Think what you will of Jimmy Carter, our 39th President, but he is the reason the home brew or craft beer revolution is now flourishing. Yes, on October 14, 1978, Jimmy Carter signed bill H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Alan Cranston. That amendment created an exemption from taxation of beer brewed at home for personal or family use. Essentially, it lifted regulations imposed by Prohibition laws over 50 years earlier. The passage of this bill tapped the keg, so to speak, and home brewing/craft beer market has been growing each year since.
The Brewer’s Association in Boulder, CO defines craft beer as beer made by a brewer that is small, independent, and traditional. Of the 5,301 breweries operating in the United States in 2016, 5,234 fit the definition of being a craft brewery.
Home brewing certainly isn’t new to the world as brewing beer has been around for at least 7,000 years. The credit for brewing the first beer, based on beer residue found in unearthed jars and jugs, is given to the Egyptians. Much of this early beer was one that we know as mead, a beverage made by fermenting honey and water. Mead (Odin’s beverage of choice) predates wine, beer, liquor, and even distilled beverages. The production of beer has come a long way since the time of the pyramids. If you would like to know more about the craft of brewing beer, there is a local organization that would be happy to provide you with a few pointers.
The Dubuque-area Society of Brewers (DaSOBs) has been around since January 2005. The idea of the group arose one night as Jerry Anderson and Joe Berger were sitting around enjoying brewed beverages. They knew of other clubs, but there was nothing in Dubuque, so they decided to change that. Joe and Jerry held an initial gathering that included Kevin “Snuffy” Smith and a few others. The outcome of that meeting was the DaSOBs.
Jerry owns the Bluff St. Brew Haus located at 372 Bluff St. in Dubuque. He carries everything you need for brewing beer or making wine, and he is the linchpin that keeps the DaSOBs going. Sure, the club is great for his business, but there is nothing Jerry likes more than to sit around and talk beer and beer brewing with the guys and gals of the club while enjoying a glass of homemade brew. The group meets monthly at a chosen location to enjoy each other’s fellowship – drinking and talking all things beer. Members trade recipes, talk through issues encountered during the brew process, share the latest equipment or source of malt or hops, all while drinking the beers brought for consumption that night. Quarterly, the group holds a “Throw-down,” a friendly comparison of the same style beer brewed by various members. It’s not so much a competition as it is bragging rights for the night. Once judged, it’s back to drinking and discussing the brewing of beer.
Last month, I attended a meeting held at Catfish Charlie’s. Charlie Cretsinger, the owner, is a craft-brewer. His brew kitchen, just off the bar area of the restaurant, looks more like a science lab than a brewery, but he turns out some mighty nice suds. Charlie came to Dubuque from Omaha about 13 years ago and opened Catfish Charlie’s. He worked in a brewpub in Omaha, but didn’t get into brewing his own until about five years ago. Charlie enjoys the process of beer making and relates it to his cooking style. He looks at most recipes as suggestions of how to make something. The same theory works with his beer brewing. There is a sequence you need to follow, but within those steps he takes the liberty to add spices, syrups, coffee, all sorts of ingredients to see how the beer will turn out. He now simply knows when it’s time to leave it alone and let it ferment. A few years ago there were only about four local beers served in his restaurant, now, nearly all the taps at Catfish Charlie’s serve beer brewed in the beer kitchen. If you ask, staff will suggest which beer goes best with items on the menu.
I pulled Paul Kern aside and asked him how long he had been brewing his own beer. He indicated that he’s been enjoying craft beer for some time, but he’s only been brewing his own for about three years. His typical brew-day is about four hours long – from gathering supplies, cleaning equipment, heating the water, adding malts and hops, and several other steps along the way. Then, depending upon the beer, it will ferment for anywhere from two to eight weeks before consumption. Paul enjoys drinking and brewing a Belgium Triple, but pretty much likes all the craft beers out there.
Shawn Poggemiller has been brewing his own beer for about 21 years. He, like me, enjoys the stouts and IPAs. Shawn has been a member of DaSOBs for about nine years and truly enjoys the camaraderie between members. He feels that the SOB club is a great format for tasting what other people are brewing and it has really stretched him over the years to taste and brew beers that he might not have tried otherwise. Shawn says his brewing has improved significantly as a result. The club environment provides great opportunities to learn/teach about what works well to help everyone improve their beer. The fact that meetings are held at different member’s homes each month gives everyone a chance to see other setups for brewing and serving beer at home. Shawn enjoys the group and it’s the members that make it fun every month!
Kevin “Snuffy” Smith is one of the original members of DaSOBs. Snuffy began brewing his own beer at age 14 and has been creating his own beer for over 30 years. He is one of only a few people that own a copy of the original Star Brewery Lager Beer recipe. He brews an aromatic standard IPA (Indian Pale Ale), but also makes some dandy apricot, mango, and tangerine IPAs that are incredible. I had a sip of his tangerine IPA and it was like you were squeezing the fruit right into your mouth.
Joe Berger is a man of several talents. Besides being an OB physician for Medical Associates, he is an accomplished bagpipe player, rum distiller (Paradise Distillery), and co-founding member of DaSOBs along with Jerry Anderson. If you are a beer aficionado, a visit to Joe’s home is about as close to Nirvana as you get here on terra firma. There are 11 taps in the kitchen and, at the moment, another 8 downstairs. One of those taps pours mead beer that has won Joe several awards around town, as was the case this night. Joe was overall winner with a German Pilsner and runner-up was Richard Biechler with a British Strong Ale. When asked to pick a favorite, Joe said give him a big IPA anytime as he loves the hoppiness.
What artifacts, beer log books, recipes, or growlers future civilizations will find is hard to say, but if what is happening in America, and specifically in Dubuque, is any indication, they may come to the conclusion that all we did was drink beer. Hopefully they will deduce that it was really good, locally brewed, craft beer.
For more information on DaSOBs, contact Jerry Anderson at Jerry@BluffBrewHaus.com. Whether you’re an old pro or brewer wannabe, Jerry and the members of the club will make you feel welcome!
Beverages I Recently Tasted
Toasted Lager – Blue Point Brewing Company, NY
This is classified as an American Amber/Red Lager. I found this beer to have a very pleasant flavor with hints of toast and the sweetness of honey. I am not usually a lager fan, but this was very drinkable. 5.5% ABV
2014 Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnay
Evening Land Winery – Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley, OR
A lovely refined Chardonnay with soft tannins. Slight lemony notes, a touch of minerality, and some orchard fruit make drinking this by itself enjoyable. It complements fish or any veggie meal easily. 13.1% ABV
2015 Bourgogne Pinot Noir – Louis Latour Winery, Bourgogne, France
This Pinot Noir is a clear ruby color. I didn’t find a lot of nose, though hints of plum and cherry were evident. Tannins gave the mouthfeel an edgy quality, which I like in a Pinot Noir. There was a very pleasant earthiness on the palate that is distinctive of a fine Pinot Noir. 13.5 ABV
2014 Seaside Cellars Pinot Noir – Marlborough, New Zealand
New Zealand has nearly a perfect climate for growing Pinot Noir grapes. The same region that is producing excellent Sauvignon Blanc is also ideal for growing Pinot Noir. This wine was crisp with notes of raspberry, spices, and a hint of tobacco. 12.5% ABV