Brew Genius: Homebrewer isn’t afraid to scavenge ingredient
Editor’s note: Brew Genius, an annual feature we run every winter, profiles some of the homebrewers competing at this years Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywine Festival. The 11th annual festival takes place Jan. 5-7 at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa. For more information on the event, visit http://www.bigbeersfestival.com or call High Point Brewing at 970-524-1092. 1. Vail Daily: Evolution of a brewer: From a style and/or technique standpoint, where did you start? Where are you now?Jim Denier: My brewing passion started with a bare bones $100 extract plastic brew system purchased while living in South Carolina in 1993. My first creation was an amber ale named “Baby Beer” in honor of my first child. I swear a dirty diaper found its way into my plastic pail. Twenty years, thousands of miles, and thousands of dollars later, I find myself surrounded by stainless steel equipment, brewing software, and a walk-in cooler full of diverse styles of beer, not to mention that same, now college-age kid, standing with an empty pint glass asking for a refill!2. VD: Where do you brew? How many beers do you have cellaring at any given time?JD: I brew in my garage where I store my brew system and equipment. The garage is also outfitted with a sink, natural gas, and music to make my brew day a little easier. As for cellaring beer, I’ve got 8 to 10 kegs of homebrew conditioning in my basement at any given time, including 6 on tap. Beyond that, there’s hundreds of bottles of beer on the wall waiting to be taken down and passed around!3. VD: What’s your ultimate beer-food pairing?JD: Funny, the most memorable beer-food pairing I’ve ever experienced was at the Big Beers Festival in 2005 during their inaugural Brewmaster’s Dinner. After eating, drinking, and laughing our way through several amazing courses, we were all served a decadent dark chocolate dessert along with Dogfish Head’s Worldwide Stout – wow! It all came together for me, and I swear I saw Jesus while stumbling back to my hotel through the snow and sub-zero temps!4. VD: What’s the most interesting ingredient you’ve ever used in a beer?JD: I made an historical Finnish Sahti last year that called for the use of juniper berries and twigs. I roamed the ‘hood picking neighbor’s bushes. Of course, my wife had to remind me later that dogs may have had their way with these bushes, and I had to remind her that’s why we boil the wort! 5. VD: Where do you get your inspiration for recipes? From commercially produced beers? Elsewhere?JD: My inspiration to brew a certain style of beer, or a brew with a certain flavor profile, comes from a wide variety of sources. I get ideas from talking to fellow homebrewers, family, commercial beers, surfing the internet, and reading and researching all manner of food and beverage publications. For example, I’ve brewed a couple of gluten-free beers over the past two years, and this inspiration came from my father-in-law who was diagnosed with Celiac disease, and who also happened to be a big fan of my homebrew. 6. VD: What advice do you have for someone thinking about getting into homebrewing?JD: It’s a great hobby and passion! Do it for the right reasons though. I started because I enjoy good beer, being creative, exploring the scientific process of brewing, beer travels, and enjoying the camaraderie of the brewing community. Don’t take up homebrewing to save money on beer – you won’t – and I promise you you’ll be hooked for life!7. VD: Please share the Big Beers Festival experience that has had the most impact on your homebrewing. Was it a seminar? A beer that you tasted? Or a Brewer that you spoke with?JD: For the most part, my homebrewing adventures over the years have been brewing specific styles of beer, seeing how close I can get to mimicking commercial examples, and entering into competitions for useful feedback. I attended a seminar at the Big Beers Festival a few years ago hosted by Peter Bouckaert, Brewmaster at New Belgium, and his simple and innocent words, “I do not brew to style,” rang loud and stirred me. I’ve since relaxed my mantra of brewing to standardized styles and have enjoyed creating specialty and/or historic beers like Crme Brulee Ale, American Saison, Sahti, Adambier, Imperial Classic American Pilsner and Imperial Porter with cocoa, chiles and orange. Of course, judges don’t have a clue what to do with these beers, but I’m enjoying the creativity.