FEATURE: Interview with Homebrewer Mitch Petty

Homebrewer Mitch Petty

Saturday, November 2nd is the 14th annual Learn to Homebrew Day, spearheaded by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). This global event was established to encourage people  to learn how to brew from fellow homebrewers.

There are more than 80 events taking place at breweries, homebrew shops and garages across the world. Not far from Ottawa, the Cornwall HomeBrew Club is taking over a local restaurant and have invited speakers from the industry to talk about homebrewing.

To get a glimpse into the world of homebrewing we'll be posting interviews with Ottawa homebrewers all week leading up to November 2nd – and maybe they'll encourage you to brew your own beer!

Ottawa Beer Events: Tell us a little about yourself and how long you've been home brewing.

OK, Where to start?  My name is Mitch, I am the proud father of 2 kids, Veronica (6yo), and Maxton (4yo), and the loving hubby of my wife Jeannette.  I am an Entertainment and Leisure Designer specializing in the Master Planning and design of Water Parks around the world.

I started Homebrewing in 1992 while at University in Colorado – this was a glorious time in the Craft Brewing Revolution in Colorado and Homebrewing was just a fringe hobby!  I can remember at the time, there was pretty much only one book “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing’ by C.Papazian and we had 2 types of yeast available, Ale & Lager.  That was IT!  This was the time before the internet, so we got our information from books!

Anyway, after brewing for a few years (and finishing my degree) I moved to New Hampshire where I befriended the local Brewer as he was in the development stage of opening his own brewery.  I helped him make a few batches of beer and helped him build his brewery…  Once the brewery was open, my need for homebrew greatly diminished and I pretty much stopped making my own beer.

 In 2003 I moved to Canada – right into the heart of Toronto greatly anticipating the great beer that was awaiting me there – every Canadian I had ever met would never stop telling me how terrible American beer was and that Canadian beer was vastly superior…  Needless to say, I was GREATLY disappointed!  It turns out that Canada is about 20 years behind the Craft Brewing Revolution and the beer variety in Canada totally sucked! I was shocked to see the lack of beer interest and beer diversity – it was VERY frustrating! I was living in Toronto at the time, so space was a major limiting factor to homebrewing, so I suffered in silence…Untill!

 I moved to Ottawa and got a house with some space!  After the major renovations were done on our house, I hooked up with a bunch of brewing nut-jobs on the internet (The MoB), and started brewing again!  I could not be happier brewing my own beer!

What got you interested in making your own beer?

I got interested in making my own beer, because the beer available to purchase was no good.  There were no interesting beers available and most beer stores and LCBO only carried a limited number of boring, bland beers.  I wanted variety, so I got back into making my own!

Can you tell us about how you home brew (your set up)? How large are your batches?

I am a “Low Tech” brewer.  I use a super simple 3 vessel brewing system using gravity, 2 pots and a Cajun Injector electric turkey fryer.  I use the Electric turkey fryer at the top tier and my Hot Liquor Tank (HLT), the next tier is a 32qt pot with a screen false bottom wrapped in insulation for my Mash/Lauter Tun (MLT), and last a 36qt pot for my boil kettle.  It is really a very simple low tech system.  I fly-sparge with water from my HLT with a homemade sparge arm and chill with a 25’ copper immersion chiller hooked to a garden hose.  I make 5.5gal batches.

What's your favorite beer you've made so far?

I have yet to make the same beer twice, but I have a few contenders for my favourite!  I don’t make good beer every time – that’s for sure!  Once I put StarAnise into a stout with some other traditional rum spices…It was AWFUL!  I had to dump the whole batch!  Some of my favourite beers have been very simple beers made with careful attention to detail.  A few that stand out are a California Common, a few really great APAs, and a Bohemian Blonde made with Saaz.  I love the beer I make but some certainly turn out better than others!

What's the best advice you can give to new home brewers?

Rule #1 is Relax, Don’t Worry, have a Homebrew!  This is Papazian’s rule – but it is a good one!

My advice to anyone interested in getting into homebrewing would be to KEEP IT SIMPLE!  The best beers I’ve ever made have been the most basic recipes.  Homebrewers are easily tempted into add in crazy ingredients, or have 7-8 different malts and 5-6 different hop additions with a mix of 4-5 different hops!  My advice is KEEP IT SIMPLE! 

My advice on Keeping it simple also applies to your equipment.  It is important to mention here that there are ‘tinkerers’ who just love to build and fiddle with stuff – by all means – knock yourselves out – but don’t feel like you need to make (or buy) all that fancy equipment to make great beer!  Start with a pot and a mesh sack and get right into All Grain Beer with the ‘Brew-in-a-Bag’ (BIAB) Method.  This method is easy and makes GREAT beer!  After you have a few BIAB batches under your belt, you can stick with BIAB or start designing your own system and gathering the equipment you need.  All the whistles and bells are definitely COOL, and I am guilty of envying those guys with all that shinny equipment, but rest assured, all that fancy equipment does not make better beer. There are soo many different variable factors that go into making beer that are controlled by the brewer!  It will take a lifetime to experiment with each different one – this is what makes homebrewing GREAT!

The Number 1 thing that makes a good Brewer is understanding the entire brewing process.  So, read up, talk to other brewers, get to know the process, and BREW A LOT!  You can’t learn by it by reading a book – you have to DO IT!  Do it, taste it, and re-do it! Learn as you go!

You can follow Learn to Homebrew Day activities on Twitter as they unfold using (#LTHD2013) or on Facebook (American Homebrewers Assocation).

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