A fellow North Carolina homebrewer joins us in the Comfy Computer Chair of Fame for a Tar Heel homebrew interview. Our homebrewer is plugged into most homebrew happenings in the state and publishes a blog to get the word out on what's going on in the NC hombrew community. Please welcome and avid homebrewer with dreams beyond the kitchen, welcome Mr. Chris Creech @NChomebrewing
Name: Chris Creech
Day Job: Project Manager for a Web Design Firm
What got you into homebrewing? A person? An unfulfilled interest? Sheer boredom?
My college roommate was talking about his "bucket list," and one of the things on his list was to brew his own beer, so I looked at him and said, "we could do that." He sort of shrugged it off and was going to move on, but I said, "no, really, we could definitely do that now." So he said sure, and we did a little research and the two of us, along with 3 others, all chipped in a few bucks and we went to the store and bought a homebrew equipment kit and our first batch of ingredients.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? What is it?
I am on the email listserv for a few local clubs, and through my blog, I try to post events and news from both TRUB and CARBOY, among others. The group that I participate in most often is the Greater Raleigh Area Brewers and Suds Sippers, also known as GRABASS, which is more of a "brewing dis-organization," as some might say.
Have you brought others into homebrewing? If so, how?
I would like to think that my blog (http://NChomebrewing.com) has helped get some people into brewing, or at least helped them learn something new! I have also taught a couple of entry-level brewing classes for a local "Connoisseur Club" at Bub O'Malley's bar in Chapel Hill. Even my dad has gotten into it a little bit, when he received a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas a year or two ago.
Where do you brew? Inside/outside?
On my 2nd floor apartment balcony (probably illegally) using a 2-tier eHERMS. I try hard not to boil over or spill onto the balcony below me. But I'm not going to lie, I've had to knock on their door while carrying a mop before.
Where do you ferment? Have you had to do anything creative to facilitate this?
Our spare bedroom is basically a beer fermenting and serving room - one chest freezer converted into a kegorator with 4 taps (1 nitro), and one chest freezer for fermenting. I can also fit several buckets/carboys in the closet for when the fermentation fridge is overflowing (it can only do about 10g at a time in the fridge).
Do you have a pet name for your homebrewing enterprise? If so, can you give us a little background?
We started calling our beer "Crew Brew" because when we first got started, all of the guys that chipped in for the system were rowers for the UNC crew (rowing) team. And the brewery itself was "Edwards St. Brewing Co." because that was the street we lived on at the time. I've set up Edwards St. Brewing Co. on untappd, so you'll see me checking in beer from there pretty often.
How large are your batches?
I alternate between 5 and 10 gallons. Usually 5 if it's something new or a strong/specialty beer. Ten gallons for the ones we brew (and drink) a lot.
What kind of equipment do you have?
I touched on it earlier, but I brew on a 2-tier HERMS. We built a workbench on wheels as the centerpiece, and the hot liquor tun and mash tun both sit on this, with the HLT being a keggle heated by a 5500w electric element. The mash tun is another keggle with a jacket and false bottom. Next to the workbench, I have the boil kettle (keggle #3) sitting on a turkey fryer burner. The HLT heat element and pump are controlled via a little control panel and a PID to control the temperature, and the boil kettle is a stand-alone turkey fryer. I batch sparge, so only use a single March pump.
Are you fine with that or do you expect to upgrade to bigger and better?
Eventually, I may go full electric. I have built the system in a way that would allow me to easily install a heat element into the boil kettle, but for now, that's not really necessary because the turkey fryer works so well and heats so quick (though electricity would be slightly less expensive).
What are your favorite styles to brew?
I probably brew pale ales and IPAs most often, but I am probably most well-known for my English style brews due to my short stint with Fortnight Brewing Company. I also really enjoy brewing more experimental/specialty brews with unique ingredients. For example, we have brewed a peanut butter chocolate porter, as well as a 20% ABV Double IPA/Barleywine. I am also competing in the Iron Brewer competition, where I am brewing a wheat beer with fresh ginger, lemongrass, and agave nectar.
All grain/Extract or both?
All grain, all the time. Sometimes add extract into the super high-gravity brews to bump up the ABV% (barleywine and imperial stouts)
How many batches have you made this year?
More than is probably allowed by law. I brewed for my wedding last August, which was probably 30 gallons or so. Then, with helping to get Fortnight Brewing off the ground and serving at many festivals, I was brewing 10 gallons a week for several months. I think at one point in time I had 60 gallons of beer at the house, spread between carboys, buckets, kegs and a cask.
Give us some examples and the names you picked out for them if you gave them a name.
I usually don't name them, but for festivals, I like to be a little creative. Here's a few recent batches:
- Reece's Cup Revenge (Peanut Butter Chocolate Porter)
- Spicy Christmas (Winter Spice Ale)
- Leprechaun's Lunch (Dry Irish Stout)
- Karolina Kolsch (Kolsch)
Any bad batches? Were you smited by the homebrewing gods?
I've had some that I didn't particularly like, but I haven't dumped one yet. I didn't have a batch get infected until a recent lactobacillus infection. Instead of dumping it, I added some Brettanomyces and let it continue to ferment for another 5-6 months, and then took it to a beer festival as a sour. I wasn't crazy about it, but some people found it quite enjoyable. I guess you just get lucky sometimes!
Brewing plans for next year?
Over the next year, there are a few projects that I will probably tackle:
- Currently gathering parts to set up my keezer as a "kegbot" (http://kegbot.org) to measure and display the temperature, how much beer is in each keg, and a user interface that lets me know who's been drinking which beers, and how long they lasted, etc.
- I would like to build a larger fermentation chamber once I have a house with a garage, so that I can ferment more than 10g at a time in a better temperature-controlled environment.
- Eventually, and maybe not over the next year, but at some point, I want to build a cold room. That way I can keep kegs and bottles in there cold, so that I don't have to try to cram it all into the small keezer that I have. This may just be big dreaming, but I think it would be sweet!
Plans on entering any competitions?
I am helping promote the first ever beer competition at the NC State Fair, so I will definitely be sending a few entries to that. I also entered my English Brown Ale into Mystery Brewing Co.'s style competition and placed 3rd. Other than that, I may send some beer to the Piedmont Brewer's Cup, and I always enjoy the Shamrock Open that the CARBOY club does in Raleigh. I don't enter a ton of competitions, but I do like to send over beer to a few each year.
Any awards from past competitions?
My English Brown Ale has taken a ribbon at the Shamrock Open, and I finished 3rd at last year's Homebrew For Hunger event in Chapel Hill, which was a "people's choice" type event where everyone at the festival got to vote.
Are you a beer judge?
I am not yet BJCP certified. I have judged at competitions before though, so I do have some experience. I am also studying for the Certified Cicerone exam, to become one of only a handful of certified Cicerones in North Carolina.
Any advice you'd like to give other homebrewers?
Relax and have fun. If you're having fun, you will make good beer. Also, read some of the classic brewing books by folks such as Jamil Z, Palmer, Michael Jackson, Randy Moeser. There is SO much great reading material that will teach you a ton about not only how to brew the beer, but also about the history of the styles and why we brew the way we do.
Anything you'd like to broadcast to the beer universe?
I'm going to steal the opportunity to put in a shameless plug for my blog:
I am the founder of NChomebrewing.com, which is a blog that brings together area homebrewers and local professionals. We hope to provide a lot of great info on home brewing as well as information specific to the state of North Carolina. We feature lots of other home brewers and try to use the collective knowledge of the talented brewers in NC to provide a collective resource with lots of interesting, and hopefully accurate info!
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 would sit down with former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. Being a Tar Heel all my life, he is a very inspirational person. I would offer him anything that I had on tap (that I brewed), based on his preferences. And I would ask him what it's like to win a national championship and be the all-time most winning coach at the time of his retirement.
If you were omnipotent, what would you do to right the beer universe?
I think that the beer universe is doing just fine. A lot of people would probably say to give craft beer a larger market share to push out the big A/B, Miller-Coors beers, but to me, what makes craft beer craft beer is that it is small. It's an uphill fight against the big brewing giants. What makes it special is that it's small. Craft brewing is done by normal people on small brewing systems (and done by a lot of homebrewers as well). So I don't think I would change everything.
....actually....maybe I would increase the rate of enzymatic conversion in the mash, so that the mash would only take 5 minutes instead of an hour. Oh, and make all of my equipment automatically clean itself. Yeah, that would make the beer universe better...
*** Personal ***
Favorite commercial beer?
Man, that is hard to say because I drink to the seasons a lot. Honestly though, I love all of the hoppy pale ales from Sierra Nevada - they're classic Pale Ale, the Torpedo double-IPA, and the Celebration Ale.
Favorite beer and food pairing?
Imperial Stout with a decadent chocolate desert. Oh yeah. Or imperial stout with a strong hard aged cheese.
When I'm not homebrewing in the kitchen, I make/cook a mean....?
Grilled cheese. Let's be real, I married a great woman who knows how to cook. I have become excellent at washing dishes.
I got married last August, so we're right at our one-year anniversary now. No kids on the horizon just yet. Working on getting a house and a dog first!
If married, what do your wife and kids think about your hobby?
Luckily, my wife also loves beer and loves trying new things, so she helps me polish off the kegs. I'm sure she would prefer that it took up a little less space in the house, but we're both looking forward to moving soon to a place with a garage so she can have the spare bedroom and porch back!
As any homebrewer will tell you, I would love to run my own brewery someday. I got involved with Fortnight Brewing Co, but it just wasn't the right opportunity. Maybe something else will come along, or maybe not. I think that your life isn't defined by your job, but rather, what you do outside of your job, which is why I am very happy - I have time to do the things I love, like brewing beer!
Any closing thoughts?Home brewing is the most enjoyable and addicting hobby I have ever undertaken. I continue to learn every time I brew a batch or talk to other homebrewers. I have never done this much science, nor have I ever enjoyed science this much. If you like good beer, like to take on interesting challenges and want to start a continual learning process, I highly encourage you to take up home brewing. If you're in NC, shoot me an email and I would love to have you over to brew with me sometime to get started!