Peter Kennedy is a talented homebrewer and the man behind his own homebrew adventures and blog Simply Beer. He recently came up with the Iron Brewer idea which after only one season has seen a rapid following amongst homebrewers with many chomping at the bit to get into this unique competition. We caught up with fellow Brew Yorker and the man who seems to never sleep to chat about his adventures in homebrewing. Heck even a blizzard won’t stop the man from getting his brew on.
The Mellin: How long have you been homebrewing and what got you into it?
Peter Kennedy (PK): I’ve been brewing beer for almost 15 years. The last year of college I really dove head first into craft beer on a quest (which I’m still on) to drink and try as many different beers as I could. It was a bit easier back then since there wasn’t as much craft beer around. A couple years later I met my now wife and she thought since I was drinking all this crazy beer, I should try to make some. She bought me my first kit back in 1997, a fermenting bucket, glass carboy, 3 gallon kettle and a bottle capper.
The Mellin: What kind of set-up do you use? All Grain? Extract? Combination?
PK: I brewed extract for about 7 years and all grain for the last 7 years. Many people I know switched over to all grain very quickly, but I was content with the beer I was making with extract. Up till about 7 years ago I was making only 20 batches a beer a year, then one day I just woke up and wanted to learn and do as much as I could with homebrewing and switched to all grain. Now I brew about 50 batches a year.
The Mellin: What was the first beer you ever brewed? Did it come out as planned?
PK: The first beer I ever brewed was an extract Amber Ale. Not sure if it came out as planned, but it tasted good and my friends liked it, so I kept brewing.
The Mellin: I have been fortunate enough to try a couple of your beers the Tequila Vanilla Bean Brown Ale stands out. What’s your inspiration for you beers? Is there a particularly brewery or overall sense of style you look for?
PK: Thanks, I’m glad you liked the Tequila Vanilla Brown Ale. That beer was a prime example of brewing experience. While the end result was wicked good, it was a colossal foul up from the start. Believe it or not that beer was intended to be v4 of my Peanut Butter Porter. I messed up the mash, too much sparge water into the boil kettle which thinned out the beer and a couple other mistakes. Sometimes a beer doesn’t want to be what you intend it to be and having the experience to recover from mistakes is what makes homebrewing a fun challenge.
I get inspiration from many different places, beers I drink, other homebrewers, the food I eat, and just trying out new ingredients I see at my online homebrew store. People brew beer for many different reasons and I really think it depends on your experience level. For me I’m trying to generate a portfolio of great beer that I can eventually use to open my own brewpub. What comes with that is some awesome successes (Peanut Butter Porter, Sorachi Patersbier), happy mistakes (Tequila Vanilla Brown Ale), and some epic failures (at Brooklyn Wort, American Black Lager).
There isn’t one brewery that inspires me, there are many for many different reasons. First, anyone who gets to the point of a brewer or brewery owner deserves respect. It is an extremely hard business, which is at the mercy of a sometimes merciless beer consuming public. Here are some specific beers from some breweries which have directly influenced me.
- Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace and Wild 1
- Captain Lawrence Rosso e Morrone
- Allagash Confuence & Coolship
- Boulevard Saison Brett
- Sam Adams Noble Pils
- The Bruery Hottenroth
- New Belgium La Folie
- Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA
There are more, I get a little out of every beer both good and bad.
The Mellin: What was your greatest brewing success?
PK: I’d say I have two. First is my peanut butter porter. It almost has a cult like following of people who have tried it or made it. Check out all these reviews
The original concept was a peanut butter cup in a beer. It is an insane beer, over 10% ABV and drinks like liquid desert.
But my biggest success, a beer that came out like I had envisioned it when I created the recipe is my Sorachi Patersbier (or Father’s Beer) it is a low ABV Belgian session beer finished with Sorachi Ace hops with a super dry, fruity, and lemony flavor. This beer won the New Jersey State Fair Homebrew competition, beating out about 160 other entries, including some of my friends. As the winner, I’m going to be brewing this beer at Krogh’s Brew Pub in Sparta, NJ in May to be released at the end of June.
The Mellin: What was your greatest brewing failure?
PK: My biggest failure was a recent batch of Peanut Butter Porter that I added roasted peanuts to the secondary. It was great for a couple weeks until an infection took over the beer. But my point of view with homebrewing, the only failure is not learning from your mistakes. I don’t really consider any of my beers to be a failure. If they were bad for whatever reason, I always learned something from it and hopefully prevent the mistake in the future.
The Mellin: Is there a particular style of beer you as a homebrewer find easiest to brew? hardest?
PK: That is a loaded question. Extract brewing is by its nature easier then all grain, but when it comes down to it, you are following a recipe. As long as you can do that, most recipes are simple. When you start adding stepped mashes, decoction mashing, secondary additions, additional strains of yeast and bacteria then it starts to get complicated. For the most part any beer without a lot of boil additions that doesn’t stray from typical is easy, like a Scottish Ale
The Mellin: Like many homebrewers is your ultimate goal to start your own brewery? Do you have a name decided yet you care to share and what are your goals for launch? Who should expect to be able to locate your beers? If people would like to donate/invest where can they do so?
PK: That is a bit premature. The short answer is yes; my homebrewing end game is a brewpub. I’m in the process of submitting an application to the American Brewers Guild for brewing school. After that is my life changing career change. Starting with an internship at a brewery leading up to my brewpub. There are many directions of planning that is going on, that is as much as I will divulge at this point. But with the family and personal sacrifice involved, it is not a mater of if anymore, but when.
The Mellin: You started the “Iron Brewer” concept which is entering its second season. Those who follow on twitter already know that a lot of homebrewers are itching to get involved. What was your inspiration behind this?
PK: That’s a good question. It was kind-of organically spawned on twitter. In 2009, myself and 7 other homebrewers each took a recipe I created and were allowed to change 1 ingredient to make a new recipe. The guys and I had a great time doing this, so I wanted a way to expand it to other homebrewers. So like the Iron Man Triathlon that has 3 legs, Iron brewer has three ingredients the participant has to use to create a good homebrew. Many people compare it to Food Network’s Iron Chef, but it is more like their show, Chopped. It has turned into a hugely popular homebrew competition, I’d like to think of because of the uniqueness. 6 rounds, 8 homebrewers per round, live Internet radio judging show that the brewers actually get to participate in. We also have a bunch of great sponsors to make the competition worth it, Midwest Homebrew Supplies, Wyeast Labratories, Brew Your Own magazine, Micro Matic, and Farmhouse Brewing Supplies.
The Mellin: What can people look forward to seeing in this season of the Iron Brewer competition? Can we expect special conditioned beers maybe wild fermented beers which more home brewers are experimenting with?
PK: I’m working on some new and different things. Including some possible one off events.
The Mellin: Where do you come up with list of must use ingredients? Is it all on your own or do you consult with other brewers? Can you give us a sneak peek of something strange we can expect in a later round this season?
PK: Most of it comes out of my head, but I’m always throwing out the question to other homebrewers. If there is a good idea or combo of Ideas, I’ll use it. Not going to say when, but one of the rounds will have Maple Syrup and another will use Pepper Corns, but I promise all the rounds will have something interesting, some combination to make the brewers think.
The Mellin: What have been the truly stand-out beers that have been a result of the Iron Brewer competition? I have been lucky enough to try Vanessa Gimpel’s “Allez Brasse! Iron Brewer Tripel” and Amie Mizell’s “Monks on the Beach” both of which were very great brews.
PK: There has been a bunch. What shocked me, on a whole is how good these beers were, and this is a one shot deal. You have 8 weeks to make a beer with ingredients they may have never worked with. There is a ton of creativity involved in crafting these beers.
The Mellin: Who judges the competition? I know all the brewers for a round are involved in the tasting but who are the other judges? Are they BJCPs or just beer lovers and other home brewers?
PK: Just beer lovers, some homebrewers. It is going to be a mix of different people. It should be interesting and help balance out the scoring to make it a bit fairer.
The Mellin: What advice would you give anybody that is looking into or considering getting into home brewing? Any recommended reading?
PK: Find a friend who brews. It is probably the fun way to learn. Every one has to read Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing. I read it every couple of years. There is just so much info, but easy to digest. I also read Brew Your Own and Zymurgy religiously, cover to cover. But reading is only part of it, you have to get out and brew, make mistakes and try again.
The Mellin: List all the places our readers can follow your Simply Beer and Iron Brewer adventures:
PK: Here is a list of all the places you can follow me.
Well I’d once again like to thank Peter for taking time out and talking to us about his brewing adventures. Make sure to follow his adventures at the links above.
And that’s … From My Mellin!