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Home is where the tasty craft brews are

South Boston News
John Gilmore, Richard Pulliam and Jerry Ramsey brewing their craft beer.
SoVaNow.com / January 23, 2013
Jerry Ramsey has a new use for his “man cave.”

The basement of Ramsey’s Clarksville home is where as he and brew buddies John Gilmore and Richard Pulliam — and one self-appointed taster, Russ Messier — practice their new passion, home brewing craft beers.

They hope to share their enthusiasm for this growing hobby by donating a one-time class on home brewing to the Mecklenburg County Community Services Corporation (MCCSC) upcoming auction fundraiser and Hoedown Feb. 2.

The winner of the prize, along with five or fewer friends, will spend an afternoon with Gilmore, Pulliam and Ramsey, “three of the area’s most avid beermeisters, learning the whole process of brewing high quality beer,” said Pulliam. He also promised to provide recipes and maybe impart some wisdom.

Listening to these men describe the beer making process can be a magical experience. Their excitement is infectious as they discuss the nuances of different grains on beer, test for alcohol content, and show off the tools of their trade — some of which they have fashioned themselves.

Their banter includes words like mash, sparge, wort, and lauter, which to the uninitiated can sound like secret code. They are quick, however, to define each term as they walk through the process of home brewing.

Their interest began when Gilmore received, as a gift, a “Mr. Beer” home brewing kit. “I made a few batches using the kit, and they weren’t bad,” he said. His wife, JoAnn, decided he could do better and enrolled Gilmore in brew school in Greensboro, N.C. Pulliam and Ramsey joined him at the school.

In a single afternoon, the three learned the mechanics of making quality beer, using the same methods adopted by micro and craft breweries.

Back in Clarksville, the trio set out to buy or build the equipment necessary to brew quality beer inexpensively. They modified a large cooler for fermenting the mash, built a copper coil system for cooling, and purchased carboys (large jugs) for secondary fermenting, airlocks, a hydrometer (a device used for measuring the alcohol content) siphon tubing, a brew kettle and cooker, and bottles for storing the beer.

Pulliam says with a laugh: “We were so enthusiastic [about beer making] that we estimate our first batch cost us around $12 per bottle to make.” Since then, they managed to refine their process and reduce production costs. “The price dropped significantly. It’s now down to about $0.75 per bottle,” Pulliam says. Because they only make the beer for personal consumption, they don’t really track their costs.

Though many mass-produced beers can be purchased for less than the cost of home brew, their enthusiasm for beer making has not diminished. They continue to refine the recipes given to them by the brew school and search the internet for new ones. A recent brew included a chocolate flavored grain.

For now, they make only ales and stouts. Ramsey said the process for making a lager is much more complicated: “The fermentation process requires lower temperatures and takes longer.”

According to the Brewers’ Association, home brewing first became popular in the 1970s when large beer distributors began limiting their product to light lagers. Their web site claims the main reason for the home brewing movement was that “the only way a person in the United States could experience the beer traditions and styles of other countries was to make the beer themselves.”

The craft brewing industry — purveyors of small quantities of specialty beers — grew out of the home brewing movement. So what have these three beermeisters learned since their days at brew school? The flyer they prepared for the MCCSC Hoedown says it all:

An extract is not painful;
A Partial is not a dental plate;
All grains don’t make you regular; and
Cooking with grains can be fun.

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