By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes newlyweds return from their honeymoon and immediately prepare a room for a baby. But for Kiley and Michael Gwynn of Eugene, they returned from their 2008 honeymoon/first anniversary trip to Hawaii with a passion for a new hobby: homebrewing.
“We fell in love with Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut PorTeR, and that started us because it wasn’t available in Oregon,” says Michael. What began as a way to keep a beloved beer in the pantry, though, became an extension of something else. “It’s one more way for us to be connected,” he explains. “There are very few things we do separately. This is one more way to collaborate with each other. Like with any couple, you have so much going on, you don’t always see each other during the day, so this builds that connection even more.”
The couple focuses their time on work, craft beer, homebrew, “beercations,” and their dog, a red heeler named Penny. Today that Maui porter is a regular homebrew for the Gwynns, but their hobby has grown far beyond one clone. They started basic, but a “good tax refund” coincided with information that someone in Salem was getting out of brewing. The Gwynns bought his 10-gallon, single-tier, all-grain setup (though they now use a 26-gallon brew pot to accommodate larger batches). Their garage houses four 60-gallon wine barrels and a full-sized bourbon barrel. They maintain one bottling line for standard yeasts and a second for beers made with wild microbes. Members since 2009 of Eugene-area homebrew club the Cascade Brewers Society, in 2015 Michael, a learning specialist at University of Oregon’s University Teaching and Learning Center, became club president. (The Gwynns also keep the club’s Flanders barrel, and various other member barrels, in the garage.) A social media strategist at Oregon Community Credit Union, Kiley has promoted Eugene Beer Week and runs the Eugene chapter of women’s craft beer group Barley’s Angels.
“We brew things that aren’t as easy to get locally,” says Kiley. “The last year we’ve done a lot of Belgians, saisons, more beers for their sour character. This year we’re doing lots of British beers — ESBs, milds, real ales on a homebrew scale. It’s not something we’ve done before.”
Every year Michael and Kiley brew a different beer for holiday gifts. For 2015 they brewed a Belgian breakfast stout, modeled after Founders Breakfast Stout from Michigan. The Gwynns developed a variant they called Vanilla Latte, brewed with coffee beans and vanilla beans. Kiley designed labels and Michael worked with a mobile canner out of Salem for canning.
The couple met in 2001 while attending UO. “We met at a party, slowly got to know each other over the course of a year,” says Kiley. “It wasn’t an instant thing, but grew over time.” Six years after meeting, Kiley and Michael married in 2007.
A love of craft beer has been a constant. “Growing up in Oregon, you’re more steeped in craft beer than other places,” explains Kiley. “The cheapest thing I ever drank was Henry Weinhard’s.” When Kiley turned 21, her “first legal beer” was a growler of Bombay Bomber IPA from Steelhead. The next day Kiley went to High Street and brought home a Mason jar of Ruby. “My father was a Coors Light drinker,” Kiley recollects with a laugh, “and he just talked about how bitter it was.”
Michael came to craft beer in part through his love of cooking. “I’ve never been an exceptional cook, but I enjoy tinkering with food and flavors and have the do-it-yourself mentality,” he says. Already wading the shallow waters of the growing ocean of craft beer, a barrel-aged stout “blew me away with the flavors,” says Michael. “We had it with a meal where everything just worked together perfectly. I was heading for homebrewing, and that got me there.”
As with the rest of their relationship, both Gwynns cite collaboration as key to their homebrewing. Brews begin not over the kettle, but over discussion, says Kiley: “What do we feel like? What’s in season? What do we have? What could be different from what we have? We talk about recipe formulation together — hops and yeast.”
From there, the couple goes into a mode of division of labor. One gets a yeast starter going, one goes to the homebrew store. Brew day is on the weekend, after a full work week. “He does most of the work on brew day,” says Kiley. “He does the manual labor while I get other stuff done around the house or run errands. Some days we have a brew day together, but we are involved in so many other things related to beer, that we find those brewing hours work best with him brewing and me cleaning the house.”
For other homebrewing couples, both Kiley and Michael suggest collaboration as a top priority.
“Make sure you’re doing something that works for both people,” says Kiley. “If you only brew one batch at a time and you don’t have multiple years of beers to rely on, make sure you brew something you both can enjoy.”
Honest feedback is also key, says Michael, who considers his “nose and palate” to be less refined than his wife’s. “I’ve gone to Kiley multiple times with beer ideas,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s shot me down. And I don’t take it as a slap to the face. With our relationship, we are each other’s best friends and we can be blunt with each other.”
They also make time to talk back and forth, bouncing more ideas off each other until they have a concept and recipe. Then, once the beer is in a glass, they compare notes and discuss the final product: Did it work the way they both intended? What worked well? What can be improved next time?
“Everyone has something to bring and be part of the conversation,” says Michael. “Things will work out.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.