Sean Michael Winslow
What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
I recently received my PhD in Medieval History and Book History and Print Culture from the University of Toronto. I study the history of bookmaking, and wrote my dissertation on the Ethiopian scribal tradition.
What got you into homebrewing?
Back sometime around 2005, a number of my friends back in California (where I am from) took up homebrewing, mainly extract brewing. I would go over for brew parties, help out, sample their brew--it was fun. Since they were all making beer, I thought I would try some less-common fermentations, and started making mead and plum wine (from my parents' plum tree). Eventually, I gave up on mead because of the price of honey, but I have been making plum wine from my parents' tree (almost) every year when I visit them. My first 'beers' were a blonde braggot from extract, shortly followed by my first all-grain brew, a strong Irish Stout which I made in order to use the second runnings for a stout braggot.
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
I started in 2006 or so, but only brewed a couple times a year for many years until a friend of mine in grad school took it upabout four years ago, and we began brewing together regularly. Since we all have PhDs, we call ourselves '3Doctors Brewing'. There have actually been four doctors, as one is now a professor in Newfoundland, and has been replaced by another colleague from our program. Both of my brewing partners are quite busy, so I would say we brew less than once a month on average, though I sometimes design double batches, either partigyle or dilution (the latter for unhoppy sours), to make our time go further.
Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?
Mixed Fermentation Sours, Saisons, Berlinerweisse, IPA, Brown Ale.
What kind of setup do you use?
My apartment is really unsuitable, so I am largely at the mercy of my brewing partners, who both have 5gal setups with a cooler (one home-made, one a commercial Igloo conversion), 8 or 10 gal stovetop kettle, and copper immersion chiller.
What is the worst beer you have brewed?
I made a apricot-honey wine (a country wine, not a melomel), with fresh apricots from my parents' tree and dried apricots. I fermented it in the summer, and it produced huge amounts of fusels. Apparently apricot is particularly bad at high temperatures, and mead certainly has a tendency to come out tasting of alcohol if you don't follow modern best practices (which I did not, back in 2006). It was a huge disappointment to have to dump what was a rather expensive wine.
What did you learn from that worst beer?
Even if you don't have temperature control, per se, you can build your schedule around the right time of the year or at least keep something covered with wet towels to keep it outside of the range that it will produce bad alcohols that will not age out.
What is the best beer you have brewed?
Everyone loves my first batch of plum wine, which is based upon the recipe of Phil, who owned the local Los Altos homebrew shop I patronize in California, before he sold it to MoreBeer and went off to work their wine division. It's available here. You can read through catalogues of red wine yeast, and if you keep the taste of plums in mind, find other complementary yeasts.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
I almost never brew the same thing twice, except Berlinerweisse. For that, we have been working with different strains of lacto, and doing what we can to keep it hot and create better acidity. That said, one of the 'worst' lacto characters (milky/yogurty) we had in a Berliner aged out into a complex and pleasant acidity, so you never know. Still have not approached Berliner Bahnhof, which is one of my favourite beers.
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
- It's easier than you think.
- Start with a recipe kit or by joining a friend who brews.
- Before you get too committed, attend a demonstration of brewing technique (like the club runs) or brew with some experienced regulars in order to check that you are not making common mistakes.
- Recipe design is a lot like cooking: you have broad outlines of the style, you have flavours that you can work with, and you want to make sure they are playing together in a way that works. When you drink, think about what it is about the flavour profile that is working for you, and look for that profile in malts, adjuncts, and hops.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?
If you could be a tree frog, what colour tree frog would you be and why?
Pacific Tree Frog. I rememebr when I was a kid, we would visit orchid nurseries in San Francisco, and while my father talked with his friends who ran the place about orchids, my sister and I would look for the plentiful tree frogs that lived in the greenhouses, especially in the bromeliads. Read about it here.