An Interview - Fred AKA @blindbrewguy
We have a real treat for you guys today! Our last interview with Tim from The Fundy Brewers Facebook Page was so well received we want to keep doing that style of blog post. Derek & I feel it’s a great way to meet new people from our local community – and beyond.
Today we talking with Fred, a.k.a. @blindbrewguy from Instagram. I first came across Fred’s profile a little while ago and was impressed with his take on our shared hobby and his unique circumstances. We reached out to him with some questions and we think you will love reading about Fred as much as we did.
Fred has brewed up some interesting beers in his time and has experience outdoor brewing in a couple different climates. He also gives us a peak into the craft brew scene in Arizona & Minnesota in the US. Check out the interview below!
The Community Brew Shop: How did you get started in brewing & how long have you been participating in the hobby?
Fred: My first foray into homebrewing was back in the late 1980s, quite a while before I lost most of my eyesight. My brother and I thought it would be fun, and we brewed a few 5 gallon batches of beer using cans of pre-hopped extract. We lived in rural North Dakota, in a town of 3000 people and both supplies and brewing information were hard to find. The results were OK, but nothing spectacular. We both got busy with our lives, and homebrewing fell to the side of the road.
Fast forward to 2017. I had to retire when my eyesight had failed to the point where I couldn’t work any longer. I was looking for a hobby I could do given some of my limitations, and decided to purchase a Mr. Beer kit. After brewing a couple batches with that, I moved up to a 5 gallon partial mash brewing kit. I made several batches of beer that turned out fairly well, and then for my birthday my daughter bought me my first all grain kit. Not wanting to have to change my equipment very much, I decided to go with brew in a bag, which is what I am still using today.
TCBS: Craft beer is an extremely hot market right now where we are located even with the Pandemic. Even with our small population there are tons of breweries, both big and small as our region embraces the industry. What is the craft beer scene like in your area?
Fred: The craft beer scene here in Arizona is still very strong. The pandemic has taken its toll in a few ways, but overall things are still going well. A lot of people still frequent the small breweries and tap rooms, even though the social aspect is not quite what it once was. When we buy craft beers, we try to buy directly from the small breweries, especially if they have started canning. There have been a few places that have closed recently, but there have also been some new breweries opening.
The same is generally true back in Minnesota. This is where we spend the summer months when it gets too hot down here in Arizona. We are looking forward to things getting back to normal next year sometime.
TCBS: Your instagram account has some great shots of craft beers. Do you have a favourite?
Fred: I almost always go for a dark beer first. Stouts and porters have always been my favorite. After that, I am game for almost anything. There was a time I didn’t care much for IPAs or sours but now I like them both very much. Anything that sounds interesting or different is fair game, and I love to do flights so I can sample sample several beers at once.
TCBS: I know in some parts of the US there are “dry counties” but we don’t have anything like that here in New Brunswick, are there any legal barriers to home brewing in your jurisdiction?
Fred: While there may be a few of those dry counties around still, homebrewing is legal in all 50 U.S. states. We are allowed to brew 100 gallons of homebrew per individual, and a maximum of 200 gallons per household. However, I am not aware that anyone keeps track of this. Personally I brew between 50 and 75 gallons of beer a year. Luckily I have a lot of friends who like beer!
TCBS: Walk us through your brew day prep. What do you do that might be unique to your style of brewing or that you feel ensures you are going to have a successful day?
Fred: In order for me to have a successful brew day, I need to be well organized before I start. Because of my vision issues I can’t spend a lot of time trying to find things I need when it comes time to brew.
I spend the day before collecting water, milling grain, weighing out hops, and setting up my equipment. Then on brew day I can just start heating my strike water and go from there. I built a brew stand that helps make everything more convenient for me. It elevates my brew kettle to the point where I can gravity flow from there into my fermenter when I’m done. I have a cross bar for lifting my blue bag out of the cattle, and places to store all of the pieces I will need during the day. You can see a picture of it on Instagram on my @blindbrewguy page.
The rest of my brew day is pretty standard. I do have problems with a few things along the way such as taking temperature and hydrometer readings. I do have an electronic magnifier that helps me in both of those cases. The other area that was very difficult for me was bottling, and I always needed help with that. However, now I keg everything and it makes things much easier to do myself.
While I do have things set up now so I can brew successfully by myself, it is still much more fun when I can brew with my family or my friends!
TCBS: Do you have a flagship beer that you brew often? If you don’t do you have a favourite style you like to brew?
Fred: I have two beers that I brew the most. One is a jalapeño beer I call spicy blonde. I have brewed it as a blonde and a cream ale and people really seem to enjoy both versions. It has a nice jalapeño flavor without being too spicy. The other beer I brew most often is a black ale that stems from that first all grain kit that my daughter bought me.
I have three taps on my kegerator so I also try to rotate through an IPA, a wheat beer, something more traditional like a kölsch or altbier, and a milk stout or breakfast stout. There is also a Tangerine pale ale that I’ve had good luck with.
TCBS: Is there a style of beer you haven’t had a chance to brew yet but have always wanted to?
Fred: I have wanted to brew a barley wine for a while now. I have all the ingredients but the timing hasn’t been right. I was waiting for a chance to brew it with my daughter but the pandemic has made it difficult. Hopefully we can get it done by spring and start aging it.
TCBS: Have you ever had a nightmare scenario when brewing? That one beer you thought was going to turn out great and then everything just went wrong?
Fred: I have never had an actual brewing disaster, but I’ve had minor problems such as forgetting to add an ingredient, leaving a spigot open when I shouldn’t have, and dropping or spilling things. Some of my earlier beers that I tried to add coffee to did not turn out very well at all. I drank them but I can’t say it was really enjoyable. My desire to make a good coffee stout was one of the reasons I started homebrewing in the first place. I actually gave up on coffee beers for quite a while, but redeemed myself with a batch of breakfast stout I made back in January.
TCBS: Do you ever experiment with more “modern” or extreme styles like candy sours, or beers with additives like chocolate or spices?
Fred: I think the spicy blonde I mentioned earlier falls into this category. In addition my breakfast stout contains both cacao nibs and baker’s chocolate, as well as coffee. I haven’t tried to brew a sour yet, but I have plans to do a couple different wheat beers. One has cucumbers in it and the other has is kind of a fruit salad with cherry, pineapple, and vanilla. I plan to dust off my old Mr. Beer fermenter to try some smaller batches of these experimental beers.
TCBS: What is the one piece of brewing equipment or accessory you have that you couldn’t do without?
Fred: My wife is by far the most indispensable factor in my ability to brew successfully! That goes for the rest of my life too! Without her help measuring and weighing ingredients, and helping me keep track of things, I would have a much more difficult, if not impossible, time.
The next most important piece of equipment I have is my electronica magnifier. This allows me to keep track of temperatures hydrometer readings and read instructions and ingredient packages.
Overall, I would not be able to brew all grain with out I my brew in the bag set up. Without it, I would have to stick with extract and mini mash brewing. While this would still let me make good beer, I have had much better luck going this route.
TCBS: Is there a piece of gear you wish you had but just haven’t picked up yet?
Fred: I would really like to add a floating hydrometer, such as the Tilt, to my system. If my eyesight was better I would probably even try building an iSpindel instead. I have definitely over spent my homebrewing budget for the year, so I will probably have to wait a while before adding this.
TCBS: Your instagram has some really cool shots of your setup. It looks simple but effective. Did you build everything yourself?
Fred: I did build the brew stand myself, and if I do say so, it’s not too bad considering I can’t even read the numbers on a tape measure. Like I mentioned earlier this brew stand really makes things easier for me.
I also have a keggle that a friend and I built together. I’ve only used it once, but hope to use it for larger batches such as the barley wine I plan to make. My wife’s sister sewed my first brew bags for me, and they have worked great. I did recently purchase a commercially made brew bag to fit my keggle.
TCBS: It looks like from your photos that you primarily brew outdoors. That is the case with us as well. Do you ever do smaller stove top batches or given your setup and climate is outdoors the way to go?
Fred: I only brew outdoors now. When I first started extract brewing I did it inside but quickly realized it was too easy to make a big mess. At least when I’m outside and I spill all I have to do is bring out the garden hose. Here in Arizona I can brew outside all year except when it gets really hot in the summer. Luckily during the hot months down here I am back in Minnesota where I can brew outside also.
When I’m here in Arizona I use my pool water to run through my immersion chiller, and when I’m in Minnesota I pull water directly from the lake to chill my wort.
TCBS: I love the post about having a smaller grain mill because your grandchildren like to help. Have you had brew days that are family events?
Fred: I have two daughters, one homebrews and the other likes to help. All three of my grandkids like to crank the grain mill! I do try and schedule brew days when we are getting together. I also like to brew when we get company down here, and one of those friends has started homebrewing himself.
TCBS: You make reference to your unique challenge in your Instagram bio. What is it like brewing with an impairment like yours? Does it come with its own unique challenges?
Fred: I’ve touched on a lot of the challenges I have learned to deal with in some of the earlier questions. It all boils down to finding solutions to specific problems. It is very satisfying when I figure out how to solve a problem, but it can also be frustrating until I do. That’s when I follow the wise advice; relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!
Thanks for talking Fred! To all our readers, we hoped you enjoyed reading about Fred as much as we did! Be sure to check out his Instagram Page & give him a follow! If you have followup questions for Fred you can comment below or send him a message via Instagram.
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