When we started this blog we talked about highlighting local homebrewers in the hope of encouraging people to get into the hobby. Four years later, I realize we haven’t done one since we started the Muskrat Mashers, which is shameful. We now know more homebrewers than ever before. So, I am bringing the feature back in a plan to highlight some of our Mashers.
Fred's Brew House
Sarah and I have met some great people through the Muskrat Mashers, many of whom have become friends. It has also been a true learning experience for me. It has pushed me to try to be a better brewer in two ways. One is by being encouraged by fellow brewers and the other is by increasing my enthusiasm by learning new tricks. This post features homebrewer Fred Rouse. I have learned so much from him already. He loves brewing right down to the minutiae, perfecting even the smallest detail that will affect the flavor of his beer and is always looking to make his beer better. Fred is the rare person who knows a lot but is not a know-it-all. I try to prepare my brain to be absorbent when he is around.
I went on long enough it is time to let Fred speak…
How long have you been brewing? 16 yrs.
How much has homebrewing changed in the last 16 years? Everything you needed to homebrew was available. You just had to search a little bit to find it. Now we have quite a few places within a short drive to get anything and the info you can get from local homebrew stores is excellent now. The shop owners and employees are more knowledgeable today. I would say the biggest change I’ve noticed is the equipment that’s available. Just about anything a pro brewery uses we can get but on a smaller scale. But one thing that has stayed the same. Most of the homebrewers I meet build their own systems as much as they can and buy just what they have to. I think we like to be engineers as much as brewers.
Why did you start brewing? I’ve always had an interest in doing everything from scratch, from raising a garden and putting food up, raising chickens for eggs and meat and anything that took me back to the old way of doing things. I definitely didn’t start brewing because I liked craft beer, I was a die hard Stroh’s fan! The first time I walked into the local homebrew store, I told them I wanted to make beer and that I needed some barley and hops. They told me I wasn’t ready to make beer this way and needed to start with an extract kit. I left the store without anything, but I still wanted to make beer. Well, at Christmas my wife got me an extract kit and a book, “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.” I made the beer and read the book. The beer was the best beer I had ever tasted at that time. I was hooked. It wasn’t long after I started brewing that I was at Frankenmuth and a tornado had come through and destroyed the brewery. They were selling 1/2 barrel kegs for 5 bucks. I loaded my Ford Aspire with as many as I could fit. I had the material for my all grain brewery! Over time I upgraded to a 20 gallon system, temp. controlled conical, completely updated 100 yr. old grainery building with restaurant sinks, shelves, prep tables and all the toys. My wife had no idea what she was starting. Good thing she likes beer.
You brewed professionally. What is your experience? I was an assistant brewer at Grizzly Peak for just over a year and a brewer at Blue Tractor for about 3 months.
How did brewing professionally change your homebrewing? It opened my eyes to open fermentation and repitching yeast. After seeing beers fermenting like this I bought a food grade 32 gallon Rubbermaid container with a loose fitting lid and ferment beers in this as long as the temp. in the shed doesn’t climb above 60 degrees. I always repitch yeast from batch to batch as long as the previous batch tastes good.
Favorite batch? I have 2 favorites. There used to be a homebrew competition at Rochester Mills Brewing Co. that was pretty big and my pale ale took best of show and ended up winning the ultimate award, a two tap fridge with 5 gallons of Final Absolution from Dragonmead. This was the last year they did the competition. I guess this makes me the reigning champion. The other favorite batch was my first brew at Grizzly Peak. I started with a smack pack of yeast from wyeast and brewed 20 gallons, I harvested the yeast and pitched it into a 7 bbl. batch of pils and then into my 7bbl. batch of maibock. This yeast has fermented 31 – 7bbl. batches!
Suggestions to others considering brewing? Do it! The best hobby ever! If we could have taken this as a science class in high school we would have all excelled! The best advice I could give is to pay attention to cleanliness (lots of PBW and Starsan). Join a homebrew club and enjoy the ride. Even the mistakes usually turn out good.
We went out to Fred’s place to sample some of Fred’s beers and to get some pictures of his brewing house. All were excellent, of course, but my personal favorite was his pilsner. It is such a rare treat to be able to drink a flawless classic pilsner that when I get one I really enjoy it. It is a difficult beer to brew but he hits it out of the park.
Hombrewing is as complicated as you want it to be. You can make good drinkable beers with a small investment in equipment or you can do what Fred has done and make great beers. Homebrewing is a rewarding hobby so in Fred’s words, Do it!