Our latest interviewee has a busy schedule. This is primarily due to the fact that that schedule doesn't belong to him. Sitting in the Comfy Computer Chair of Fame long enough to complete this interview I am sure was a challenge. Between his duties as an active duty serviceman, expectant father and active homebrewer and blogger (he's prolific on Twitter too), it's surprising he had time to put together such impressive answers. Being a former soldier myself, I solute his service. Being the editor of this website about beer, I salute his enthusiasm for not only his homebrewing hobby, but his intense interest in the craft beer community. Welcome to CellarMonk!
Name: Allen Huerta
Day Job: I'm a Medic in the U.S. Army
Allen on the Internet: ActiveBrewer Twitter: @L_AllenH
When did you start homebrewing?
I started homebrewing back in 2009 with a Mr Beer kit that I only did one batch on.
What got you into homebrewing? A person? An unfulfilled interest? Sheer boredom?
The funny thing about that is, when I started brewing beer, I hated beer. I could not stand it. I drank quite a bit of PBR but that was just because of College drinking games. I only drank hard A. SWMBO got mad at me because I kept telling her she needs to quit sewing and just buy her clothes because it is much easier. She decided I needed a hobby and one of my buddies may or may not have made whiskey. I thought it would be cool and wanted to make some rum myself. SWMBO would not let me make my own rum or anything for that matter, so we picked up a Mr Beer kit. I took it as a fair compromise. The Mr Beer West Coast Pale Ale was absolutely the worst beer I have ever tasted at that time. I decided that I was going to find out if I really liked beer or not by buying all grain equipment... Quite a big jump, I'd say. I brewed my first batch after we finished Thanksgiving dinner and my second in the morning afterward... because I am a smart kid... Those batches were horrible as well. I mean, who knew sanitation and lagering were important to making the styles I chose? I guessed I just really enjoyed the process though, because that first year, clumping December into it and a 1500 mile move, I brewed around 30 5 gallon batches and actually started making some good beer.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? What is it?
I do not but I wish I lived somewhere where there was one. I have ideas for my own but don't know many brewers in my area. I think it would be a fun thing to do and I would probably join one if I had the chance.
Where do you brew? Inside/outside?
Outdoors. I used to brew inside but that ended quickly. SWMBO hated the smell of the "brewery", complained about me monopolizing such a small space, and I may or may not have destroyed a few too many things due to the steam that was produced in the kitchen. RIP Power Juicer.
Where do you ferment? Have you had to do anything creative to facilitate this?
I have a huge chest freezer. Way bigger than my last one. I used to not use any kind of temperature control and ferment under the sink or in a closet. I had no problems with it... until I destroyed one of her favorite coats because fermentation got too hot and blew off everywhere! I guess all of the bad things that were happening helped me build up my brewhouse faster.
Do you have a pet name for your homebrewing enterprise? If so, can you give us a little background?
I call my brewery, L's Ales. I had no idea what to call it but my first name is Leonard and I always shortened that, even though I go by my middle name. SWMBO put that together with the word Ale, and I really liked it. Thus, L's Ales.
How large are your batches?
I brew on a 5 gallon system. I want to upgrade but I like to brew a lot and I don't drink beer as fast as I would need to in order to brew consistently on a 10 gallon system.
What kind of equipment do you have?
All the equipment I have are just bits and pieces that were put together. My Mash Tun is a 13.5 gallon Coleman cooler, my original Brew Kettle was a 7.5 gallon Turkey fryer but I upgraded that to a 9 gallon BK and I use my 7.5 as a Hot Liquor Tank and my old 5 gallon kettle for cheeses and other things now. I thought it was awesome when I picked up the plate chiller a while back as well. I have 2 6.5 gallon carboys and 2 5.5 gallon ones for primary and secondary fermentation.
Are you fine with that or do you expect to upgrade to bigger and better?
I think the only thing I want to add to my brewery now are more kegs. I currently have 2 and I think another 4 would help out for aging beers and once my kegerator is complete, easy rotation of beers in and out. I actually want a March Pump as well. Gravity feeding my chiller is really annoying. I want to stop at that asap. And a brew stand. I think that would make my brewery complete. Right now I am balancing everything on whatever I can find. Not safe at all and it sucks trying to move all the equipment around. It would be nice to set it up at the beginning and tear it down at the end... Ok, I think that is everything. I told you there was just one thing... Maybe a bigger BK...
What are your favorite styles to brew?
I like to brew styles that are not readily around. One of the beers I always try to have around is my Nut Brown Ale. I want to have a bitter around all the time, too. Though, I really just brew anything that sounds cool to me.
How many batches have you made this year?
I typically try to brew at least 2 times a month. This year, I am right on track so, 4. Then again, I did brew a Mr Beer Kit I got for Christmas from back home.
Give us some examples and the names you picked out for them if you gave them a name.
My last few batches were an Oaked Rum Porter, Bavarian Hefe, Flanders Red, and a Burton Ale. There are random things I have planned in the coming months as well. The Oaked Rum Porter is called Pirates Booty. I had brewed that one before and every one loved it, so this is my second go at it. I hope it lives up the version 1. I did not change the recipe at all, just hoping it was not a fluke the first time. The Burton Ale is for the International Homebrew Project 2013 and the others are not named. The first batch I made after I got to North Carolina was a Saison called Summer Starlifter. I got the name for that one because of the street I live on.
Any bad batches? Were you smited by the homebrewing gods?
Early on in my brewing I had a few bad batches. Looking back, I am very surprised I did not have more. Though, there was one batch that went so bad it was good. I brewed a pumpkin ale because everyone in the world does around Halloween and I cannot say exactly what happened but it soured... and not in a bad way. It seemed intentional. I had a lot of people give it a try and they asked what I used to sour it... Back then, I didn't know sour beer was a thing.
Brewing plans for the future?
I plan to brew a couple more of my old recipes. Clusterfuk for one. It's an IIPA, maybe add another I but there are 18 oz of hops in that beer. I actually just received them in the mail, so that should be happening soon. Everything else is just an idea at the moment. Besides the Sahti.
Plans on entering any competitions this year?
I wanted to enter beers into NHC this year, but not sure I will have them ready in time. The only ones I can send once registration opens is Pirates Booty and my Bavarian Hefe but I have not even tasted that yet. I want to send in Clusterfuk, but we will see since the window from brewing and submission is so short. I plan to look at others this year though. Entering into more competitions is one thing I wanted to do this year.
Any awards from past competitions?
Not really any awards but I submitted my Fat Bastard BarleyWine into a now, possibly defunct?, competition this past October and it took 1st in the Strong Ale category with 43/50 points. I think it is funny because the only reason I brewed that beer is because I had a bunch of ingredients I needed to get rid of before I moved and I wanted a Barley Wine. Kind of just slapped together a recipe, bottled it and left it in a storage unit for a year. I only have 7 bottles of that left now. Doing it again, for sure.
Any advice you'd like to give other homebrewers?
I would say take it slow, and learn the process and sanitation before taking the jump, unlike I did. I love All Grain brewing, and I am glad I did it this way but I wish I learned a bit more before doing it. I would not change what I did at all though. I learned a lot about recipe formulation being I did 7-9 kits before I dumped them and started playing around on my own. My first recipes were horrible, though. Looking back on them. I wonder what I was thinking.
Any closing thoughts?
RDWHAHB. That solves a lot of problems. It is nice going into forums and such asking questions but a lot of what you want to know can be found in a brewing book you already own, or you are just worrying about nothing. A lot of what you think is going wrong with your beer, actually isn't. At first I thought every batch of beer I was going to make would sour like the first couple but once I got my routine down, I have not had that problem since. Don't get careless because it can happen again but as long as you are consistent, I feel you will be fine.
If you could sit down with 1 person (living or dead) and ask them questions. What brew would you offer them and what would be the first questions you would ask?
I am not sure. Probably Kim Jordan (New Belgium Brewing Company) but that is just because I am obsessed with her company. I am not sure what beer I would offer her. It would have to be the greatest beer in the world because I would probably ask for a job or how can I get their beer delivered to my door every time there is a new release. Even the ones that are Liquid Center only beers haha. I could just bring a ton of my homebrew. That might work!
If you were omnipotent, what would you do to right the beer universe?
I would probably cut down on hop usage in just about every style. I guess I can't really talk about that though, with how I mentioned Clusterfuk earlier, but that is a different situation. That beer is exactly what it is meant to be. I don't see the need for hopped up Browns, Ambers, Porters, Lagers, etc, etc, etc. I might release some lower ABV beers across the country, too. It would be nice to have some true session ales.
*** Personal ***
Favorite domestic beer?
1554 or La Folie from New Belgium. It depends if you want to break it down year round, or specialty release.
Favorite imported beer?
I had a bottle of Westy 12 a couple of years ago and that was amazing. A couple I pick up quite frequently are Delirium Tremens and Well's Banana Bread. Old Engine Oil is up there and beers from Hitachino Nest. I want to give the Trappist beers I have had in the past another try and I recently really enjoyed Monk's Cafe Flemish Red... Not sure on a favorite though. I need to try more foreign beer. I think I have had a pretty good base so far but there is still so much to try. Hopefully, I'll make some trips.
Favorite beer and food pairing?
I have no idea. I am not really good with the whole food pairing thing.
Married with a daughter due any day now
In the kitchen I make a mean... (beer related).
I really don't cook with beer, but I do get SWMBO to bake me beer goodies frequently. I tend to just drink my beer.