Brew Genius: A husband-and-wife hobby
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 http://www.bigbeersfestival.com.Patrick Dawson first started brewing in college. At the time, he was mostly interested in making a beer that had the highest alcohol content for as little money as possible. “Not that it was total garbage, but I would basically look at whatever malts and hops were on sale and just figure out what I could make with them, paying zero attention to style,” he said. “Once I graduated though, I have been all over the map with what I brew.”He spent a few years trying to perfect an amber recipe because he had aims to open a brewery. “That got really boring after a while though and I swung to the other side of the spectrum by making more extreme beers like lambics and barleywines,” he said. “Lately, I have gotten more into classic lager styles, like Czech Pilsners and have really enjoyed the elegance you can find in their simplicity.”Dawson answered a few questions for the Vail Daily.Vail Daily: Where do you brew? How many beers do you have cellaring at any given time?Patrick Dawson: I brew at home in our kitchen. We don’t have air conditioning so we brew outside on a propane grille in the summer or our house becomes inhabitable. I don’t know how many beers I am cellaring at any given time, but it’s definitely in the hundreds. Of which I would say only 30 or so are homebrew. Sometime I brew beers with the aim to age them over time, but even if I don’t I will keep a few to see what they do after a few years. I am obsessed with aging beers and seeing how they develop over time. VD: What is your favorite beer-related destination?PD: Belgium, hands down. Though I have to say the Pacific Northwest is a lot of fun too. Belgium just exudes the creative brewing spirit. Their skill set is top notch but they don’t take themselves too seriously, which leads to some fascinating beers. I think what really separates it as a destination though is the quality, size and variety of their beer lists. No matter the mood, what you are eating, or what you want to pay, there is something to make you happy.VD: What’s your ultimate beer-food pairing? PD: Tough call. Let’s call it a split between French fries with a Belgian wit and stinky cheese with gueuze.VD: What advice do you have for someone thinking about getting into homebrewing?PD: My advice to someone looking to start homebrewing is to first ask them why they want to do it. I know so many people who get into it thinking that it will save them a bunch a money and it’s really not true. It may be a hair cheaper, but the upfront costs take a long time to pay back. Plus if you consider your time to be worth anything it really gets slanted the other way as it’s a very lengthy process. If the people are still into it I would then suggest trying to borrow a fellow homebrewer’s equipment for your first batch. The upfront costs are around $200 and the equipment can take up a lot of space, so it’s really worth it to try on someone else’s equipment first to see if it’s a hobby you really could enjoy.VD: Is homebrewing a local connection for you with your nearby friends and community? Or do you prefer to brew alone/with your family?PD: Ninety nine percent of the time I brew with my wife, Lindsay. It’s an activity, just like cooking, that we really enjoy doing together. She is an incredible brewer. She deserves the credit for most of the creativity in our batches as she has this fantastic knack for coming up with really unique, delicious flavor combinations. She made a ginger-peach wheat beer last summer that was one of the best beers I have ever had. My homebrew club, the Denver Brew League, is a big brewing community connection for me as well. We rarely brew together, but we meet up once a month and taste/critique everyone’s latest brews. It has really helped me to up my game knowing that knowledgeable homebrewer’s are going to be analyzing it.VD: Please share the Big Beers Festival experience that has had the most impact on your homebrewing.PD: There are so many things I take away from the Big Beers festival that inspires my homebrewing. The biggest one is that, due to the entry requirements of high ABV and/or Belgian origin, the amount of styles offered are a more select field than your normal beer festival so you can really narrow your focus. For example I can have access to something like 30 Imperial stouts in Vail, where your average festival might only have four or five. Tasting so many examples of the same style back-to-back really helps you dial into the flavor profile you want when you brew your own version. The other thing I love about the Big Beers Festival is the amount of actual brewer’s who are there pouring. Normally it is just company reps or volunteers that are serving beer and they can’t answer many questions you might have about the brewing process or ingredients. Last year I had a conversation with Rob Tod, the founder of Allagash, about open air fermentation that was incredibly helpful in understanding how they do that process so well.