Pursuits of Happiness: HomebrewingDecember 23, 2019
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories exploring people's pastimes and the joys the hobbies bring.
By JONATHAN SAXON
HOLLAND — Rob Meiring is his name, and homebrewing is his game.
But it wasn’t always like that. He dabbled in it as a kid, helping his neighbors cook up their own batches (he swears he never had any), and it taught him the basics of the homebrewing process.
“You ask questions as a kid because you’re curious,” Meiring said. “They did it using an old porcelain crock and a light underneath of it. They would cook it for a couple of days, then bottle it and let it sit for a month or so before it was ready to drink.”
Meiring’s itch came back when some friends of his started brewing, and he would head over to their homes to see how it’s done and sample the final product. Five years ago, he decided to apply what he had learned and see what kind of magic he could whip up himself.
He started with a 5-gallon pot, a heat source and the ingredients that came with whatever extract kit he was using. As he gained more brewing experience, he began adding different equipment and more raw ingredients so he could brew in a manner that was closer to how the professionals do it.
Today, he has a layout in his Holland basement that looks like a small laboratory, with all the tubes, instruments and mechanisms he uses. His preferred homebrew method is a three-vessel brewing system, which features a hot liquor tank, mash tun and boiling kettle.
The process starts with Meiring filling up his hot liquor tank with water while at the same time measuring the grains he’ll use for the batch. He dumps the grains into the mill for crushing before they go into the mash tun with the heated water from the hot liquor tank, which extracts sugar from the grains. Once that process runs its course, the concoction moves to the boil kettle where the hops are added for bittering, aroma and the like. The mixture is then cooled so yeast can be added before it’s sealed up for fermentation, which takes about two weeks. At that point the beer is either kegged or bottled, which adds anywhere between a week and a month’s time before it’s consumed.
Throughout the process Meiring takes the role of the doting scientist as he measures temperatures, sugar levels and alcohol ratios to ensure the brewing is happening according to plan.
“I didn’t realize I like chemistry so much before I started making beer,” he said.
He isn’t alone in his love for this particular type of chemistry. He’s part of the Dubois County Suds Club, a collection of beer enthusiasts who gather to fellowship in their shared love for the brew. Many of the members also homebrew, and they use meetings to share tips, swap recipes or work out issues that get in the way of making the best beer possible. However, it’s not required for individuals to be homebrewers to join; the club is open to anyone who considers themselves a brew connoisseur.
“We’re learning about beer, in general,” Meiring said. “It comes from way back, and it’s just evolved over time. We’re trying to do different things to get people interested and coming to talk about it. If you like beer, we’re interested in having you as a member.”
But beyond just a place to share his love of beer with like-minded individuals, Meiring also found solace in the Suds Club when he and his wife Jill experienced a house fire that gutted their home and killed their two dogs almost three years ago. Club members took up a collection to help with repairs, and offered other kinds of support as the Meirings worked to get back on their feet.
It’s cliche, but when it comes to beer, sharing is caring. And, as the Suds Club demonstrated to the Meiring family, that notion extends far past whatever swill its members cultivate in their hoppy lairs.
“The Suds Club was very supportive,” he said. “They helped out any way they could: giving us a little money, making us a meal or anything like that. That’s why I love being a part of it.”
On a personal note, sharing his passion for homebrewing motivates Meiring to keep the hoppy times in his basement going, and as long as people like it, he’ll keep on working in the lab to see what magic he can make with his grains and tanks.
“Having friends, family and club members taste it, and seeing that people really like it just makes me want to make more,” he said. “You do something well that other people can enjoy, [it] makes you want to keep doing it.”
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