As a home brewer who once brewed beer in my own home without, miraculously, blowing the place up, I have great admiration for practitioners of the craft of creating craft products that go down smoothly without coming back up the same way.
That’s why I recently quenched my thirst for knowledge by taking a brewing tutorial with Paul Komsic, brewmaster at BrickHouse Brewery and Restaurant in Patchogue, N.Y.
Paul, 32, started at BrickHouse as a customer and now, seven years later, is brewing the popular establishment’s many fine products, including the one we would be making, a nacho IPA that Paul planned to call Nacho Mama.
This gave me hope, as a BrickHouse customer myself, that I would eventually become the brewmaster, though it might take me twice as long because I am twice as old as Paul.
“How was the beer you brewed at home?” Paul asked.
“Surprisingly good,” I told him. “I called it Jerry’s Nasty Ale. I don’t know why, but it had a smoky taste. My wife and some neighbors tried it, and nobody had to be hospitalized.”
“That’s always a good sign,” Paul commented.
“After that, I retired from brewing,” I said. “But I’m coming out of retirement today.”
Joining me in this class, which I hoped to graduate magna cum lager, were three guys who are home brewers and have no intention of retiring: Chris Cordano, 57, a tennis instructor, and the Homeyer brothers, Gregg, 59, an engineer, and Glenn, 52, an electrician.
Offering his able assistance was assistant brewer Brian Smith, 23, who, Paul said, “is me when I was that age.”
“Who were you?” I wondered.
“I was still me,” Paul answered, “but I wasn’t making beer. I was drinking it. Now I do both.”
The first thing we learned in the class, which started at 8 a.m., was that beer makes a fine breakfast treat. BrickHouse had kindly supplied bagels and coffee, but we got to sample small amounts of the brewery’s latest products as the tutorial went along.
The first order of business was learning the steps involved in making beer. Actually, there were three steps that led up to a platform, on either side of which was a mash tun and a kettle. Both are huge. The mash tun, for example, holds 1,100 pounds of grain.
I got to find out first hand, assisted by my second hand, when Paul asked me to dump in some of the 30 pounds of raw tortilla chips that were our brew’s key ingredient. Chris, Gregg and Glenn each got a turn as well.
Also important were Saaz hop pellets, which Paul said would, if you ate one, “set your mouth on fire.”
So I ate one. It set my mouth on fire. Fortunately, I had a glass of beer, which quickly doused the flames.
In went the rest of the pellets, along with other ingredients such as yeast, which Paul said eats the sugar that has been converted from grain to create alcohol.
Along the way, we learned that brewing goes back to the Middle Ages, when the process involved running beer through fish bladders.
“Now I know where the expression ‘drink like a fish’ comes from,” I said. “And we’re in our middle ages, so we’re carrying on a great tradition.”
We also got to glimpse the inside of the mash tun as Paul was cleaning out the grains that would be sent to feed cows at a nearby farm as part of the “Brew to Moo” program.
“Does the milk come out with a head on it?” I wondered.
“No, you can’t get beer from a cow,” Paul said as he removed the screen at the base of the tun, which is, on a much smaller scale, what my classmates do when they make beer at home.
“I have a false bottom,” Gregg said.
“How do you sit down?” I asked him.
The tutorial, which was fascinating and lots of fun, took about four hours, after which Gregg, Glenn, Chris and I had lunch: delicious burgers and, of course, beer, though not the nacho IPA, which wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks.
“I can’t wait to taste it,” I told Paul. “And when you retire, let me know. If BrickHouse needs another brewmaster, I’ll be available.”
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