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Iowa homebrewers still in fine ferment. (Weekly Specialty Beer Report).

AP--The Rowdy Articulate Sioux City Ale & Lager Society (RASCALS) Sioux City, Iowa took to home brewing in the early 1990s and are advancing a craft that dates back to the dawn of civilization.

John Lennon, RASCALS president, leads a group of 28 members who meet at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at his restaurant, El Fredo's Pizza. He has been at it for 13 years and actually ran a small home brew supply business for a few years while teaching home brewing classes.

Lennon brews his own batches because he is looking for more depth of flavor from his beer. He said the large breweries cut back on the amount of barley during World War II in order to feed the soldiers. They replaced a good portion of the grain with corn and rice sugars to complete the batches. This results in a lighter "more drinkable" beer that appeals to the watered-down masses.

"That's what home brewers are doing is bringing it back to the old preWorld War II beers where they have 100 percent flavor to them," Lennon said. "I'm looking for flavor and body in my beer--what the Irish and German immigrants brought to this country at the turn of the century."

During the 1970s, light beer became popular as people became more health conscious. But as the brews turned lighter, flavor diminished. Lennon said mass marketing and advertising have also contributed to the popularity of light beer.

Martin Appelt of Sioux City is a club member and self-confessed connoisseur of beer. While traveling, he and a friend often sought out obscure regional beers that are out of the ordinary. Home brewing also allows him to craft beers that are unique.

"In 1996, we finally had an epiphany and thought, 'My gosh, why aren't we home brewing?' So we bought equipment the same day and started brewing," he said.

Appelt's first batch of beer was so horrible he had to dump it down the sink. It was a brown ale that was contaminated. He described it as vile. However, that year he had a grand champion beer at a fall brewing festival in Schleswig. His German ale or "alt" took first prize.

Now, he gives away much more beer than he drinks, making Appelt's brewing a matter of interest to friends who may be lucky enough to sample his goods. "I've got a group of friends who are beer lovers," he said. "When I make up a five-gallon batch, I suspect I keep a few six-packs for myself, and the rest goes to the friends."

Appelt does give the mega brewers credit for being incredibly consistent with their beer brands and being very profitable. A home brewer will never be consistent between batches because there are too many variables.

Larry Silbernagel of Sioux City brewed his first beer seven years ago and was lucky enough to have it turn out great. "I was absolutely hooked at that point," he said.

Silbernagel credits his brewing success over time to keeping good notes and being very picky about sanitization. "About 80 to 90 percent of beer making is practicing good sanitization," he said. "When you dump that yeast in there it is a race between the yeast and bacteria. If the yeast wins, you are going to have beer. If the bacteria wins, you are going to have something that tastes and smells bad."

People fed up with watery beer are the ones who start taking on the home brewing hobby, Lennon said. Many don't get started because they think it is more difficult than it actually is.

"It's more intimidating than it is hard to get started," Lennon said.

It took him three months to make his first batch. He had the equipment, but was so intimidated that he didn't think he was going to make beer. Lennon liked his first batch, but his friends were not impressed. They were used to mega beers.

Appelt goes the extra step and does what is called all-grain brewing. Instead of using a liquid malt extract that is like syrup, he grinds malted grain and uses a recirculating infusion mash system that keeps uses a pump to move the unfermented beer over the grain bed. "You can do it as low tech or as high tech as you want," Appelt said. "It is absolutely as simple as cooking or photography. It can be rocket science if you want it, or it can be just real basic."

Appelt said the most common mistake home brew neophytes make is contamination of their batch. Wild yeast strains and bacteria that get into the mix will produce off flavors making the beer undrinkable.
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Title Annotation:Rowdy Articulate Sioux City Ale and Lager Society
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:1U4IA
Date:Apr 21, 2003
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