What is your occupation (outside homebrewing)?
My profession is Computer Engineering. I am a proud member of a pre-silicon IP team at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. We design, verify, and deploy a portion of the hardware logic that goes into the various GPU products that we make.
I'm also the Founder and President of GTA Brews, which also takes up quite a bit of time. It's been a ongoing joke among the club officers that I've been too busy running the club to answer the questions for a member profile, but here I am! You win Rob!
What got you into homebrewing?
I started homebrewing because I wanted to explore my pre-existing love of craft beer, and learn more about it.
I had become really into beer while in university (~2008), and I even co-authored a column called Beer Buzz in the Engineering Society Newspaper (Iron Warrior). I had seen my friend (Kyle Smith) brewing up a storm on social media, so shortly after I graduated I bought myself a Brooklyn Brewshop kit from Chapters (Tip: Go to a homebrew shop instead, way fresher!). I brewed my first batch in January 2013 and the rest is history!
What are your hobbies/interests outside of homebrewing?
I seem to have gathered many hobbies over the years, including; computer hardware & electronics, video games (Overwatch), cooking, bbq/smoker, skiing, and wakeboarding.
I also love spending time with my wife Rebecca and my young daughter Ivy.
How long have you been brewing and how many batches last year?
My first batch was in January 2013 (~7 yrs ago), and since then I've brewed 164 batches of beer, 5 batches of mead, and 4 batches of cider. These days I average around 1-2 batches per month, but usually fewer in the fall before Brew Slam.
In the last year I've brewed 15 batches of beer, plus 1 each of mead & cider. A bit lower than past years, but not too bad considering we welcomed a new baby in Nov 2018.
Do you have any favourite styles you like to brew?
I really enjoy brewing malty lagers, especially Helles and Doppelbock. I originally started brewing lagers to challenge myself while trying something new. I ended up having a lot of success in competitions with them, which was encouraging. Eventually they became some of my favourite styles to drink due to their simplicity and grace.
I also enjoy brewing beers like Saison and Brett Beer that I can bottle condition in my champagne bottle (29mm) collection 🍾.
Do you have any certifications related to beer and/or homebrewing (BJCP, Cicerone, etc…)?
I'm a BJCP National Judge and also have my Mead designation.
I love judging and organizing BJCP Competitions. As a judge I value the opportunity to learn something new every time I sit down at the judging table. Often my judging partner will see things from a different perspective, which I love to learn from. I also enjoy the opportunity to familiarize myself with beer styles and techniques that aren't something I've brewed before or that I get to taste often.
I also enjoy organizing homebrew competitions because they present me with endless logistical challenges to solve. Organizing balanced flights, recruiting volunteers, improving our judging process are all enjoyable to me. It's rewarding to be able to create a judging environment where our judges can focus on writing the best scoresheets possible while also learning about beer like I described above.
What kind of setup do you use?
These days I brew on a 3 vessel eHERMS system, built around my 20 gal Stout Kettles. The controller is a pre-built 30 A panel from Electric Brewing Supply, and the vent hood is DIY foam board attached to a Vortex VTX600.
I recently finished setting up my new Spike CF10 and glycol chiller, but before that I was very happy fermenting with PET carboys in my mini fridge.
I've had several brew systems over the last 7 years of homebrewing:
What is the best beer you have brewed?
Two of my favourite recipes are already in the club recipe database so I'll point you to those.
My Bridal Brau Imperial Stout is a favourite of mine, especially since it was one of the 11 beers I served at my wedding. It was also Rebecca's favourite beer of the bunch!
Another favourite of mine is the Doppelbock recipe that I've been tweaking. It heavily features Weyermann Munich II (darker than usual Munich)!
What is the worst beer you have brewed? What did you learn from it?
The worst batch of beer I ever brewed was my first batch. I did a lot of things wrong, especially buying a brewing kit from Chapters that had probably been sitting there at room temp for over a year. After that batch, I quickly learned how important healthy fermentation is.
More recently, I still make the occasional beer that I don't enjoy very much . In this case the issue is usually an off flavour (acetaldehyde, esters, etc), or a balance issue due to a new ingredient or recipe I was trying.
I've learned that life is too short to drink beer I don't enjoy so I usually end up dumping the keg for these beers. I buy ingredients in bulk so the cost isn't overwhelming to just try again next time, or pick another tap to drink.
What is a change you have implemented that you feel made a big improvement in your beer?
I feel like one of the biggest improvements I made in my beer was focusing on healthy fermentation. This included ensuring high pitch rates using starters, and temp control using a water bath (soon followed by dedicated mini fridges). Once I was able to brew clean beer I was much happier as a homebrewer.
One seldom discussed element that I feel is key to incredible beer is attention to detail and relentless drive to improve. In recent years I've fallen into the trap of last minute recipe formulation and general lack of planning ahead, which I feel has caused me to partially stagnate in my brewing. I believe the homebrewers that spend more time formulating their recipes, critically tasting their results, and tweaking their brewing process usually end up producing better beer.
What advice would you give to a new homebrewer?
My advice to new homebrewers is to immerse yourself in the hobby and homebrewing community to learn as much as you can. Attend club meetings and events to meet like minded people, share your beer with them for feedback, and taste their beer for inspiration. Pretty soon you'll be making beer just as great as the rest of us!
Your first year of homebrewing is very exciting because there's something new to learn every day. Engage with popular homebrewing platforms like /r/homebrewing, Milk the Funk, and of course our club's FB Discussion Group. There are also many great homebrewing blogs and podcasts out there!
What is your favourite yeast, grain, and hop?
- Base Grain(s): Weyermann Bohemian Floor Malted Pilsner, Weyermann Munich II
- Specialty Grain: Simpsons DRC (Double Roasted Crystal)
- New World Hop: Galaxy
- Old World Hop: German Magnum (super clean bittering!)
- Clean Yeast(s): WLP090 (San Diego Super Yeast), Escarpment Munich Lager
- Specialty Yeast: Escarpment New World Saison
What beer is your white whale, one that you've been chasing to perfect?
I've been chasing the perfect NEIPA for a year or two now. I won a gold medal in Brew Slam 2016 for my NEIPA, but following that I didn't have much luck with my hazy IPAs in 2017/2018.
I feel like I've have more success with them in 2019, especially now that I've switched to Escarpment's Foggy London and embraced the day ~2 (biotrans) dry hop.