Many indoor hobbies require little space; reading, sewing, stamp collecting. But Eric Wentling’s hobby is the focal point of his recently remodeled basement. Wentling brews beer and he’s added a lower level bar with stainless steel equipment and six beer taps for tasting his creative concoctions.
Wentling’s not alone in his pursuit of perfecting tasty suds. Seven years ago, Wentling and a neighbor invited two other friends to begin a home brew club. “At the time, the closest home brew club was in Minneapolis,” says Wentling. “There were none in the southwest metro. So we started our own.”
They call themselves the Jack of all Brews.
“We thought it would be a few friends getting together to taste beer and share home brew experiences,” Wentling says. “We never dreamed we’d be up to over 50 members, most of whom are from the southwest metro.”
Brewing beer is a skill Wentling learned before he ever developed a taste for the stuff. “My mom has been brewing beer since the 1970s,” says Wentling. “I used to help her so I come by my interest in home brewing honestly.”
He began his own home brewing on a stovetop in his tiny Chicago apartment back in the 1990s. Now that he owns a home in Waconia, Wentling has more space to move on to all grain beers that require more room and equipment. “It’s more fun this way,” he says. “I have a lot more control over the quality of my beers.”
Wentling also has a wife who tolerates his sprawling use of their household space where many of the monthly Jack of all Brews club meetings are held. “She’s glad I have a hobby,” he jokes. “She doesn’t ever help me brew beer. But in the last two years, she’s begun to help me drink it.”
Vice president of Jack of all Brews, Mike Behrendt, says their club tries to support the hobby through education. “We offer a bit of technical information at each meeting,” Behrendt says. “We talk about yeast, water, kegging, bottling and the various styles of beers. We also share information about competitions since many of our members aspire to grow from home brewing to commercial brewing.”
Behrendt says that the space taken up by his brewing and his three beer refrigerators can upset his spouse. “It’s not necessarily a money saver over store bought beer either,” he adds. “Home brewing requires an investment. But for under $100, a home brewer can buy the equipment needed to brew their first batch of beer, typically a five gallon batch.”
After that first batch, brewers want to brew more and learn from each batch what they can do better the next time. Behrendt says home brewing isn’t difficult. “Fermenting can take one to three weeks but the actual work involved is about six hours, most of which is cleaning and sanitizing equipment.”
One thing home brewers figure out quickly is that there are 80 different styles of beer. Wentling says he’s working his way through them all. “I rarely go back to the same thing twice,” he says.
He’s learned some crazy stuff from other members. “Some guys brew beets or tomatillos,” Wentling says. “They do things that shouldn’t work but do work.”
A couple of Jack of all Brews members brew sour beers, which is more like wine than beer. Sour beers can take up to a year for one batch. Wentling is trying sour beer, but says it requires skill and dedication.
For Behrendt, chocolate stout is one of his favorite styles. He likes its powerful flavor. Says it’s capable of covering minor brewing mistakes. “Lagers are more difficult for home brewers,” says Behrendt. “They need to be cold stored for four to eight weeks so many don’t brew lagers because it ties up equipment for too long.”
There seems to be a foamy flavor for everyone at Jack of all Brews. That is if would be brewers can negotiate the space needed to take up this hoppy hobby.
Home of the Minnesota Home Brewers
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