Many of our patrons are also home brewers, and if you’ve ever thought about getting involved in the craft, the college is also offering some courses starting this fall. Jim Huber will be teaching these classes, and judging at the home brew competition. He sheds light on his 25-year passion as well as how others can get involved.
Q: How long have you been home brewing and what made you decide to get started?
A: I have been home brewing for about 25 years, and all -grain brewing for the last 20 of those years.
I think a couple of things led me to start. I had made some trips to Europe, and had tasted the wonderful cask conditioned ales they serve in the British pubs. The flavor was unlike anything I had experienced before, and in coming back to the States, I was dismayed to learn that even the same brands weren’t close to being as good. These beers needed to be fresh, and the voyage over here didn’t do them any good. About that time, a former teacher of mine was talking about the home brewing he had done in his younger days, and I thought, “I can do that too!”
Q: What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of it?
A: For me, the biggest challenge is also the biggest reward. I think that as home brewers, we tend to look for inspiration in our favorite commercial and craft brews. We use the same basic process that they do, but our equipment, for the most part, could best be described as medieval. So, how do we respond to that situation? For me, the challenge is to look for the places where we could possibly have the advantage over the pros, and ask the question, “could this allow me to make better beer?”
One example is in our ingredients. As home brewers, we don’t have to turn a profit, and ingredients are not that expensive anyway, so we can use the very best that the world has to offer in terms of yeast, malt, and hops. We can even use a different type of yeast in every style of beer that we make, if we feel that it will enhance that batch of beer. This would be very difficult for a commercial brewery to manage.
For another example, in adding hops after the boil, we can chill our entire batch quickly enough that these aroma hops don’t sit in the high heat for more than a few minutes. That can give a really nice smooth freshness to the hop aroma and flavor that you will rarely find in a bigger, commercial batch that takes longer to cool.
The challenge and reward, then, is to look past what we might have in our glass today, to envision what it might be possible to create, and then figure out a way to make that happen in our next brew.
Q: Have your family, friends, and work colleagues been supportive of your hobby?
A: The reactions have been always been very supportive and encouraging. My wife, Mary, has made many trips with me to various “beer stores” to pick up ingredients, is a good sounding board for new ideas, and is also my best taste tester, especially for the hoppier ales and IPAs. My brew partner, Dennis Hale, has been brewing almost as long as I have, and he is always ready to brew up something new and different.
I think the best show of support, though, is when you bring some bottles or a keg of fresh ale to a party and the “This is the best beer I’ve ever had” comments come up. For me, a good glass of beer is its own reward, but this kind of feedback is nice, too.
Q: Describe your best brew. What are you working on currently/ or what was the last beer you made?
A: I don’t mean to avoid directly answering your question, but I think my best brew will always be the one that has just reached its peak and surprises me in some way. We brewed an English style Bitter this spring that was very close to what I remember tasting in those British pubs years ago, and that was very exciting. That beer was balanced, clear, and ready to drink in about three weeks.
On the other hand, in home brewing you can produce some very long-lived beers; and the flavor will continue to develop. A month or so ago Dennis and I shared a bottle of our first all-grain barley wine, and it was delicious, rich, and complex. That beer was almost 20 years old.
Currently, I’m working on an APA, or American Pale Ale, that I want to brew with the body and fresh burst of hops of an IPA, but that will come in at about 4.5% alcohol. I’ve also been really enjoying trying different Belgian Saisons this summer, and we’re planning on brewing one to have ready for next summer. Another beer that I have been in the mood for is a really thick, malty Scotch Ale. I can’t find one that I like in the stores, so we’re going to brew one.
Q: What’s kept you brewing for so long?
A: For me there will always be different styles to try, and I notice that my taste is evolving; so even with the old standards that I’ve been brewing for years, I have new ideas about how I would like to make them better.
Q: What advice would you give to someone either interested in home brewing or just starting out?
A: Get involved with a group of friends, a brew partner, or with an informal club. Half the fun is sharing ideas, recipes, and of course, beer! Another good way to learn more is to go over to Hondo’s Brew and Cork and sign up for a brew session. My first all-grain session will be in November; and we will be brewing an APA, which is a good type of beer to start with.
Q: I hear you’re going to be a judge in Hondo’s competition, as well as teaching some college classes starting this fall. Can you tell us a little about the program?
A: RJ Kiepke, who owns Hondo’s, wanted to put together a series of college classes that would be good to introduce beginners to home brewing; and he asked me if I would teach the all-grain segment, which will be the third class in the series. He is going to teach the fall and winter extract classes, and my class will be in the spring. He has set up a good facility at his place to do the brewing; and in fact, if you are already a brewer and just want to come down and brew a batch with his equipment, he can accommodate that as well.
In addition, we will be doing a different all-grain brew session every two months or so. This will be great for even experienced home brewers who want to break out of a rut and learn different styles, or who just want to learn how to take their IPA or stout to the next level and make a better beer.
As this series develops, we will do some really interesting brews; and I’m pretty excited about it. With each different style of beer, we will learn new techniques, experience different ingredients, and work with different types of yeast. We will cover the American styles, British styles, Belgians, wheat beers, and also some lagers.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about home brewing?
A: If you like beer, you should try home brewing at least once. You will definitely have fun, and might have found a great, lifetime hobby.
Q: Finally, besides home brewing, what’s your career and family background and how long have you lived around here?
I have done many types of work, and for the last 10 years I’ve worked in the office of the Employment Department.
I grew up in Astoria, and Mary and I live here in town with our pets and a basement full of hobbies. But just like the lasting head on a well-crafted pint, the hobby of brewing always seems to rise to the top.