For this home brewer profile we talk with Charles Hall.
Where are you from?
What is your favorite brew pub in the area?
There are a few good places. The one I visit most frequently is Harvest Moon in New Brunswick. Other notable brewpubs in the area are Triumph in Princeton, J.J. Bitting in Woodbridge, and Long Valley Brewpub in Long Valley who recently won a medal for their Jake’s Lazy Porter at the GABF.
Do you focus on one style or do you mix it up depending on the conditions and mood?
Up until now I have been experimenting, only occasionally repeating recipes or styles. But over the winter months I plan to do just a few styles to work on making them better.
Did anyone inspire you to start brewing?
I didn’t know anyone who was doing it but a lot of friends were excited about the prospect of me making beer and they helped the cause.
How long have you been brewing and what made you decide to start?
I started brewing January 2009. Having recently turned 21 I was enthusiastically exploring craft beers. I soon started to wonder how these breweries were getting such complex and unique flavors. I did some research online and came across a lot of information on homebrewing and quickly assembled the necessary hardware to try it out myself.
Would you mind giving us a run down of your brewing career to date?
I wouldn’t call it much of a career as it’s been less than a year but I did one extract batch and then moved on to AG. I’ve done about 20 AG batches, and entered my first two competitions just a few weeks ago. I sent an APA and Hefeweizen to the FOAM cup in OK and the same APA and Hefeweizen in addition to an RIS to the Schooner competition in WI. To my my surprise I won Gold at Schooner for my APA which I am really excited about.
Are there any brewers you look to or anyone you think is at the top of your list?
Jamil is probably the most famous home brewer today and he is someone to look up to for sure as is Charlie Papazian who’s book helped me a lot. But there are also a few well respected guys and ladies on Homebrewtalk.com that have helped the community out a lot by sharing recipes and words of wisdom.
What are you brewing with?
I’m brewing All grain with a really basic setup. I do 3 gallon batches since I like to brew more that I can drink and give away. So I use a 5 gallon cooler, a huge grain bag and a turkey fryer. Instead of a manifold at the bottom of the cooler I simply line the cooler with the grain bag, mash in and close the lid. When the mash is done I lift up the bag and let it drip before I move the whole bag, grains and all, to my kettle where I have water ready for sparging. I then mix the grains, let them sit a while and repeat the process again before combing all of the sparge and first runnings together for my total pre-boil volume of about 3.75 gallons. It’s my take on the Australian Brew-in-a-Bag technique. After working out some process issues I have been able to consistently hit about 67% efficiency into the fermenter.
Are you bottling your beers?
How often do you brew? What days do you brew?
On average I brew every 2-3 weeks. I generally brew on a Saturday or Sunday starting early in the morning.
Can you tell us about the first beer you ever brewed, what was it and how did it come out?
My first beer was a Sierra Nevada Pale ale clone which I put together by looking at a few recipes online. It was extract, on my moms stove with her and my girlfriend running around for me trying to get everything done. The process was really overwhelming and confusing that first time but it was exciting and smelled great. It turned out ok but was really malty and when it warmed up tasted like a malt liquor. Not in the same class as SNPA for sure.
What was the last thing you brewed?
The last beer I brewed was Denny Conn’s Wry Smile which is a Rye IPA and supposed to be pretty famous in the community.
How did the Rye IPA turn out?
Not sure yet but I’ll let you know.
Anything in the works you would like to share?
I just bottled a barleywine I’m pretty excited about, half a gallon of it is aging on oak in a growler as an experiment. I actually did get my hands on some Citra hops which are the showcase of Sierra Nevada’s new Torpedo and are available in very limited quantities, I will probably do a SMaSH with those. Otherwise nothing fancy coming up, I’m going to brew my APA, Blonde, and Hefeweizen a few times over to try to get them really solid.
What type of yeast do you use and how do you maintain your culture?
I generally stick to Wyeast 1056 for most of my brews, obviously some of them require a specialized yeast like a Saison or Hefeweizen. I have experimented with yeast washing in the past, I will definitely be making use of it in the future. Nottingham dry yeast is always in the fridge as a backup and always works great for me, finishes low.
What about hops… do you use whole or pellet hops? Why?
I use both pellet and whole leaf. Pellet is better bang for your buck in the boil but I like whole leaf for aroma.
Are you part of any home brewers club or organizations?
No, there are some local clubs but I haven’t looked into joining any yet. I’m sure they are a valuable resource but for now the various message boards online have provided me with a lot of information.
Any plans to do this as more than just a hobby?
I think everyone thinks about it, I’m pretty young so anything is possible. Reading about the guys who have gone from homebrew to nano and micro sized commercial operations is exciting and inspirational. I have tried to get a position at several local breweries and brewpubs but with the economy like it is most places don’t seem to be chomping at the bit to bring an apprentice on board.
Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for anyone looking to brew?
Do it! Go to your local big box retailer buy a turkey fryer, it comes with a big pot for $35 and you can avoid the mess of sticky wort all over your stove. The jump to AG is easy, and the hands on experience is very rewarding when you crack open that first bottle.
Thanks Charles for taking the time to be interviewed. You can learn more about Charles and his brewing process if you follow him on twitter, twitter.com/magnj.