Chicago Camps

Stephen Strong (Video) — Prototypes, Process & Play 2015

Ever wonder how home brewers make their beer? Our pal, Stephen Strong, is a bit more than a home brewer—he’s more like a nano-brewer! Brewing beer is not quite a full time job for Stephen, yet he’s skilled enough that perhaps it should be.

We’ve been lucky to be friends with Stephen for years, and now he tells us how he does it! Enjoy!

We hope you enjoy the panel and don’t forget to get your tickets for Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th and 12th!

Presentation Transcript


Stephen Strong:

There we go. Good? So I do have a day job. I’m the director of digital marketing at Valspar Paint. But in my free time I’ve been home brewing for almost 25 years. I did bring some beer to share. I’m talking about beer before you can drink my beer, so it’s my fault. At the same time I thought what I would do is in the spirit of prototype camp talk a little bit about the brewing process and the beer we’re going to have and kind of what it means to prototype beer, which is something I’ve over the years figured out. First thing I have a fake brewery. It’s me. Brewery of one. I call it a monobrewery. Smaller than a nanobrewery. I have a Facebook page, so I’m kind of a real fake brewery. I could double my following right now if you go to my page. My kids will think it’s cool. I also have coasters, but that’s as far as it goes. Otherwise I just brew beer in my spare time. I got this note from Russ. I had never brewed beer except for my friends and family and your neighbors who love their beer when it’s free.

Mobile camp. Sure, I’ll brew beer for people who I don’t know. This is my first time presenting, so we’ll see how this one goes. But when I talk about brewing and prototype brewing, I do have some kind of rules. And I don’t know how much they’ll apply to design, but at the end of the day you’ll get to drink my beer. So I did bring some samples of ingredients we used in the beer we’ll be drinking. The first ingredient for beer is grain. So if you want to pass them around.

Take one, take a couple. Chew on them. Unless you’re gluten intolerant. So grain is the first one. The first one I’m passing around the base grain. That’s usually 50‑85% of the grain mix. Two‑row barley. It gives it the overall body and the sweetness and the sugar that converts into alcohol. You can make a beer with two‑row barley. Pretty basic, pretty yellow. What you do to enhance that and create all the beer styles you had in your life is you add specialty grains.

Russ is passing the grains out. These are all the different grains I used in the beer that we’ll be drinking. Four or five different types of grains. It can be anywhere from giving it a red color, a brown color, a black color, a roast-y flavor, a bread-y flavor, aromas. You mix and match all the different types of grains and that’s how you get all the beer styles that exist. If you go to create a recipe or copy a commercial beer, you have to figure out of all the grains, what are the right mixes or quantities to get the flavor profile that you want.

The next up is hops. Next. So hops gives the bitterness, the aroma, the flavor. The thing about hops is there’s a crap load of different types of hops from all over. And ranging everywhere from citrus to grassy to piney to tropical fruits and everywhere in between. And you put the hops in early in the boil and you get the bitterness. Later in the boil you get the aroma. Again you get all these mixes of grains and all these mixes of hops. You can quickly get to a muddled mess if you’re not pairing them all up together. And besides water, the last ingredient is yeast. This is a yeast starter. Liquid yeast. Do a little starter and let it populate a little bit before you dump it into the beer to be fermented. The problem with yeast is you have a crop load of yeast. Lots of body. Different smells, different aromas, different flavors. When you pair up lots of different grains, lots of different hops, lots of different yeast, if you don’t know your ingredients, you’ll end up with something that’s a mess and sometimes you get lucky.

From an ingredient standpoint, the next rule is follow the recipe, follow the recipe. The first five years I was home brewing I never followed the recipes. There are lots of recipes to do all different styles. The beer was fine. It was drinkable. But after about five years I was like I wonder what would happened if I brewed the recipe in the book. Believe it or not it came out much better. It allows you to figure out what ingredients do for each other and then you can start varying it. That’s fine. Or you can keep it. Take it home.

For a while you can brew the right recipe and then you can try tweaking it or a different kind of hop or grain bill. Again, from a prototyping standpoint, starting at the kind of what you know and what you know works actually is the right thing to do. All right. So we’ll talk a little bit about the process, I’ll talk a little bit about my beer and then we’ll go drink.

This is my very OSHA compliant brewing system in my garage. [Laughter] A bunch of kegs that may or may not have been acquired on eBay that you drill holes in and cut the top off to be your boiling and mash ton. And more propane tanks than your wife wants in the garage. But that’s the way it works. This is the first step of brewing. You take all that grain. I’ll talk about two types of beer. For a 10‑gallon batch, 20 pounds of grain. You put 20 gallons of water in there. You steep it. That converts all the starches to sugar and you get this syrupy mix. And you sprinkle hot water on top and you put it in a second vessel, and basically in that hose is a super thick sugar water, which is what beer is before you ferment it. You collect it and then you — All right. You then boil it. I don’t know if you can see it. But you boil it and get lots of foam for a while. You boil it 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on what you’re doing. This is when you add your hops. Hops earlier, get the bitterness. Later in the stage you get the flavor and the aroma. And depending on the hops that you’re using you get completely different types of flavorful beer. You cool that down to 70 degrees and then you ferment it.

Then you ferment it. So these are the fermenters. 6 gallon glass. You put the yeast starter. 6‑10 days, which your wife complains because you use the laundry room to ferment your beer in all the time. I’ve got these blow off tubes. You get a lot of foam sometimes. You have to collect that. You have a fermentation log. You shoot it up to the ceiling. Right before you go to work. You have to clean it up because your wife is going to yell at you. It’s not that funny actually. [Laughter] And it’s fermented. So after it ferments, the yeast settles down and then you transfer it into these kegs. I’ve got kegs that you can see out there. I’ve got a little CO2 tank. And you carbonate it. It can be ready to drink right away. Some beers take six months to age and really mature. It just depends on the style and the ingredients you use. The good news is once it’s carbonated, you then get to drink it. And to be clear.

So we went on a family vacation in Germany in July just last month and stayed at the Hofbräuhaus. Just to freak my mother and law out. That is my son. He didn’t drink that much. [Laughter] You end up with pretty good beer. It’s hard to screw up brewing especially when you get the technique down. But once you have been doing it a while, you want to expand how you make beer. Don’t be a control freak.

So at love to brewing can be very scientific. You know, from all the hops you used, what the utilization is, what your bitterness is going to be, and what your colors should be based on the grains. And there’s lots of software to tell you what kind of beer you should be brewing.

I got into growing my own hops. This is my backyard.

They go about 20 feet up. You really don’t know how strong they are. And even though they’re commercial style. So if you’ve got cascade and then Womet and Sterling and a couple others. They really aren’t exactly what you would get if you went to the home brew store and got it prepackaged. They’re kind of wild and you didn’t follow genetic theory to get them. But they’re fun for your neighbors to come and look at. You can bribe your kids to help harvest them until they realize that this is what it takes to harvest them. This is hyper-lapse and it still takes a long time and they start complaining and they don’t do it again the next year.


So you trick the other kid to do it. And you end up with a fair amount of hops. A couple bags full of hops. Which for me would do a couple beers. A couple batches of beer. And if you’re me you live right behind an organic farm and your neighbor volunteers there he convinces you to have a plot of land, so now you’re growing 30 plants of hops, because that’s a crap load of hops. And you have to borrow a drier. And your wife is wondering what the hell is going on in the garage again. You start to package them and you start looking like Denver, Colorado.


And then maybe you put that on Facebook and your mother‑in‑law calls and wants to know what is going on at your household.


The kids love it. It’s DIY. At the end of the day you have a bunch of hops and you don’t know how strong they are. Depending on the season, I have to use three times as much hops to get the same flavor. So you’re kind of rolling the dice. That’s kind of the fun part of really starting to experiment and at the end of the day you don’t know what you’re going to get. You know what the base recipe is going to give you, but not some of those variables, which gets me to today’s beer.

One of the things I really got interested in is can I brew what isn’t on the internet so recipe wise, there’s a ton of recipes. There’s home brew forms. They’ve all got recipes. For a while there I said it would be interesting if I could do an Indian pale ale with rye. I’m trying to brew something that isn’t on the internet. It’s either terrible or no one has thought about it. Could I brew something that takes like a root beer? A month into thinking about one of the hard root beers came out. But they’re artificially flavored. Maybe not a soda flavored beer. Something that was spiced but something that you hadn’t really had before. So I kind of started, you know, sarsaparilla, sassafras, winter green, generally not used in beer. Used in sodas. Cocoa anybodies. Put in a little bit of lactose, that gives it more body. Mission fission, and star anise. And sugar. I started coming up with ideas. What I said is probably a terrible idea. Just cramming all of these things together. I did have the base recipe. I brewed that a couple times. So I knew the base recipe was a solid beer. What happens when you put this other stuff in it? I tried it and four months ago I tried it. It worked when Russ called me and said I have this prototype camp, what can you brew that is unique, I got something. I hope it works the same way again. I think it did. So one of the beers I’ve got is called Roots. And Sassafras, sarsaparilla. It’s this beer. It’s a brown porter.

Variety of spices.

Some in the boil.

Some dry hopped after it’s fermented and steeped for a while. I don’t think there’s anything in there that you can be extremely allergic to. So hopefully that doesn’t happen. But it’s a nice beer, which leads me to my last and I’ve got like three slides left. My last rule is there’s always room for one more variable. And so I’ve got this really interesting kind of prototype beer that tastes good. It’s unique. And then there’s this thing called a Randal. Dogfish Head brewery was the first to go commercial with it. The beer from the keg goes in one side, filters through whatever is in that container, comes out the other side to the tap and you drink it. And it’s this realtime infusion of flavors. You get this really vibrant hoppy flavor, aroma. It’s crazy. Really fresh. People have done it with Chile peppers, chocolate, bacon in there. I have not done that. But it would be interesting if you made a s’more beer. Let’s see what happens. We got this hooked up out there. The second version that is available called campfire. The same beer. About 1% higher in alcohol. The Rots is about 5.7. The other is about 6.3 or so. Nothing too terrible. But it’s being filtered through crushed graham cracker and mini marshmallows. And the first time I did it worked and didn’t taste terrible. We’ll see if you like it. That’s what it looks like. And that’s all I’ve got.

Russ Unger:

Thank you Stephen.


I think the big takeaway. He’s drinking it, too. The big takeaway from the presentation is number one beer requires plants. Number two, children. And three, fear of your significant other.

Stephen Strong:

Yes. Or tolerance.

Russ Unger:

We are at the end of day one. For starters, I want to make sure we thank all of you. An amazing audience. Fantastic speakers. And a big round of applause for Brook. Our transcriptionist.

[Cheers and Applause]

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