Sixteen years ago, craft brewing was more like a tentative teenager than the confident adult we’ve become accustomed to seeing. In that same period of time, Rodney Kibzey’s skills as a home cook have developed as well. He went from experimenting with his very first batches on the burner to becoming a decorated homebrewer, nabbing medals in all 50 states, Canada and England. Rodney can also boast two-time wins at both the Samuel Adams LongShot contest and the Widmer Collaborator competition. This year he will add “speaker at the American Homebrewers Association Homebrew Con” to his resume.
For a man who wasn’t that invested in the craft brewing scene 16 years ago, Rodney’s come a long way. At the time he was living in Chicago with a girlfriend who was into beer. A trip to a handful of Wisconsin breweries got him hooked — he said he noticed the smell of brewing and likened it to euphoria.
That euphoria became amazement when his girlfriend informed him he could brew at home. A birthday gift of a homebrew kit led Rodney to seek out more information. After a couple of early batches, he attended an all-grain brewing session at a local supply shop. Shortly thereafter he went to his first homebrew club meeting and learned about competitions. There was no wading in for Rodney; he was diving head first into the homebrewing waters.
Rodney ramped up his brewing to keep those kegs filled and made the decision to complete the Beer Judge Certification Program, something many longtime homebrewers haven’t accomplished. When asked why, Rodney said, “I’ve always been fascinated by learning and being around knowledgeable people.” His girlfriend became his study partner and both ended up passing the exam. With certification obtained, Rodney became more confident in his brewing and slowly began adding equipment to his original kit.
He’s now developed a pattern of annual production making 5-gallon batches (because he likes variety) in his original 8-gallon kettle. Brewing tends to take place in the winter when the weather pushes him indoors, and in the course of six active weeks he’s able to make enough beer to keep him supplied most of the year.
His Pre-Prohibition/American Pilsner will be poured at Homebrew Con, which takes place in Portland this year, during his seminar entitled “Flavor Profiles and Recipe Formulation.” Making that beer for the first time was a huge learning experience that involved cooked rice and cornmeal. He’ll incorporate that into the discussion to give attendees a better understanding of how choices made when building a recipe — like using rice and cornmeal found at any supermarket rather than flaked product from a supply shop — affect the end product.
He’ll also be covering choices about some innovative ingredients like cryo hops. They generally cost twice as much as standard pellets but have benefits. Not only does a brewer need to use about half the amount of cryo hops; they also have a longer shelf life and with the reduced volume of hops there is less loss of beer volume due to absorption by the hops.
When asked about preparation for his first Homebrew Con speaking appearance Rodney said, “It’s intimidating even when you’re knowledgeable, the [actual] getting up to do it.” Even so, it’s an opportunity he embraced when the American Homebrewers Association put out the call to regional clubs for speakers. Having given a similar talk at the Pacific Northwest Homebrewers Conference three years ago, he had a base to build on, incorporating more he’s learned since then.
Rodney joins a lineup of speakers that includes homebrewers and professionals alike. This will be the 40th anniversary of Homebrew Con, which features more than 60 educational sessions June 28-30 at the Oregon Convention Center. There will also be an Expo with just about anything a homebrewer could want and a Social Club with kegs of homebrew from clubs across Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada.
“It is the best opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge and learn from other brewers across the country and the world,” said Rodney. “For Oregon brewers it’s taking place in your own backyard, so it’s easy to attend and not very expensive.” •