For love of the brew
Whether it’s done in a bucket out of a broom closet or with state-of-the art equipment, the homebrewing hobby has risen exponentially.
According to the American Home Brewers Association statistics, there are an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States, with two-thirds of those brewers having taken up the hobby in 2005 or later.
In February, AHA reported that Pennsylvania has the fourth highest membership in the U.S., with around 58,000 homebrewers in Pennsylvania.
Count Williamsport-native Matthew Kiehl, a 2004 Williamsport Area High School graduate and 2009 Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate, among those 58,000. He works in information technology by day and brews in his spare time, starting six years ago.
But at least he didn’t start out of a broom closet.
“When I first started with my cousin, we started with glass carboys and (an) outdoor burner,” Kiehl said. He noted there are several ways to begin the brewing process; his friends, he said, started out by using plastic bottles and simply boiling on a stove top.
Now, Kiehl has an outdoor burner and a 10-gallon brew kettle.
“I have a designated brew room in our house that I’m able to keep at a certain temperature to allow the beer to ferment and mature,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl has even gone the extra mile and has his own hops garden, a project he and his wife Sara started when they first moved into their house. The hop garden extends 12 feet tall, between two trellis.
“When I started brewing, I joined a couple of online beer forums and saw a lot of people were growing their own. I started to do a little research and found that the northeast allows for great hop growing,” he said.
And what are hops, exactly? Not the action of jumping up and down – what it sounds like – of course.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone say they want an extra hoppy beer, or maybe the opposite – a not-so-hoppy beer.
Hops are a plant that looks like a small, light green-colored pinecone, but in fact are a flower. Their role in brewing beer is a large one and it’s a bit tricky to understand.
“Along with hops, there is water, malt and yeast that make up beer,” Kiehl explained. “Hops are very delicate and impart the bitterness that balances out the sweetness of the malt.”
Hops, he said, provide the spice flavor and the “many aromas to beer that the craft beer world have come to love.”
There is a large variety of hops, each of which elicit a unique flavor to the beer being brewed.
Kiehl bought three types of hops from a Wisconsin company and a co-worker gave him five types from a his garden.
“Right now I’m growing Cascade, Centennial, Nugget, Fuggle, Northern Brewer, Galena and Columbus (hops),” he said.
Hops are essential to India pale ales (IPAs), which is the type of beer that Kiehl likes to make most, along with stouts.
“My favorite IPA that I have brewed was a clone of the Heretic Brewing Co., called Evil Twin IPA,” he said.
The Evil Twin IPA has a “zingy citrus underripe orange peel and fresh pine flavors,” according to a user on ratebeer.com.
Kiehl also likes to brew for – and with – his wife.
“My wife loves fruit and spice beers, so over the past two years I have made a pumpkin ale for the fall. It was loosely based on Dogfish Head pumpkin ale,” he said.
Kiehl, like many brewers, find fun in creating zany names for their beers. For the pumpkin ale, he said he and his wife came up with the name “Pitching Pumpkins Ale.”
The name is a play on baseball, which “suites my brewery,” he said.
Kiehl’s brewery doesn’t exist quite yet, but, like many who start out homebrewing … he eventually wants to operate his own brew pub. He already has business plans in the works, and intends on calling it 6-4-3 Brewing.
“The name is a play on a double play in baseball – shortstop, to second, to first,” he said. “Not only do I love playing and watching baseball, but here we are in Williamsport, the home of Little League, so I figured this would be a great name for a brewery.”
To achieve that goal, he’s focused on developing a series of his own recipes while fine tuning his brewing process.
“One of the most crucial steps to becoming a brewmaster is to be able to consistently produce the same beer,” he emphasized, adding that he’s working on about six styles of beer at the moment.
He’s hoping that by January 2016, he’ll have a place to call his own brew pub.
But – like baseball – it takes a team to make it all come together.
“The most important thing is that my wife and family are behind me 100 percent … as long as I have them, I know I can (do it). From there, it will be up to the beer and the people to decide,” Kiehl said.