Brewer profile: Alec Rooney
May 1 was National Home Brew Day, celebrated each year on the first Saturday in May. It began with a congressional proclamation in 1988, and hundreds of home brewers of beer dsimultaneously participated in Big Brew activities across the country and around the world.
In honor of this momentous event, Road Trips for Beer debuts its Featured Brewer, the first in an occasional series. Our first profiled brewer is Alec Rooney.
Name: Alec Rooney
Where you live: Just outside Roanoke, in Southwest Virginia
Family: Wife and two teenagers
Day job: editor
Your online presence:
How long have you been home brewing?
I got my first brewing kit on Christmas of 2002, so I’m in my eighth year.
Have you ever worked in a brewery?
What is your brewing philosophy?
To make better beer than I could ever buy, cheaper than I could ever buy, and enjoy the process as much as the product. I also like to tinker and make gadgets, and brewing allows a lot of that.
It’s a homebuilt HERMS (heat exchanged recirculating mash system), but very low tech (no electronic temperature control). It has a 9-gallon hot water tank, a converted 15.5-gallon Anheuser-Busch keg as a boil kettle, a 10-gallon Igloo cooler as a mash tun, and a March magnetic-impeller pump to move everything around through a system of copper pipes and valves.
How much of your brews are “from scratch”? (Do you grow your own hops or grains, yeast cultures, etc.?)
I have three hop vines (Chinook, Cascade and Crystal) which by this year should supply all my hops. If I use a dose of Wyeast or White Labs yeast, I will occasionally save the slurry in sealed bottles in the fridge to reuse. I started doing all-grain after about 6 months of brewing and never went back to extract.
What is your biggest brewing triumph?
Every glass of every batch is a triumph, really. When I lived in Florida, though, making all-grain batches with mineral-laden well water, I discovered that I could just collect water from the frequent hurricanes (this was ’04-’05) and brew with it. My beer improved so dramatically, and my command of the process leaped ahead so far, that I count it as a big triumph. Now I use sweet Virginia well water.
Your biggest brewing failure?
One of my early extract batches was allowed to ferment at about 80 degrees. It tasted like fake butterscotch. Somehow my buddies and I managed to get all of it down, though. I am happy to say that I have never had an infected batch and never dropped a full carboy. Yet.
What are you drinking right now (or just drank or getting ready to drink)?
I have 10 gallons of aggressive IPA made from Northern Brewer’s “Three-Hearted Ale” recipe, but with double the dry hops. As of this writing it has about two more weeks to go and it should be awesome.
Besides your own brews, what are your favorite beers?
My favorites are Rogue’s Brutal Bitter, Smuttynose “Finestkind” IPA and Bigfoot Barleywine from Sierra Nevada.
What are your goals for your brewing?
I would like to add to my list of drinking buddies here in Roanoke, and have more people enjoy what I make.
What has been the most useful resource for your brewing? Your “bible,” so to speak?
I read Charlie Papazian, of course, as every home brewer should. The book that really gave me the most knowledge, though, showing me the principles behind the gadgets I had to make, and thus helping me make them better, was John Palmer’s “How to Brew.” The whole book is online at http://www.howtobrew.com/ You can also buy hard copies there.
What is the most important piece of advice you can offer someone who’s thinking about becoming a brewer?
But about home brewing:
- Be patient; it’s a little like gardening.
- Get a good digital thermometer and keep the right temperatures.
- Keep all your equipment spanking clean.
- If your water tastes good, your beer will taste good.
Anything else you want to add?
I will add the what, where and when of the most enjoyable beer I ever drank: It was a 22-oz. Hopocity from Full Sail. I was on vacation, sitting by a motel pool in Oakridge, Oregon, on the way to Crater Lake, with my wife beside me and our children playing in the pool. It was early evening, and the aroma and taste of the beer seemed to mingle with the fresh, evergreen scent that was pouring off the mountains all around. Just perfect.
We appreciate Alec taking the time to tell us of his brewing experiences. If you are a craft or home brewer who would like to be featured on Road Trips for Beer – or know of one who might be interested – please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.