For a couple of additional pictures of Meeks Brewing Co. see the photo album on my Facebook page.
Meek Brewing Co. is a blog that was started late last year by a New Brunswick based avid homebrewer (you can also follow on Twitter @MeekBrewingCo). He blogs about recipes used, creation of the brews and tasting notes for those completed. I exchanged emails with Shawn to compile this Q & A:
Atlantic Canada Beer Blogger (ACBB): Tell me about your blog.
Meek Brewing (MB): My blog is fairly new… back in November, I decided to start blogging mainly so that I could keep track of my homebrewing. I’ve always kept pretty detailed notes, but this way I could add some pictures, have access to recipes when away from home, and hopefully provide some ideas or assistance to other homebrewers, as well as get feedback. So, right now my blog has my brewing notes for current beers I have on the go, as well as recipes and tasting notes for several beers I’ve brewed in the past. I’m definitely planning on getting into some other homebrew topics in the near future… I just have to find my niche and go with it!
ACBB: Tell me about your background in homebrewing.
MB: I started homebrewing in November of 2009. I had only recently got into beer – my wife and I took a trip to Belgium in March of that year, and that’s what started the passion. I started reading about homebrewing gradually; when I realized how much someone could do at home, I was REALLY interested in doing it myself. Instead of just diving in and trying it, I decided to read and do some research on the subject, before tackling my first batch. I was immediately hooked (as so many are)! I did nine extract and partial-mash beers over a 6-month period, and then moved into all-grain brewing. I just brewed my 44th batch, a Standard/Ordinary Bitter, a few weeks ago.
ACBB: Tell me about your setup.
MB: I have a lot of your standard all-grain homebrewing equipment: a 10-gallon aluminum boil kettle, outdoor propane burner, a 10-gallon mashtun made out of a plastic cooler, a Barley Crusher for milling grain, a 25-foot copper immersion chiller, and several sizes of fermenters (mainly Better Bottles… I made the switch from glass after about 6-8 months of brewing). I recently purchased a countertop water filter; Fredericton treats their city water with chlorine, which can cause off-flavors when used in brewing. I also have a deep freezer which I’ve converted into a cellar/fermentation chamber with a digital temperature controller… this helps for controlling fermentation temps (especially during the summer), fermenting lagers, and can generally be used as a cellar for storing/aging beer, when not used for brewing. I have a lot of bulk grain and hops as well… probably over 300 lbs of base and specialty grains, and several pounds of different varieties of hops. The only major purchase I HAVEN’T made is kegging equipment – it’d be great to not have to bottle batches due to the extra work involved, but I like having many styles of beer readily on hand without involving a whole bunch of taps. I also don’t know if I could trust myself with draft beer in the house – too easy to drink many small amounts at a time!
ACBB: What is your favourite brew to make?
MB: That’s a tough one. I’ve brewed over 30 styles of beer so far, but I have come back to several favorites. I love American IPAs, Pale Ales, and Amber Ales, so I’ve brewed several of those, and I also like to have something easy-drinking and refreshing around at all times… flavorful, but a type of beer that those new to craft beer would enjoy. So, I’ve brewed a Blonde Ale a few times, tweaking the recipe each time to bring it closer to what I really like in a Blonde.
In terms of my favorite BATCHES, I’d have to go with a Schwarzbier and Oktoberfest that I brewed last year, as well as a Sierra Nevada Torpedo clone a while back. I definitely plan on brewing those again soon, without making any changes to the recipes.
ACBB: How much time do you spend on average homebrewing and do you ever brew multiple batches in parallel?
MB: I almost brew once every two weeks on average. I’ve slowed down a bit over the last 6 months; my wife is pregnant and therefore not currently drinking, and I can only drink and give so much away! The time involved during a brew day for each batch varies, based on the mash and boil time, but in general a typical brew day takes me about 5-6 hours, including clean-up. Say a couple of hours for bottling each batch – which mostly involves sanitizing and cleaning bottles – so, let’s say 16-17 hours per month. However, I do a lot of reading in my spare time, researching and tweaking recipes, taking gravity samples from currently fermenting beers, making notes, etc., so it really comes out to more than that. But I love it; it never feels like work to me.
ACBB: Are you a member of any homebrewing club / associations?
MB: No, but I have a few friends who are just as into homebrewing as I am, and we spend a lot of time emailing back and forth about ideas and current brewing progress, and sometimes get together for tastings of both homebrews and commercial beers.
ACBB: What advice do you have for someone looking to get into serious homebrewing?
MB: Read as much as you can. You don’t have to be an expert to start brewing, or to brew good beer, but if it’s really a passion, the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the whole process. Even though the steps of brewing are actually quite simple, it’s a little daunting at first – or, at least, it was for me! Everyone feels overwhelmed and paranoid about every step the first time; it’s completely normal, trust me. And there’s nothing wrong at all with starting with extract beers; while there ARE some styles that are difficult, if not impossible, to brew with extract, you can still brew really excellent beer this way, as long as you follow some simple rules. Almost everyone moves to all-grain eventually, however; its per-batch-cost is cheaper, and you can have complete control over the entire process, which makes brewing more fun!
While it’s cliche to say this, since every book, website, and homebrewer says the same, always pay close attention to cleanliness and sanitation! Infections eventually happen to everyone at some point, but the more diligent you are with sanitizing, the less likely infections are to occur. There’s nothing worse than putting all that work and money into a batch of beer, only to have it get infected and completely ruined. Paying close attention to sanitation and yeast health are two of the most important things you can do as a brewer, in my opinion.
In terms of equipment, a large boil kettle is a must if you want to brew great beer. Even if you’re doing extract beers, you want to be able to do a full boil if possible (as compared to a partial boil, where you end up adding water to the fermenter after boiling/cooling); so, an 8-10 gallon kettle should do fine for a typical 5-gallon batch. You therefore have to be able to BOIL this much liquid; if you have a stove-top that can do this, great, but mine could never handle it. So, in a lot of cases you’d need to buy an outdoor propane-burner. You also need some basic equipment for starting, such as a fermenter (glass carboy or Better Bottle, for example), funnel, bottling bucket and bottling wand, tubing, large spoon, hydrometer, etc. A lot, if not all, of this equipment can be purchased as a single kit at brewing/wine-making stores. You can chip away at other equipment over time, so it won’t be as expensive right away.
When starting to homebrew, don’t jump into a really complicated style of beer right away. I’ve seen a lot of people try to brew lagers, sour beers, high-alcohol beers, etc. as their first or second batch. It’s better (for results, and for your confidence) to start off with something a bit more straight-forward, such as an APA, Amber, Blonde, English Bitter, etc. Beers with a few ingredients, close-to-room-temperature fermentation, and about 5%-ABV are a good start.
There’s a lot more tips I could give, but I’d go on forever. I highly recommend How to Brew, a book by John Palmer. Most of the info is available free on his website, howtobrew.com. It’s straightforward in some parts, and technical in others. You don’t have to read the whole thing right away to start brewing or get a good grasp on the process. I still refer to it from time to time. Brewing Classic Styles, a book by Jamil Zainasheff and Palmer, is also great for learning about all the BJCP styles of beer, and for having at least one tried-and-true recipe for each style on-hand. In terms of websites, there’s a lot of them out there; homebrewtalk.com is a great forum-site where you can learn a lot by just reading through questions and answers. And if you have any questions at all, you can post them there and other homebrewers will be answering them very quickly; literally within minutes a lot of the time.
ACBB: Would you rather be working on homebrew or blogging about it?
MB: Definitely homebrewing! I’m not much of a writer or blogger; I’m hoping to improve on that end! But homebrewing is definitely the best hobby I’ve ever had. I never get tired of planning the next beer.
A note for those who subscribe to this blog via email. You’ll notice this post looks very similar to one you would have received Sunday (March 18th) morning. An “internet malfunction” (a.k.a me pressing the “Publish” button when I meant to press “Preview”) led to the error. I deleted the original post and Twitter message and am now posting a revised version.