Brew & A: Brian "Cape Brewing" Shurtleff

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What composes a community? Small groups of people come together all the time, but at what point do we consider it a community?
Is it the presence of a leader? A sense of compassion and responsibility for one another? Is there a certain number of people required, or is it the introduction of a group of screwballs who move in, setup their space and refuse to leave? I'm not 100%, but Cape Brewing fits all those categories.
One of the guys keeping the off topic discussion going and seeing to the funnier side of HomeBrewTalk, I sat down with Brian Shurtleff, known to you all as "Cape Brewing" to learn all about his brewing, and to get to the root of this thing we call "community".
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The Tap Room Brian calls home.
Austin: How did you start brewing?
Brian: My first batch was an extract kit over the summer of 1994. I had spent a semester studying in England while I was in college and was first introduced to styles other than American light lagers. When I got home, I continued looking for new styles, got much more serious about beer in general, and decided to try brewing a batch myself. My first batch was a basic stout and it was actually pretty good (no idea how I managed that. It was pure luck.).
Austin: Who made your first kit? Have you ever used the mass produced kits like Mr.Beer?
Brian: Oh Jeez... I have no idea. It was a long time ago. It was probably a Munton's kit... although, I think I have a vague recollection that it might have been a kit that the HBS had put together themselves.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Brian: That's almost impossible to answer as it depends entirely on the situation. My favorite beer can range across a number of styles and it'll change depending on where I am, what I'm doing, and what I happen to be in the mood for. That said, if you put a gun to my head, and made me choose one... and I couldn't be super cheesy and say, "Mine!"... I would say... ehhh... Tilquin's Oude Gueuze. Although I reserve the right to change that selection on an hourly basis.
Austin: What do you like about it? What makes you want to drink that beer over others?
Brian: That's a hard answer to quantify. It really is a matter of fluctuating taste and it depends on the setting and what I'm in the mood for. The beer certainly has to be well made but then, for me, it comes down completely to what I'm in the mood for right then and there. For example, on sours, I might just be in the mood for something a bit sweeter and would go with more of a Flanders Red like a Duchess but then I might not be in that mood and go more with an un-blended lambic. Again, totally depends on mood.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Brian: Glycol chiller.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Brian: I have no idea how nothing is coming to mind but I really can't remember any products that stand out as just being horrible. I guess I've had a tremendous string of good luck!
Austin: Oh come on. You've had to have one thing that broke, didn't work as expected, and you need other brewers to know to stay away from it!
Brian: Honestly.... I really can't think of anything. I guess the only thing I can come up with is on my old monster 45 gallon single tier HERMS system... I went with solenoids all over the place and the whole thing was push-button operation. I really wanted to just work with my hands, enjoy building it, and see if I could get it to work. I don't regret going that route at all because it was fun but it was total over-kill (as I had been told by friends). I guess that might qualify but other than that, honestly, I can't really think of anything that I've used that I would really warn others about.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Brian: I have been a "foodie" as far back as junior high school. I've always really enjoyed cooking and, even more so, eating good food. I also really enjoy working with my hands. Combining those two things leads, pretty quickly, into homebrewing. Once I got into the hobby in any way, it became addictive because there was always something to figure out, test, try, decipher, blow-up and start over on. I find brewing to be very much an art AND a science and trying to combine the two parts to (hopefully) come out with a result you (and usually friends) enjoy is really gratifying and pretty cool! Toss the "foodie" aspect into the equation and I couldn't imagine NOT brewing.
Austin: What's your favorite food you prepare? What's your favorite food you go out for? I'm a foodie myself and I have a rule. If I can make it, I won't buy it, which means I spend to much time cooking!
Brian: Oh I'm all over the road with that... I have an old thread on HBT on how to roast a whole hog and that's something I still do every year with a huge custom in-ground brick pit I built so... "big BBQ" I guess. Is that a thing? I use my smoker a lot. I do a lot of Italian from scratch. My "step grandparents" were right off the boat from Sicily so I grew up around a lot of Italian food. I have a meat curing closet in my basement and do a lot of curing (although not much very recently given how busy we are with the brewery). Other than that, I guess a lot of experimentation. I just made up a killer recipe for a breakfast hash that was based on a dish my SWMBO and I had down in the islands last spring. Sweet potatoes, red onion, jerk chicken, andoullie sausage, and mango. Dear Lawwwwd. Poach an egg over that and go to town. Go out for food? Hmmm... My favorite is really eclectic odd-ball stuff. I really like a place down in Providence called Julian's. They have an amazing beer menu and a food menu that rotates quite a bit with really interesting dishes.
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Austin
: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Brian: I migrated to all-grain several years ago and have brewing that way since.
Austin: What made you take the leap into AG? What do you like about AG over extract or PG?
Brian: I think at first it was really just a desire to "progress" which, I think in hindsight, kind of silly reason. Once I got more and more into AG though, I really began to appreciate the additional control and complexity you can achieve with AG. That doesn't mean you can't make fantastic beer otherwise, but... there are certain beers you just can't make from extract. I make an un-blended lambic using a very complex mash schedule in order to produce a specific, and very complex, sugar profile. That profile is really what gives that beer it's entire taste and that's just not something you can reproduce any other way.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable home brewing experiences.
Brian: This is an easy one, and it didn't have to do with actually making beer. A close friend, and really... a brewing mentor of mine.. Jeff (used to log in as "Babalu" on HBT) contracted Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) a few years ago. We came very close to losing him and the the incident has unfortunately left him unable to brew to this day (yet... unable to brew.. yet). It was an incredibly difficult time for his family and friends and his medical bills mounted very quickly due to the extremely intense medical treatment he was getting. We said a few words on HomeBrewTalk about it and donations and wishes poured in from every corner of the US and from as far away as Australia and France. Brew clubs and homebrew shops sent equip to raffle and a LOT of folks sent what they could financially. These brewers didn't know Jeff personally but they knew he was a brewer and they knew his family needed help. It wasn't that we raised "X amount of money". The money that was raised was a HUGE help but the amount was dwarfed by how much it meant to his family and friends to see this massive amount support, and well-wishes from, again, folks that didn't know him personally. To this day it gets a little dusty in the room thinking about how amazed I was with the brewing community as a whole. It was an amazing thing and easily beats all of my best brew days... combined.
Austin: That was amazing, both in that he got this extremely rare disease, and the spirit of the community. Can you give us an update on Babula?
Brian: I wish I could give a more positive update but he's still struggling quite a bit with the after-effects of that infection and is still unable to brew. The brew days aren't quite the same without him around but we're still praying that some day he'll pick up a paddle again.
Here's the original link.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Brian: The one that comes out EXACTLY how you intended.
Austin: Do you have one of those currently on tap?
Brian: All of the stuff we have on tap are like. We wouldn't put them on tap otherwise.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Brian: I can't share that! Trade secrets! I'll simply say that I have put a lot of thought into, and think I have a number of ideas on, how to customize a large modern commercial mash tun to allow for the recreation of some very old and traditional Belgian mashing techniques.
Austin:What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Brian: I try to give this advice whenever I can on HBT... READ (Palmer's "How to Brew" is a perfect example). Then read some more. Brew a batch keeping what you've read in mind, and then go back and skim what you had read before, and then read some more. I think the quickest way to success in brewing is to absorb as much information as you can, even if it doesn't all make total sense yet, and then brew. As you go through your brew day, you'll be shocked how how all of a sudden things start to click and make sense. Oh... and don't listen to PaulTheNurse... that guy's a train wreck.
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I call this one "Thinking Man". It is fellow HBT'r PaulTheNurse enjoying a delicious beer.
Just a quick note on Paul... I know I bust his chops a ton on HBT but I do need to give him some credit. Given how much older he is than me, he naturally has a lot more experience. Being friends with Paul and learning from all of his mistakes, I think, has really made a big difference for me and allowed me to be in the position I am today... So.... Raise a glass. To TheNurse!!

Cheers,
Brian
***
So what makes a community? There's a lot to it, but from this brewers perspective it's pretty simple. Compassion, strength in the face of adversity, and coming together to help one another as best we can. Whether in real life, or online, the people we choose to associate with say a lot about who and what we are. I'm proud to call Brian "Cape Brewing" friend, and I hope you all are too.
Please join me in raising a glass to Brian "Cape Brewing" Shurtleff, this weeks Brew & A.
Salud!

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hunter_la5

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"Oh... and don't listen to PaulTheNurse... that guy's a train wreck."
heh.
 

austin

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I think anyone that knows Paul knows that's the truth! Kidding, Paul is a great guy. I worked with him on his fire pit article and he kept me in stitches.
 

Yooper

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Great article! I could actually 'hear' the descriptions in my head as Brian talked to us. Thank you for that, and the inspiration and the laughs as well.
 

unionrdr

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One of these days I'd like to try roasting a pig in the pit. It'll take a small one anyway. That pig looked good!
 

Hello

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That is your taproom?! I want to go to there!
What a great interview. Your most memorable experience in brewing is heartwarming. It really speaks highly of the craft beer community. Well done.
 
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