The craft of beer making: Head brewer versus home brewer

It’s not every day that you get to compare the notes of a head brewer and a home brewer.

NewsWorks asked Paul Rutherford, head brewer at Iron Hill in Chestnut Hill, and Scott Wikander, home brewer and owner of Malt House, Ltd., a brewing supply store in Mt. Airy, about the craft of beer making.

Ramping up creativity

We’ve all seen our local watering holes change the taps before, but within the last several years, those drafts have become increasingly over-the-top and buzz-worthy.

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Just consider Iron Hill’s “Pineapple Express,” a popular pineapple-flavored beer on tap at the brewery.

“Science is a part of the job,” explained Rutherford. “When we put a recipe together, we need to do research, especially with a novel ingredient like a pineapple.”

Wikander explains that time is what makes craft beers stand out against the Miller Lite’s of the beer world.

“The root of it is a commitment to quality, rather than mass-produced things,” said Wikander. “It’s taking the time to do it right.”

His interest in home brewing began at the age of 32 after learning from a friend.

“I was surprised when I learned how to home brew,” said Wikander, “I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”

Rutherford says he gained interest in home brewing at the age of 19. “That was a hobby for me then,” he admitted, “now, it’s a career.”

While working in the restaurant business in California, he decided he wanted to enroll at the Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy in Chicago. He graduated with a World Brewing Diploma and even spent a month studying in Munich at a pilot brewery.

“It’s like any other trade,” explained Rutherford. “The industry is growing. Now, it’s a viable career path.”

Hollywood names for hometown beers

Naming beer is essential to the craft. Wikander says one of his favorites is “Saison II: Tokyo Drift,” a spin on the movie of a similar name.

“Most home brewers come up with crazy names,” said Wikander, who currently has a “Maison Saison” on tap, meaning “house malt,” and an “East Coast Pale Ale.”

With names like “Cowabunga Porter,” “Chestnut Hill Cream Ale” and “Kryptonite Imperial IPA,” Iron Hill always has an array of unique beer names.

Breaking down the brewing process

During the NewsWorks visit, Wikander made a British Mild Ale that was brewed with pale and crystal malts, British hops called “Fuggles” and British ale yeast.

Rutherford brewed a Biere de Garde, a French farmhouse style ale that translates as “beer for keeping.” It was brewed with pilsner, aromatic and Munich malts, a lager yeast and cracked black pepper.

Wikander utilized a pot on his stovetop, while Rutherford used a mash tun, a brewing vessel that can hold up to 800 pounds.

Both brewers boiled water, with Wikander boiling 5 gallons and Rutherford boiling 2.5 barrels (about 82 gallons).

The processes were similar, including the hop addition. Both brewers explained that there are three fundamental hop additions that a brewer can add to their beer. The first addition adds bitterness, the second adds flavor and the third adds aroma.

While there were differences in the scale of the equipment being used, one stand-out item that the brewery did not have on hand was a “hop sock.” The sock or netted bag can hold a hop addition that is sunk into the brew.

“[It] is purely a home brewer item,” said Wikander. “It’s meant for small amounts of hops, commercial brewers use much larger quantities.”

Hazards of the trade

Both processes include a hazardous element because of Carbon dioxide (CO2) build up. The fermentation process itself converts sugars into alcohol and Carbon dioxide.

Rutherford says Carbon dioxide can cause a pressure build up that could essentially cause a small explosion.

“That’s why we have a blow-off tube that vents the CO2,” said Rutherford.

He surmised that home brewers could also have issues in a glass carboy. “They’d have a glass mess on their hands,” said Rutherford.

In a glass carboy that contains Wikander’s brew, an airlock releases Carbon dioxide and allows gas to escape the container, preventing a small eruption.

“For a home brewer, the stopper or lid would give-way before a fermentor actually exploded,” explained Wikander.

Losing money from botched batches

Wikander says if a batch of beer is bad or undrinkable, he loses about $40. “It depends on the ingredients,” he explained.

Rutherford agrees that ingredients are what determines the cost of a batch and says the brewery can lose thousands of dollars. “It depends on what the raw material costs.”.

Both brewers agreed that sanitation is a key part of making a good beer. Wikander even cleans the bottles and caps that he stores his beer in and Rutherford personally checks and shines the glassware at Iron Hill.

“Bad batches for home brewers are usually the result of improper sanitation that result in foreign or wild yeast entering the beer and adding off-flavors,” said Wikander.

“Eighty percent of the job is cleaning. It’s not that glamorous,” said Rutherford, “but mostly, it’s the best job in the world.”

Tuning in to the right timing

Both brewers watch a clock when brewing, with Rutherford using his cell phone and Wikander a wall clock. “Everything is time sensitive,” said Rutherford.

With 16 beers on tap at Iron Hill, Rutherford says a major part of his job is scheduling. He has six 10 barrel tanks and one 20 barrel tank filled with fresh beer ready-to-go at any one time. He described it as “a juggling act.”

“It’s better to have a second person to help on this level,” said Rutherford, who works alongside Derek Testerman, assistant brewer at Iron Hill, “usually we’re overlapping a lot of projects at once.”

Because he has a kegerator, a refrigerated container that dispenses beer, Wikander can keep four beers on tap at the same time. He typically has three to four batches ready to drink with “a few fermenting.”

A sense of camaraderie

Both brewers agree that brewing is something that has its own culture and community. They love that they’re able to share their craft with friends, family and beer lovers alike.

Wikander says he gives his beer as gifts. “I bring it to parties,” said Wikander.

Rutherford says he enjoys participating in the beer culture. “We plan events and have beer release parties,” he said, “we really try to keep people talking.”

In July, Iron Hill held a Wrestlemania-inspired event featuring two beers, “Ultimate Warrior IPA” and “Belgian Full Nelson.” They invited patrons to order one or the other until one was tapped out, making that beer the winner.

Much of the beer community starts at local home brew clubs like M*A*S*H (Mt. Airy Society of Homebrewers), the G.L.U.B. (General Lafayette Underground Brewers) Club in Chestnut Hill and the YTM (You The Man) Homebrew Club in Manayunk.

Whether they’re producing a few gallons or multiple barrels, both brewers agree that it’s creativity and community that keeps them loving the craft of beer making.

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