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Gavin's Underground

Home Brewing

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-09-02 -

The local breweries do a fine job creating and pouring out different flavors, but for some the art of brewing and creating their own tastes has an appeal that no business can reproduce.

In fact there's always been a strong audience of people who have taken to fermenting and distilling their own brand of wines and brews clear back from the days of prohibition, and the trend has picked up steam over the past couple of years from those who are tired of paying for drinks that just don't agree with them. I recently got the opportunity to chat with Riordan Connelly, a home brewer himself, about the process itself and thoughts on local brewing, along with a brief tour of his job over at The Beer Nut on State Street.

Riordan Connelly


Gavin: Hey Rio! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Riordan: I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, I love it here.

Gavin: What first got you interested in beers and brewing?

Riordan: I have an older brother that went to college in wine country. He tried his hand at making a couple of batches of wine up there. I happened to go to school in what I would call "beer country," the Pacific Northwest, and it struck me that I could do the same. I was really inspired by the rapid development of the craft beer scene in the region. Seeing all the styles and tasting them made me think it was worth a shot to try brewing.

Gavin: How did you go about getting the equipment you needed?

Riordan: My father had sponsored my older brother in his wine-making endeavors, so I asked if he might sponsor me in beer. My brother became re-interested too, so we all went down to the Beer Nut together and they hooked us up with what we needed to get started, and our first ingredient kits.

Gavin: Was there a specific way you set it up or did it just end up taking over the kitchen?

Riordan: The first ten batches were at our parents' house over a Summer when I was living there. My mom hated the smell of the cooking wort, but I loved it. We did take over the kitchen, but tried to always clean up after ourselves.

Gavin: What's the process like for you choosing ingredients and mixing formulas?

Riordan: Now it's very different than it was back then. We started out buying the Beer Nut's recipe kit, which gave us a good start, but then moved pretty quick into our own styles, but we didn't know what we were doing. Having worked with the ingredients for a few years and having gotten to know them, it's much easier to put together a recipe in my head now. I still like to look up recipes from other famous brewers, and I use a little more help from computers these days too.

Gavin: Is there a lot of experimentation or do you have to keep things pretty strict to get it right?

Riordan: The process has to be pretty strict, but there is a ton of experimentation all the time, mostly with recipe. Beer is a spectrum, a broad range that it is possible to manipulate when making a beer. While categories exist, they're there almost as much to provide something to work away from.

Gavin: What's the average time for you from start to finish to create a beer?

Riordan: About a month, depending on style. Lagers probably take two months or more.

Gavin: Would you say its easy for someone to start doing or is it something you'd need to look into first?

Riordan: It always helps to a little research, but yeah, it's easy. You can come down to the Beer Nut, buy some equipment and a recipe, and be brewing an hour later. And more to the point, you can actually turn out good beer by then!

Gavin: For someone who does want to do it, what do you suggest they do?

Riordan: We have quite a few starter options for somebody interested in fermentation as a hobby, it does take a little investment, but the hobby is worth it.

Gavin: Would you say it's better for people to buy a kit or create their own?

Riordan: It's better to start with other people's recipes, then move into your own after becoming more familiar with the process and ingredients. Equipment is about the same–once you get a feel for what you need, you can put together what you want, but it's a good idea to trust someone who knows what they're doing right at first.

Gavin: I understand you've entered and placed in brewing competitions. What's it like for you taking part in those?

Riordan: Well, this summer's competition was the first ever in Utah, and working at the Beer Nut, I did a lot of work to help with it. It was really great to be able to enter the competition, and see how it worked from the inside. It was also my first competition, and the feeling of medaling the first time we tried is really good. It's excellent positive reinforcement for all the work we've been putting into this.

Gavin: A little local, what's your take on Utah breweries and the impact they have on the state?

Riordan: Their impact is huge. Beer in this state has always fought an uphill battle. I think because of that, it's made the industry stronger in the long run. The craft beer scene here would be nowhere without Squatters, Uintah, and all the others.

Gavin: Are there any particular brews out right now you enjoy?

Riordan: Squatters released Hop Rising, a 9% ABV Double IPA this month. It's amazing, and it Utah's first ever double IPA.

Gavin: What's your opinion on the recent liquor law changes and how they've affected bars and clubs?

Riordan: Most of the regulations are pretty stupid, even after the changes. Trying to modify a broken system only ends up making it more broken. But there are a few changes I'm very grateful for. Last summer, a law changed that allowed the breweries to bottle and sell high point beer on premises, without the DABC as a middleman. This has really opened up the scene, made it more lucrative to produce high point than it was before. In the last year we've seen the release or re-release of at least seven new beers, and I expect to see a lot more in the coming year. As for bars and clubs, why does the computer need to store my information after my ID is scanned, seems pretty 1984 to me. Oh, and why can't we have high-point beer on draft, instead of just in bottles? The real problem around here is the DABC, get rid of them, and all the problems go with them.

Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Riordan: I'll mostly just be continuing to brew, I try to do at least two beers a week. I'm hoping to this as a career, to brew professionally, so I'll just be working toward that goal.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Riordan: Drink local beer! For the economy, for the environment, for the promotion of craft and artisan products. The beer scene here is just starting to explode, and it needs more support. Go to your local DABC "beer-prison" and if you don't see your favorite local brew, ask for it!

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 2,2009 at 11:32

I can't believe his mom doesn't like the smell of wort boiling away - it's like puppy breath and baking bread with a little aromatic herbage thrown in.

I wouldn't equate drinking local beer to being environmentally friendly considering the amount of energy and water that goes into making the stuff. Of course, Uinta, RedRock and Squatters all buy wind energy and Uinta and Squatters have gone to great lenghts to make their brew-houses green, so that's a major plus.

Most of our local beer isn't exactly great and not because our brewers aren't good at what they do - it is because of the lower alcohol content. Lots of brewers here will tell you that one or two percentage points make little to no difference, but it does. When you cut back on the grain bill in order to come in at 4%ABV or below, you cut back on body and flavor, making the beer feel and taste watery. That logic doesn't apply to all styles; some are supposed to be brewed weak. One thing to consider, though, is that our brewers are likely better at what they do than brewers in other states because ours have had to learn more to compensate; brewers in other states can hide flaws in their brew with alcohol while ours have to avoid creating flaws in the first place.

The law allowing homebrewers to brew legally made no difference to homebrewers - we brewed anyway and always will, with or without the states permission.

 

 
 
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