Most students, after spending time abroad, return home with interesting stories, a depleted checking account, and a new view of the world. Stuart Hamilton, a 21-year-old Seaver student, returned with something slightly different: a passion for brewing beer.
A fluent German speaker, Hamilton was inspired to begin brewing after an exchange trip to Germany.
“I took a couple of brewery tours in Nuremberg. I thought the tours were really interesting because what the tour guides were telling me made everything seem really simple,” Hamilton said.
After returning, he began reading through Internet forums on the topic. Through reading, he found out that he didn’t need a big brewery to produce a quality brew. He also studied the book “How to Brew” by John Palmer, which provided him with a thorough platform from which to launch himself into the world of home brewing. In fact, 14 batches and 70 gallons of beer later, he still consults the book before every batch.
While Hamilton’s experience is still limited, he is proud of his successes so far. “Going to a beer tasting at BevMo and knowing that what I brewed was better than half the stuff I tasted gives me a sense of pride that I am capable of doing it.”
However, the learning process has not been without its hiccups. After a successful first brew, he encountered a brewer’s worst nightmare: “The second batch I did was a Hefeweizen, a wheat beer, and, interestingly enough, that second batch turned out awful. We had to de-cap every single bottle and pour them out, all 50 bottles, the whole batch.”
The wide variety of beers available on the market, from very strong 12 percent ABV barleywine to 3.3 percent ABV Heineken Light, reflect the great variations that can be made through different brewing processes.
“For my recipes, I take beer I have had before, beer I’ve enjoyed and make it a little better,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to take an amber ale like Fat Tire, but I wanted more body, more flavor. So, I added more grains, and the more grains you add, the more flavor you get.
“I really liked Fat Tire’s hops, but Fat Tire doesn’t give you the recipe.” After exploring the brew shop for hop flavors and grains that would match what he was looking for in his beer, the recipe was complete.
Hamilton’s latest beer, which finished the fermentation process on Thursday, Feb. 17, was the result of this recipe development process. Before brewing, Hamilton makes a trip to the brew shop to gather the variety of grains, hops and yeast that will be used to make the beer. While at the brew shop, he selects different grains that will each give a slightly differing quality to the beer, affecting taste, body, and mouthfeel. Then, hops are selected, which affect the aroma, flavor and make the beer more bitter.
Upon returning to his Calabasas apartment, he begins the brewing process. Over the course of four to five hours, a liquid called wort is created by adding water to the grains at precise temperatures at which certain flavors are derived. Then the solution is boiled with different varieties of hops, each hop boiled for a different length of time, giving the solution flavor or imparting bitterness.
After this lengthy process, yeast is added and the wort is left to sit for weeks or months to ferment.
After the process is complete, Hamilton gathers with a group of friends to taste and celebrate. “It’s like when artists create different pieces of work, they have a showing and each piece is different, but each piece they make, they’re proud of. It’s the same thing with beer but the satisfaction comes from if others like it. I can create different things and have the same end result. It’s satisfying.”
While many people may be interested in home brewing themselves, many lack the patience to improve their craft. “The first couple beers may not be the best, but they’re still enjoyable as something you made. Don’t give up,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s latest creation, his Fat Tire-inspired amber ale, is named “Ode to Malt,” referencing the depth of flavor that can be reached with the right combination of ingredients. He has another batch brewing currently, a Munich Dunkelweizen, which he expects to be finished shortly after spring break.