Editor's note: Brew Genius, an annual feature we run every winter, profiles some of the homebrewers competing at this years Big Beers, Belgians & Barleywine Festival. The 12th annual festival takes place Jan. 5-7 at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. For more information on the event, visit www.bigbeersfestival.com.Greg Geiger started making 5-gallon batches of beer in his apartment back in 1993. He created mostly big beers using only a very simple system: a small stock pot for the brew kettle and a 5-gallon bucket for the fermenter. "Today, I can no longer park in the garage," Geiger said. "Over the years I've slowly built a real brewery with 25-gallon vessels, a glycol chiller and temperature controlled conical fermenters. I still have the big beer passion but also make lower alcohol, refreshing summer beers. I've never been a fan of making typical beer styles and I'm usually on a mission to find my next weird ingredient. Brewing has become more than a hobby for me. It has given a very non-artistic engineer an artistic outlet."Vail Daily: What's your ultimate beer-food pairing? Greg Geiger: Cheese and beer! Love how the beer makes the cheese jump around in the carbonation and creates new flavors. My wife is the expert with this so she's always putting new combinations in front of me - lot's of fun! VD: What are you entering in the Big Beers Homebrew Competition this January? GG: Ok, letting the cat out of the bag here... I'm entering an Imperial Stout called Chase's Grit (which won best of show two years ago at Big Beers Fest), a secret ingredient French Saison, a Belgian Dark Strong named Monkey Spank and an English Barleywine that ended up being the wedding beer for my wife and I called Collision Course. There's more, but I can't divulge everything!VD: What's the most interesting ingredient you've ever used in a beer? GG: My neighbor's wife brought (or perhaps "smuggled" is the better word) a bag of fresh Baobob fruit back from Africa - weird stuff. I, of course, immediately molested a Belgian Golden Strong Ale with this fruit. The beer is called Coco Tap and it ended up really tasty!VD: Where do you get your inspiration for recipes? GG: The ideas are all around us! I just try to take notice. Walking down a grocery store isle, finding a good spice shop or digging through the pantry are good sources of inspiration. Cloning a commercial product is a waste of time - like painting the Mona Lisa. I do sometimes get inspired by some; an ingredient or a process.VD: What advice do you have for someone thinking about getting into homebrewing? GG: It's a journey. Don't worry about starting high-tech. It's easy to be intimidated by the hundreds of options at the brew supply store. Make it fun and easy at first - it's like making bread. Oh, and make sanitation a priority! VD: Please share the Big Beers Festival experience that has had the most impact on your homebrewing. GG: Hanging out with the brewers is awesome! Peter Bouckaert (Brewmaster, New Belgium Brewing) always has an enlightening view on brewing. A few years ago he made a comment that stuck with me. Brewing with wild, multiple strains of yeast and bacteria is natural, not extreme brewing. Isolating a single strain of yeast for a boring character - now that's extreme brewing!
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