Home Brewer Profile – Joseph Lemnah

Joseph-Lemnah1

Where are you from?
A small town just outside of Burlington, VT. Essex Junction.

What is your favorite brew pub in the area?
The not very local brewpub Stewarts Brewing is forty five minutes away up in Bear, DE. So, some of my favorites from back home are, The Alchemist, Zero Gravity at American Flatbread, and of course Vermont Pub & Brewery one of the original gangsters back in 1986.

Do you focus on one style or do you mix it up depending on the conditions and mood?
I Mix it up.  Many times I’m inspired by chefs and global flavors.  Using different grains, spices, and herbs is both challenging and rewarding.  I enjoy discovering what unusual fermentables taste like and how to use them.  What I brew is dependant on what inspires me more than anything.  Finding out about a citrus fruit grown here or a type of heirloom rice grown there. A spice I’ve never heard of.  Every day the world challenges brewers to brew and use the cornucopia of ingredients available the world over.

How long have you been brewing and what made you decide to start? Did anyone inspire you to start brewing?
I’ve been home brewing for a little over four years now.  Growing up in Vermont I was surrounded with craft beer.  Drinking Long Trail, Switchback, Otter CreekRock Art, and Magic Hat. Late Gen X’ers and early Gen Y’ers are the first generation to grow up in an America with beer choices. I developed an early appreciation for local products made by people in the community.  Beer being one of them. So I guess timing and location inspired me to start brewing.

Would you mind giving us a run down of your brewing career to date?
It was late 2006, I was twenty four years old and had been home brewing for a few months when realized that brewing might be it for me.  I was living in upstate NY at the time and went up and down the Hudson River valley looking for a job while also looking into the different brewing schools across the country. Lots of doors closed, but I got a job on the packaging line at a contract brewery, Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. in Saratoga Springs, NY opening empty cases and six packs by hand then stuffing the six packs in the cases.  There were paper cuts.  I expressed interest in moving into brewing from the beginning, sharing home brew and talking to the brewers about what the heck they were doing.  After months on packaging I moved into cellaring, learning how to CIP (clean in place) and sanitize tanks first. Wait, I think they taught me how to scrub floors and parts first, lots of floor scrubbing.  Then I learned how to harvest and pitch yeast, dry hop, filter and force carbonate.  During my time at Olde Saratoga Brewing I attended the American Brewers Guild, completing the five week residential Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering course.  After returning from brewing school I was trained in the brew house.  While at school I found out about the job board on Probrewer and saw a job for a brewing position at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.  I applied, interviewed and a couple of months later I was hired and moved down there.  Just like that, and I’ve been there since.

Is there any brewers you look to or anyone you think is at the top of your list?
Patrick Rue- The Bruery, Jean Francois Gravel- Dieu du Ciel!, Matt Bryndilson- Firestone Walker, Ken Grossman- Sierra Nevada, Paul Saylor- Zero Gravity, Ron Jeffries- Jolly Pumpkin, John MaierRogue, and of course Charlie Papazian and Randy Mosher.

You have been working at Dogfish Head for about two years right?
It will be two years November 5th.

How’s working for them?
Working for a company like DFH is an honor.  To be a part of a company that has helped pave the way for the craft beer community to grow and take chances teaches me something new every day.  The brewers at the production facility in Milton are given the chance to go to the original DFH pub and brew whatever the heck they like.  I brewed a pumpernickel porter last year called Daily Wry.  It was pretty cool to get my beer reviewed on beer advocate.  Working in an atmosphere like DFH definitely inspires to create.

What is different working and brewing at Dogfish Head versus doing your own stuff at home?
The experiences are very different.  At DFH were knocking out every 3 to 4 hours, making 3,000 gallon batches all week, non stop, while working around dangerous chemicals and particulates as well as dangerous quantity’s of carbon dioxide.  We are focusing on consistency and flavor profiles of each batch and working to understand and control the processes to make more consistent beer.  While at home every batch is a test batch.

How often do you brew? Is it hard to find time with all the work brewing?
I’m Home brewing about once a week right now but I need to start brewing at least twice a week to keep up with the drinking habits of everyone that comes by.  I always have at least a couple draughts of homebrew on, up to five at once.

What are you brewing with? 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?
It’s a pretty basic setup.  I have a hot liquor tank and a mash tun/kettle.  I mash into the mash tun and run off into marked plastic buckets.  Sparge from the hot liquor tank while running off using gravity.  Once I’ve collected the wort I dump the mash tun, a quick rinse and dump the wort in.  The only piece of equipment I’ve made so far is a grist case to hang above the mash tun during mash in so I can control the flow of water and grain while focusing on hydrating the crushed malt.  I’ve started building brewing stands for the back deck with plans of putting a burner on each.

Can you tell us about the first beer you ever brewed, what was it and how did it come out?
The first beer I ever home brewed was a brown ale extract kit.  The kit contained chocolate malt, crystal malt, and roasted barley to steep and a pound of brown sugar for the boil.  I used dry muntons yeast.  My friends liked the green apple flavor, but I knew that acetaldehyde was not a good thing.

What was the last thing you brewed?
At this moment I’m brewing a chocolate vanilla almost baltic porter.  The last five brews have been an oatmeal stout, a Bhutanese red rice brown ale, a summer and fall saison, and a cherry wood smoked porter.

Anything in the works you would like to share?
Next weekend I have plans to brew a pumpkin ale and ferment it inside a 7 gallon pumpkin using 4-5 pounds of sweet baby pumpkins roasted in the oven and added to the mash. Spiced with meadowsweet, and other fall spices in the boil. During cool down I plan on carving a pumpkin and prep it for fresh wort.  I’ll seal the top with wax and drill a hole for an air lock.

Do you do all grain or extract?
My first sixteen batches were extract.  Since then I have been doing all grain.  Today’s brew is batch fifty five.

What type of yeast do you use and how do you maintain your culture?
Whatever I can get my hands on.  I like blending yeastx, using dry and/or liquid.  I really enjoy both Wyeast and White Labs strains, especially: German Ale 1007 Wyeast, Saison Yeast 3724 Wyeast/WLP566 White Labs. Chico yeast liquid or dry is what I usually ferment with to keep at least one control. It’s a great neutral strain that allows the brewer to showcase whatever they want.  I will re use yeast up to three generations.  I really want to start brewing funky ales but I’m afraid of bringing the funk in house.  I would like to make a Kombuch-ale by just dumping a bottle of kombucha in some wort.

What about hops… do you use whole or pellet hops? Why?
I like using whole leaf hops in my home brew setup because with the false bottom it knocks out crystal clear wort.  Pellets really muddy what goes into the carboy, but I have to use pellets for all the hoppy beers I want to brew because the selection is so much better with pellet hops.

Do you do any sort of collaborations with other home brewers in the area?
I’ve collaborated with two other brewers at DFH recently.  Brent Baughman on two RyePA’s and an Imperial Stout. The pumpkin in a pumpkin beer is with Jon Talkington and we’ve also brewed a black wit together in the past.

Are you part of any home brewers club or organizations?
When I was in Saratoga Springs I joined the Saratoga Thoroughbrews.  It was a great experience getting critique from experienced homebrewers on my first dozen batches or so.  I haven’t joined any local homebrew clubs in Delaware yet but I will be teaching some upcoming homebrew classes at my local homebrew store.  We’re still working on the dates.

Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for anyone looking to brew?
Read and brew, brew and read. There is a small commitment with brewing.  You have to get some random equipment to start and/or you end up thinking you need it.  Either way pick up a brewing book, try some craft beer, brew with a friend if you can, think of your favorite beer and try to brew it.

Finally, when can the Hop Cast come out and get a special Dogfish Head tour?
Anytime…Cheers!

Joseph-Lemnah2

You are welcome to email Joseph Lemnah with any questions to hopfentreader@gmail.com and be sure to check out his blog http://hopfentreader.blogspot.com or follow him on twitter http://twitter.com/HopfenTreader.

  • Charles Hall

    Dear Joseph, I hate you. But seriously, you are living the dream. I’ve been applying to every local brewery position I find, but no luck so far. Your story is inspiring, and I am now going to stalk you on Twitter.

  • Ken Hunnemeder

    Great interview! The pumpkin in a pumpkin ale sounds very innovative. Sounds like Dogfish found their type of guy to be a brewer!!

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