Home brewed in Rochester
Local home brewers share their experiences, successes, and mishaps
The craft beer scene continues to grow and thrive in the (585); new breweries are popping up around the region, local gastropubs are becoming more adventurous with their beer and menu items, and resident grocery stores are offering wider selections to meet the demand. Even with all the local selections available, beer-loving hobbyists are taking brewing into their own hands to create unique flavors and brews that reflect their own personal flavor and style preferences.
Three local home brewers in the Rochester area share their experiences with the hobby and what home brewing means to them.
Name: Brandon Whalen
Day job: Stay-at-home dad to two sons, Orlin (three years old) and Rune (three months old)
Years brewing: Thirteen years
How did you get into home brewing?
A friend and I bought a starter home brew kit, and the first beer that we made was probably, to this day, the worst beer I’ve ever made. It was awful. It tasted like how permanent markers smell. It was the worst, but we drank most of it! It was our first beer, so we were so excited about it. But we stuck with it, and to this day we both still brew.
You brew competitively—what have you won recently?
I used to be a commercial brewer; I brewed for CB Craft Brewers and Rohrbach Brewing. I used to do a lot of competitions, and now that I’m not brewing commercially, I’m starting to get back into that. It’s friendly competition—home brewers are a good group of people. Everyone helps each other out, especially in Rochester. It’s a good, tight-knit community.
I just participated in Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews in Syracuse and won silver in the American Wild category for my “Brett Tripel” entry, bronze in the Sour category for my “Iambic” entry, and honorable mention in the Strong British and American category for my “American Barleywine” entry.
What flavors inspire you?
A beer that I’m always seeking out is a dark sour, because I find them incredibly difficult to brew. I’ve brewed a couple of them myself and have not struck gold yet. They’re really hard flavors to blend together, but when you do it properly, it’s amazing. I tip my hat to anyone who even attempts the style.
Any mishaps along the way?
When I started to get into brewing wild culture beers I had a barrel I thought was done fermenting—and when beer is fermenting it creates carbon dioxide and alcohol. Ales take about two weeks to ferment and then they’re done…but different cultures will keep fermenting. I didn’t really understand that at the time, and I thought the beer was done, so I sealed up the barrel. After a few months I went to go taste it and I took the cork out of the barrel, and it took off like a rocket. It shot the cork up into the ceiling and it geysered beer all over my basement. There was nothing I could do but stand there helplessly watching it shoot beer all over the place. It was awful, but I definitely learned from that experience!
Name: Jarrod Adams
Day job: Digital media manager with Wahl Media
Years brewing: Seven years
What do you enjoy most about brewing?
I was just getting into the craft beer scene, and I really liked the creative aspect of it, the artistic approach of being able to create something from start to finish and having the creative freedom to make something that’s original.
What types of beer do you brew?
Porters and stouts, the dark beers. As popular as India pale ales are and as much as I like IPAs, I’ve found that there’s just as much variation and creative freedom in making dark beers. You can even bring hops into dark beers, even though it’s not as traditional. There’re almost more opportunities to create different styles with dark beers because you not only have different grains, but you can incorporate different hops to create a completely new flavor profile.
What’s your specialty?
Smoked beers. There are very few breweries that are making smoked beers, even in the local markets. I’ve made about five different batches, from the standard amber smoked style, to a light wheat style, to a dark beer that had smoked grains in it. People will say they taste like ham or bacon, and it does have that quality to it; there is a variety of smoked grains available that can create different flavor profiles. There’s something about the aroma that evokes comfort—like sitting next to a campfire or a fireplace—that I really love.
How would you describe your homebrewing style?
Simple and efficient. If I had to classify what I’m doing right now, everything would go back to those two words. That’s the mindset that I’m in right now with my homebrewing—simple, efficient, and how can I do it in the least amount of time but still get a really good finished beer.
Right now I’m actually doing a “brew in a bag.” You add all the grains into the bag, and you drain it out from there.
What’s been your biggest disappointment over the years?
I had an almost full 5-gallon keg within my chest freezer (converted to a “keezer” or beer fridge) and forgot to tighten down one of the tap fittings. I had poured out a couple of glasses earlier that day and went back to grab another for a friend, and the entire keg had leaked out into the bottom of the fridge. It was an extremely sad cleanup to say the least, since it was a really good beer.
Name: Gregory Sherman
Day job: Geriatric psychiatrist with UR Medicine and Highland Hospital
Years brewing: Six years
Do you have a name for your brewery?
Yes! It’s called Rukus Bucket. My wife and I were throwing names around while she was cleaning out a drawer, and she came across a pin with that term on it. And that was it! It was a random happenstance.
What’s the biggest difference between your home brewing hobby and your day job?
With the work that I do, it’s never complete. People get better, but there’s always the possibility of them getting sick again…it’s life, and a life project is never complete. Brewing is something I can meticulously and mindfully come up with a recipe, create a plan, implement that plan, and have data at the end of that plan to repeat it again if you’d like. You can start something, you end something, and you have something beautiful at the end that you can show for it. It’s not only mindful, it’s soul sustaining.
What unique flavors have you worked with?
I make maple syrup every spring. My grandfather did it for forty years and now my uncle and I do it every season as a remembrance of that; he’s 97 now so he stopped several years ago. I’ve added maple syrup to a stein beer. The best way to do it is to add it after the initial fermentation is over so that you still have some of the maple aroma to it. If you add it during the primary fermentation, you’re going to make so much carbon dioxide that it’s going to push most of the maple aroma out of it. Adding after primary fermentation is a good way to retain some of that.
How often do you get to brew?
I try to brew monthly, but sometimes with work schedules it doesn’t always work out that way. The most I ever brewed was our wedding year, we brewed all the beer for our wedding; a number of friends pitched in their home brews as well. We had a total of eighteen home brew styles; it was great. That year I brewed close to 200 gallons of beer in 5-gallon batches. All the styles were different, and we did some ciders for that, too.
What’s a favorite part of brewing beer?
My wife and I share a mutual enjoyment of beer with our families, so when we take trips we try and visit at least one beer location to see how they do things and how beer is different locally. It’s something that gets incorporated into a lot of our travel memories. Brewing is a channeling of that internal comfort; it pulls from those memories and experiences.