I felt unsure.
Would you mind giving us a run down of your brewing career to date?
I began with very simple recipes from the True Brew Handbook (all extract), and did that happily for a while, diving into kits for a couple years. Then I bought Papazian’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and that changed my world. I began partial mash brews, and began to experiment, changing recipes in his book, but always using one for a base. I began to get comfortable having a recipe and going to my local homebrew shop, finding out that they didn’t have half the ingredients I needed, and substituting half of them out, or going for something else with the help of the homebrew advisor.
I brewed for several years like this, and all this time, brewing had been a hobby that I would indulge in 2-3 times a year. I drank largely commercial beers, and over this time, my knowledge and exposure to beer increased. This was the rise of craft brewing, and living in Maine, we didn’t get many out-of-state craft beers, but Maine craft brewing became more and more popular. Within the last 2 years, craft beers have become very popular in the state, and there is a fantastic selection of good beers, even at the gas station or the supermarket. Why is this important? Because these amazing new beers I was exposed to drove my desire to brew better beer. The last strike against extract brewing for me was a Russian Imperial Stout, where the extract and hops necessary to hit the mark put a major dent in my wallet. This was no longer a cost-effective hobby. My beers were getting complicated and expensive, and I wanted to figure out a way to make it more economical to brew my own beer. I wanted to be able to drink /mostly/ my beer now. I talked with my homebrew shop, and he advised me to switch to all-grain.
I couldn’t believe that it would be cheaper to brew all-grain. Didn’t you need a ton of equipment for that? He broke it down for me, and gave me the baseline cost of a 1.050 batch of beer, and I couldn’t believe you could pull that off for $20. I was in.
I began all-grain brewing this spring, and after a rough first-batch, it’s been amazing. I’ve made a LOT of beer. I just made my 13th 5Gal batch of AG beer in 6 months, and every one is better. I’ve been focusing on my process, and I change something every time I brew to make it easier, cleaner, and more efficient.
Are there any brewers you look to or anyone you think is at the top of your list?
Charlie Papazian is a big influence, as I’ve said before, and I recently discovered Jamil Zainasheff’s podcast, which I occasionally turn to for a nugget of knowledge. I have some favorite commercial brews, but mostly I like to try them because they give me ideas for my next batch of homebrew. Sam Caliglione reminds me that you can try anything once, and sometimes it’s amazing.
How often do you brew? What days do you brew?
I try to brew about every other weekend, and I prefer to brew on Saturday morning.
Can you tell us about the first beer you ever brewed, what was it and how did it come out?
The first brew I ever made was an american pale ale, the “First Recipe” from the True Brew Handbook. It’s all extract, and at the time, I thought it came out very well.
What was the last thing you brewed?
The last thing I brewed doesn’t fit into any clear category that I know of. It’s a recipe I made came up with this summer when browsing for ingredients, with a slight adjustment to the second batch. It’s a complex malt profile with a hopping rate of an IPA. IRA or double red ale? Maybe. But I like it.
Do you do all grain or extract?
What type of yeast do you use and how do you maintain your culture?
I have been using Wyeast London Ale II recently. It’s an English ale yeast with a very fruity aroma and flavor. I get samples from the local microbrew, which makes it an easy choice, but it also works very well for the beers I like to make.
What about hops… do you use whole or pellet hops? Why?
Well, I like the punch that you get from pellet hops, which is lucky since nothing else is available. I’ve made the mistake (once) of dry-hopping with pellet hops, and it makes a horrible mess. I think I’ll only every use whole/leaf hops for that in the future.
Do you do any sort of collaborations with other home brewers in the area?
No, but I would love to give it a try!
Are you part of any home brewers club or organizations?
There isn’t one within at least an hour’s drive, but I’ve put some thought into getting one started.
Any plans to do this as more than just a hobby?
It’s already an obsession, but it could be fun to be compensated for it.
Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for anyone looking to brew?
It’s easier than you think.