Chad Gould slaps the plastic jar, urging the malt extract into the pot below. The hollow sound resonates, but the ebony-colored malt flows slowly, like molasses.
Gould, a USF graduate, has been steeping his brew for the past hour, and adding the malt creates a mixture called wort. After the addition of hops, nearly an hour of boiling and a month of fermentation, the wort will become what Gould calls “Sawgrass Swamp Pale Ale,” one of his most popular home brews.
Not that he sells it, of course. There are laws against such things. But Gould’s close friends and fellow members of the Dunedin Brewer’s Guild will be able to taste the full-bodied yet smooth beer free of charge.
Gould started home brewing last December after a friend found a kit to make some of the Tampa Bay Brewing Company beers. Gould says he has been a beer fan for years, and drinking was never a matter of just finding the cheapest beer but of finding the best beer. So when he discovered that he could make his own, he had no hesitation. He bought a kit from The Brew Shack in Tampa for about $60 and jumped headfirst into the hobby.
Though Gould has been brewing for less than a year and he is still considered a beginner, his beers are good — much different from any that can be bought at the local grocery store. This is the nature of home brew. Even when it’s done by an amateur, the beer is quality.
Even Gould’s first attempt at making his own beer worked well.
“I didn’t nail it,” says Gould while he waits for the wort to boil from the comfort of his recliner. “I made a good beer though.”
The problem Gould encountered during his first brew was one that many first time brewers come across.
“I actually had what they call a boil-over,” Gould says. “It’s like cooking anything with proteins … you can have boil-overs. Well, you can have boil-overs in a big way with beer because there are just a lot of proteins in it.”
And beer boil-overs are different from the more common pasta boil-overs, mainly because of the malt.
“I had a big mess to clean up,” Gould says with a smile. “The rise is just a lot more than with pasta, so it gets all over the place. Plus it’s sticky. With pasta, it’s usually just water, maybe a sort of thin film. With beer boil-overs, you have a sticky mess to clean up.”
To improve his product, Gould, who holds a degree in computer science, turned to the Internet for recipes and ideas. But he still needed some personal feedback from someone who could actually sample his beer. For that, he joined the Dunedin Brewer’s Guild, a group that began in 1997 with the goal of sharing information about craft brewed beer.
Dave Morgan, founder and current president of the DBG, says Gould was a little shy about sharing his beer at first.
“He started out like a lot of people,” Morgan says. “Nervous at first, afraid to bring in his beer. But he got over the intimidation factor.”
Now, Morgan says Gould is one of the more active members of the group, showing up for every meeting. The DBG currently has 85 members, says Morgan, which makes it the second largest brewer’s guild in the state, and he estimates that 65-70 percent of the members are beginners like Gould.
“He’s come a long way,” says Morgan. “He’s listening and trying to learn from everybody.”
Gould paints a fairly relaxed portrait of the group’s monthly meetings.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere,” he says. “The majority of it is announcements telling about beer events and sampling each other’s home brew, basically.”
He quickly adds that beer sampling isn’t the same as wine sampling, where participants spit out the drink to allow them to taste more without becoming intoxicated.
“No, I don’t think there is that sort of technique,” he says, laughing. “You just have to be careful in how many you sample. I imagine you could do the same thing as wine, but traditionally people don’t do that. People drink beer to drink beer.”
Back at the stove, Gould adds hops and Irish moss after the wort has boiled for 55 minutes. Irish moss, Gould says, comes from a type of seaweed that grows off the coast of Ireland.
“Someone years ago figured out that this seaweed helps make the beer better,” Gould says. “Don’t ask me how they came up with it, but it works.”
He stands at the stove, shoeless in jeans and a gray polo shirt, teasing the hops into the wort. Gould will continue the boil for the next 15 minutes before he adds some aroma hops and finishes the process.
Gould says that he likes to switch around between recipes, trying to find different beers that work well. He begins by finding recipes on the Internet or through the DBG and then “tweaks” them to come up with a unique beer.
“I like to switch around a bit, actually,” Gould says. “Some people like to do the finesse thing, but in general, people have several recipes they go by. There’s three that I was quite happy with, and I’m tweaking those.”
But, he adds, experimentation is still an interesting part of the process.
“The wildest I’ve gotten is brewing a beer with sorghum molasses,” says Gould with a smile. “It actually turned out pretty good. It strengthened the alcohol a lot, but it added a nice flavor.” While brewing might seem complicated to the uninitiated, Gould maintains that it is a craft anyone can learn.
“It’s like any type of cooking,” he says. “You can make it as easy or as complicated as you want to.”
Morgan adds that those interested in home brew should take Gould’s approach and just jump right in.
“Don’t be intimidated. It can be extremely simple to make a good beer,” he says.
Morgan adds that it doesn’t necessarily take a computer science major to master the craft of homebrewed beer. Instead, he echoes Gould’s claim.
“It’s more like cooking,” he says.
As far as Gould can tell, his latest batch has been cooking well, but to make sure everything turned out right, he must gauge the alcohol content of the wort using a device called a hydrometer.
So, after three hours of brewing, Gould pours the contents of his pot into a five-gallon glass jar on his kitchen floor. He kneels down on the linoleum and uses a tool called a wine thief to draw out a tubeful of amber- colored wort. He releases the wort into the hydrometer and focuses on the numbers.
“Original gravity is 0.50,” he says, once again smiling. The alcohol content is 5 percent. “Good,” he adds. “Just what the other one was. Should turn out pretty much the same.”
Contact Dustin Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org