By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
There are all kinds of new fancy gadgets to make our lives easier these days. This phenomenon is also prevalent in the brewing industry, with homebrewers on the forefront of the innovation. One such advancement in the homebrew world is the use of electricity in brewing. We aren’t talking about using a pump or an extension cord. The technology of using electricity as your primary heat source has become affordable and relatively easy to implement. The future is here and it will shock you…
Bad puns aside, changing your homebrew system to all electric is not as difficult as you may think and can have some benefits. To start with, converting to electric means you can make beer indoors. Apart from needing a window open for the steam, you no longer have to shiver in a cold garage while brewing on a typical, drizzly Northwest winter’s day. Even if you decide to keep operating in your garage sanctuary, you don’t have to open the door, exposing your brew to the elements. With the ability to produce inside comes an even greater control over scaling. That also means going electric is handy if you live in a small apartment or lack access to an outdoor area. Additionally, you can build a system that doesn’t rely on your stove, eliminating excess heat and wasted energy. And if you get space to expand your brewery, you can always use your electric setup as a pilot system.
Unfortunately, as with everything in life there are some drawbacks. The first negative is that converting to electric can be expensive. If you’re just starting out, it’s relatively cheap. However, moving from gas to electric can get a bit pricey unless you can sell your old burners. Some existing equipment can be retrofitted with electrical components, though. Now that we’ve got price out of the way, the next issue to address is uneven heating. Be sure to warm your wort evenly to avoid over-caramelizing or even burning the liquid.
Of course, you need juice to brew. And while power outages are uncommon, it’s something to take into consideration. Perhaps you should postpone your brew day if a giant windstorm is in the forecast. Losing power halfway through the process could mean you end up ruining a potentially award-winning batch.
The most serious concern is electrocution. With gas brewing, there is always the risk of an explosion. But there’s a better chance an exposed wire and liquid could meet with an electric conversion. Check your system carefully before you begin and remember that at the end of the day, brewing was never meant to be easy or completely safe — otherwise everyone would do it. Minimize risk, press on and brew bravely.
Finding an Electric System
Rather than bombarding you with diagrams and multiple steps on how to build your own electric brewing system, I’ll steer you in the right direction. There are a handful of companies that pop up with a simple web search for “electric homebrewing” that will sell you fully operational systems. This can be beneficial if you’re just starting out or have some money to spare. However, if you want to DIY, instructions are also available online — everything from the most complicated, nearly pro-level build-out to something as simple as adding a single hot water heater element to a pot. Also be sure to check in with local homebrew clubs, shops and bloggers. All can serve as an ally in this new, electric world.
House Porter [AG]
House Porter [Extract]
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
One word can sometimes sum up the character of a city. While Flint, Mich. has a long and complex history, the story of that particular place can begin and end with “tenacity.” Turns out, it’s not just a fitting term for a city that’s struggled with unemployment, violence and now tainted water. The only craft brewery in town has adopted the name to not only describe Flint’s determination; but also the resolve it took to open the business. More than 2,000 miles away in Portland, tenacity is what it will take for one homebrewer to rally the city, the state and perhaps even the rest of the nation to do more than feel sorry for Flint’s latest crisis. He’s created a call to action for anyone who’s connected to the craft beer community: use your passion for this beverage to raise money for Flint.
Tenacity Brewing sits just several hundred feet from the source of the city’s contaminated drinking water. In a cost-saving move in 2014, Flint stopped buying water from Detroit’s system and tapped its eponymous river, which bends and curves through the heart of downtown right past Tenacity. Although the source was meant to be temporary, complaints about the taste and appearance of the water begin rolling in almost immediately. Then-Mayor Dayne Walling repeatedly brushed off safety concerns despite mounting evidence that the chemistry of the Flint River was causing pipe contaminants, including lead, to leach into the water supply. Children developed rashes from bathing in the water and test results showed higher levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to significant developmental delays.
Additionally, two outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease sickened at least 88 people, nine of whom died. There’s no proven link between the spate of illnesses and the river water because not a single government agency has tested Flint’s water for legionella. However, these bacteria thrive in water with iron that flakes off of old pipes. Conditions worsen when water temperatures increase during summer months. A Free Press analysis of data collected by the state also discovered that 62 of the 88 people with confirmed cases were exposed to Flint’s water. For two years, residents of the city grew sicker simply by completing life’s daily tasks: showering, brushing teeth and lifting a plain old glass of water to their lips. But a Flint General Motors plant managed to switch to a different water supply a mere six months after river water came online because it was corroding car parts.
As Flint suffered, Dylan VanDetta got mad. He learned about what had essentially become a public betrayal by tuning into MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” as he often does.
“And when I heard what was actually happening and the lack of motivation from the local politicians, I was outraged. Absolutely outraged. And I thought that this is something that we really need to do something about. And we can,” he explained. “And we have a large number of brewers and homebrewers and people that care that would be willing to help out.”
That’s the thing, though, about these large-scale crises — we want to help, but don’t know how. But instead of throwing his hands up and saying ‘Oh well,’ VanDetta, who is treasurer of the Oregon Brew Crew, resolved to reach out in the best way he knew how — by turning to the oldest and largest homebrew club in the state.
“It was unanimous. Nobody even questioned it. They’re like, ‘For sure. Let’s send some money. Let’s do something and help these people.’ I think that helped spur me along and everyone I’ve talked to has similar feelings about it, is they’re outraged,” VanDetta said.
And of all the emotions, anger is one of the most powerful motivators. The Oregon Brew Crew voted to approve a $500 donation, which is being used to recruit additional contributors and volunteers. The effort is still in its infancy, but during the next several months VanDetta is looking for individuals to give their time and ask breweries, as well as beer- and water-related businesses, to get involved. Any and all forms of support are welcome — cash, free kegs and donated space where VanDetta wants to help organize events that would be used as fundraisers. Art Larrance has already promised the use of the Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub patio in Southwest Portland. The Peninsula Odd Fellows has also pledged its location to the cause. Additionally, a GoFundMe page is now accepting gifts.
VanDetta and those assisting him at this point have already made connections with entities in Michigan, such as the Genesee Brewers Club (named after the county where Flint is located), to ensure the funds raised will eventually be directed by the people who need it. And he has a specific goal: $20,000.
“The reason I came up with that number is it costs — I read an article where it costs about $10,000 to replace the pipes in a single home. That would be about two homes,” he said, “or one home and $10,000 worth of fresh water that we can distribute to the neighborhood.”
He’s also exploring the possibility of distributing water in 5-gallon jugs or borrowed beer kegs, which would be a more sustainable option than the 12-ounce plastic bottles currently employed. The average family in Flint uses about 151 of those containers a day.
The number of requests for assistance these days can already feel overwhelming, particularly with the rise of crowdfunding sites that allow pretty much anyone to ask for help. What would prompt Oregonians, then, to pay special attention to a city more than halfway across the country? Well, if you’re talking to beer lovers, it all begins with the precious nature of water.
“The fact that we have such access, readily access to clean water, and beer is such — it’s such a big component of beer I thought that this would be a great opportunity for us to give back to the community as Oregon Brew Crew, as well as the brewing community across the country — not just Oregon,” VanDetta described. “The fact that we couldn’t make beer without water is disheartening — let alone, you know, drink or bathe in it or wash your clothes or anything like that in that stuff. So whatever we can do to help them is really what we’re trying to do.”
For VanDetta, the cause is also personal. Most people, particularly those fortunate enough to access water from the Bull Run Watershed, don’t think twice when they turn on the faucet. But VanDetta grew up in a poor town in northern New York where they tapped into city water of neighboring Poultney, Vt. The liquid used to be treated in a chlorinating plant until the source changed and the processing ended. Ultimately, VanDetta said officials had to drill a well for the family. While he was only about 6 or 7 years old when his water became unreliable, he never forgot it. The experience allows him to empathize with Flint’s population, but even he can’t imagine going without easy access to water at home for as long as they have.
“It’s something that you just don’t normally think about. And the hassle! Oh, I’ve got to brush my teeth, so I’m going to do down to the store and get water with money that I really have already spent on water. These folks are still paying their water bills for water they can’t drink, so it’s crazy,” VanDetta said. “Most of these folks are poor and they don’t have vehicles. They can’t drive, so they’re carrying the water or they’re not getting the water — they’re using water out of their taps and that’s even worse.”
Family brought VanDetta to the West Coast and the beer is what rooted him in community. He considers joining the Oregon Brew Crew the best $35 he’s ever spent. Membership provided artistic and creative balance to his life that’s occupied, in part, by a 20-year career in IT. While his first meeting in 2012 was intimidating since he says he “knew nothing” about beer other than the fact he loved it, he’s learned a lot from watching others and taking in their feedback on his own brews. He was also drawn to the open, supportive nature of brewers, which he believes will translate into backing for the Flint project.
“I consider it a blue-collar kind of business. They’re really in tune with the work that they do and their hands,” explained VanDetta. “And they make a product that people put in their bodies, and you really kind of have to be careful with that.”
If you’d like to volunteer or donate, email VanDetta at firstname.lastname@example.org. The fundraiser is starting on a modest scale, but plans are big.
“My dream is that it would be nationwide. We would have the brewing community — homebrewers, commercial brewers and water companies across the country helping with this effort. Because, you know, it takes a village to raise a child, right?”
And it’s now becoming abundantly clear that the children of Flint who’ve been affected by tainted water will need an army of support for decades to come.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you have ever attended a Portland-area beer festival or an Oregon Brew Crew meeting, you have probably seen Jenn McPoland and Jeremie Landers. The husband-and-wife team are very active in the local beer community, volunteering and helping coordinate and staff events throughout the year.
A third-generation Oregonian and second-generation Portlander, Jenn remembers walking from her Northwest Portland apartment to her job downtown with the smells from the Blitz-Weinhard Brewery -- which brewed its last beer in 1999 -- permeating the air. She drank Henry’s back then, but was introduced by a friend to big, hoppy beers in the early 2000s and now enjoys all styles of beer. Her love of beer became a hobby when she started homebrewing in 2004.
Jeremie, who has lived in Portland for half of his life, recalls that the first craft beer he ever drank was Widmer Hefeweizen at a bar in Sacramento, Calif. when he turned 21. He admits that he wasn’t a big beer drinker until he tried BridgePort IPA. The impression left by the complex hop flavors set him on a course, both for a lifelong love of IPAs and, eventually, a desire to try to recreate his favorite beers which culminated in his first attempts at homebrewing.
The natural next step in learning more about making beer was to join a homebrew club. Jenn started attending Oregon Brew Crew (OBC) meetings at F.H. Steinbart Co. in 2004. OBC is Oregon’s oldest homebrewing club, established in 1979. It was at an OBC meeting at Widmer Brewery in July 2006 that Jeremie first laid eyes on Jenn. She was serving on the board of directors and Jeremie was attending the meeting with the goal of joining the organization as a member.
Their first date was at Horse Brass over pints of Terminal Gravity IPA. In the subsequent months and years, they bonded over their mutual love of beer and became ever-more involved in homebrewing, with both holding various positions on the board of the OBC. It was only a matter of time before a wedding was in the pipeline.
With Rob Widmer’s blessing, they were married where they first met, at Widmer Brothers Brewing, in September 2010. The ceremony was officiated by their friend Lisa Morrison, aka the Beer Goddess, who was ordained as a Dudeist Priest for the event. Incidentally, Lisa was being filmed for the documentary "The Love of Beer," produced by Alison Grayson. As a result, their wedding appears in that film.
The reception, where many friends from the beer community gathered to toast the couple, featured free-flowing beer from 12 kegs. For their honeymoon, they traveled to Europe, specifically to well-known beer destinations: Brussels and Bruges, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany for the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest; and Bamberg, Germany. During the three-week trip, they had many romantic beer experiences including drinking Kwak and Tripel Karmeliet on draft on their first morning in Belgium. They also warmly recall dining at a rooftop restaurant in Prague, drinking good beer and eating great food while enjoying the 360-degree view of the city.
After settling back into married life in Portland, Jenn and Jeremie purchased a home in the Kenton neighborhood in 2013. They have converted the 350-square-foot detached garage into a private brewery and drinking den, named McPoLanders Taproom. They acquired a 6-foot-by-10-foot walk-in cooler from the Old Ivy Taproom in Vancouver, Wash. and also have a 42-cubic-foot bottle fridge stocked with an envy-inducing selection of craft beer from all over the world. On the night I visited, the impressive draft beer list was comprised of four McPoLanders homebrews, two collaboration beers, two locally-made commercial beers, and one homebrew made by their friend Lee Hedgmon.
Jeremie says his favorite style to brew is Cascadian Dark Ale. Jenn doesn’t have a favorite, but along with brewing traditional styles like stouts and IPAs, they also enjoy the challenge of experimenting with things like fruits and spices.
The couple also likes to enter homebrew competitions, where they find it helpful to get feedback from both professional beer judges and regular beer lovers alike. At the 2014 Fall Classic, the OBC's yearly American Homebrewers Association/Beer Judge Certification Program-sanctioned homebrew competition held after hop harvest, Jenn and Jeremie each took home two gold medals apiece, with Jenn taking the “Best of Show” out of hundreds of entries. She now holds the distinction of being the first solo female winner of that title at the Fall Classic. Earlier in the year, Jeremie entered the Clean Water Services Pure Water Brew Competition and took second place with a German pilsner. The beer was sent to New Orleans for the WateReuse Association's “One Water Innovations Gala,” where it received high praise for its quality and drinkability.
Over the years, Jenn and Jeremie have had the pleasure of teaming up with various brewmasters to brew their recipes professionally. In 2012, they brewed "North End Cascadian Dark Ale,” a Timbers Army Homebrew Competition “Best of Show” winner at the New Old Lompoc Fifth Quadrant. In 2013, they won the Widmer Collaborator Homebrew Competition with "Kenton IPA" which they then brewed in 2014 with Dan Munch on the Widmer Innovation Brew System for local release. Also in 2013, Jenn, with the Ladies of Lagers and Ales (LOLA), brewed a CDL at Base Camp. In 2014, they brewed their "StellaNova India Session Ale" with the legendary John Harris at Ecliptic Brewing for the Willamette Week’s Beer Pro / Am. Jenn also brewed another beer for the Pro / Am with LOLA and Tonya Cornett at 10 Barrel in Bend. They have already started off the new year with another collaboration. In January, they brewed a Russian Imperial Stout with Charlie Hutchins at Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland.
Another unique beer-related fact about this couple is that they have a yeast strain named after them. While on their honeymoon in Prague, they visited the famous U Fleků Brewery where they enjoyed a Bohemian Dunkel. They acquired samples of the yeast, which they brought back to Oregon and then gave some to Wyeast Laboratories, which made it into smack packs. OBC members conducted the “McPoLanders Czech Lager Yeast Experiment” by brewing a variety of beers using this yeast.
While Jenn and Jeremie truly enjoy all of their work and involvement in the Oregon beer community, they do not have any plans to open their own brewery. “We just wouldn’t be able to maintain the lifestyle we have now if we brewed commercially.” Both have full time jobs, neither of which is in the craft beer industry. They will continue to homebrew a few times each month as well as participate in club events and educational seminars helping new homebrewers.
As Lisa Morrison enthuses, “Jenn and Jeremie epitomize everything that's great about Oregon beer. It's safe to say that no other couple has devoted so much time and energy to promoting and celebrating our local beer community. From their wedding to their new in-home taproom, their passion for beer -- and more importantly for each other -- is evident every day. Cheers to the McPoLanders!”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.