Brew & A: James "CreamyGoodness" Babiarz

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

Every brewer's origin is unique. We've learned a number of ways to get started. Family tradition, spur of the moment purchases, intense research after falling in love with a commercial offering, all great ways to enter the obsession.
James Babiarz , known to the HomeBrewTown as CreamyGoodness, comes in from a whole new angle. He was civil war reenactor with a love of food history. James took the plunge and there was no looking back. Inspired by not only his love of history, but fantasy novels as well, namely Game of Thrones (who doesn't love Game of Thrones!), I sat down with James for this week's Brew & A to learn more about his origins, his need to brew with Okra, and why he, and no one else, should ever try it again.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
James: I've been an avid fan of fantasy books and movies my entire life, and hugely interested in the history surrounding food and beverages. Finally, in 2011, I got a wild hair that I was going to make some mead to see what it tastes like thanks to the first Game of Thrones book. I did some reading, and found a JAOM recipe on The rest is history. I have been fooling around with bread yeast and honey ever since, and from there have a couple batches of beer, fruit and vegetable wines, and rice wine under my belt.
Austin: That sounds like a great reason to get started! How did your first brew turn out?
James: First brew was great. JAOM usually is. Unfortunately I didn't wait very long before friends and I drank it. I've since learned SOME restraint... but not much.
Austin: Have fantasy novels impacted other parts of your life? Any other series you're into aside from Game of Thrones?
James: For the longest time I was a big fan of Raymond Feist's Riftwar Cycle series of series, but they got repetitive recently. Love Patrick Rothfuss, enjoying the Dresden Files and a few others. I've always been into gaming, so games that are based or loosely based on fantasy novels/series have taken up a lot of my disposable time.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
James: Our own Kayabrew sent me a can of Heady Topper that blew my mind. Whenever I can find it I rush to it. Serpent Stout still features in my dreams even though I last had one at least 5 years ago. Ultimately, I am not picky, but I gravitate to IIPAS, big stouts, and yes Grognerd, fruit beers .
Austin: Have you brewed a clone of Heady Topper?
James: I'm just not there yet, talent and experience-wise. I would love to at some point though. Can you imagine, 5+ gallons of Heady Topper? Wonderful.
Austin: What did you like about the Heady Topper? Did it live up to the hype for you?
James: I found Heady Topper to just be so well balanced. Unlike some hop heavy beers like say, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, you get a lot of really sophisticated hop flavors and bitterness without it being overwhelming. Its not just a hop bomb. Does that make sense?
Austin: Perfect sense. What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
James: Autosyphon. Easy.
Austin: Seems I should just stop asking that question! What's the worst product you've ever used?
James: Okra. But in all seriousness my setup is so simple and ad-hoc I don't think I have used a fraction of the equipments a lot of suburban and rural brewers have.
Austin: Okra? Really? You have to tell us more. What did you use it in? What happened?
James: The okra mead was a legendary bad brew. In a 1 liter bottle I essentially made JAOM but swiped out the oranges for okra spears. The result was a slimy mess that tasted awful and almost made my friend Lucas and I yak. The video can be found here on HBT.
Austin: Oh wow. I gagged. That looked terrible. What did it taste like? Can you provide us a description?
James: Grassy, definitely tasted like okra but with an aftertaste of rancid apple juice. The best part was the Caro syrup-like slime that sat on top of the liquid like an oil slick. Nasty.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
James: I love drinking the beverages I have created, discussing and sharing them with friends, talking about the history of said beverage, etc. Also, getting a couple friends together to drink more beer and bottle or boil is more or less a perfect weekend. So I guess in short, its the communal aspect of the hobby I like the best, and accounts for why I continue to do so.
Austin: Do your friends brew too? What's an average brew day look like for you?
James: Lucas, thus far, only brews with me. I'm pretty blessed to have such good friends. Brew DAY is kind of a misnomer, as I usually brew when the sun goes down due to work schedules. The boil, wort cooling, and the pitch all happen in my apartment's kitchen and bathroom (bathtub full of ice) and then usually Cockfoster, my 5 gallon carboy, is set on the shelf in my brew closet. Beer is usually consumed throughout the process.
Austin: What got you into food history? Any info you could share with us?
James: I was a Civil War reenactor for years as a kid, so I got really deep into the minutiae of what the soldiers were eating and how much. When I prepared the same rations using the same methods, I got a really good idea of how they most likely felt physically (answer, they spent a lot of time at the sewer trench). I realized I could get an understanding of people and ideas throughout history via the foods they ate, how it was prepared, and in what quantities. You also find some real gems that fell out of favor, like Hopping John, as well as some dishes that maybe should have remained in history, like Lutefisk. Who am I fooling, I would try the hell out of lutefisk. I also have some political views that have made me interested in such things as nose to tail eating (every bit of food thrown away was potentially a meal) and reducing the carbon footprint as much as can reasonably be done. People throughout history were locovores because they had to be, and they got pretty good at it, so looking into food history provides some answers to questions being asked right now.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
James: I have never used any extract. Since I have no mash tun, as such, I have been using a bottling bucket with a series of straining implements (colanders, cheese cloth, etc.), so I have decided my next brew will be a BIAB. The wife just has to sew me a bag. You'd think with all the spare time she has on maternity leave she'd have done that already (I kid).
Austin: Your kid indeed! Have pics of your setup you could share with the community?
James: But of course. Please see not only the holy brew closet but the drinking horns I made from real cattle horns sent to me by HBT's own BrewerBear. Thanks BrewerBear!

: You dove straight into AG? That's impressive. Most everyone I've talked to has started extract then moved to AG after a couple of batches. What made you decide to start AG?
James: 1 gallon kit from Brooklyn Brew Shop. Really took a lot of the fear and mystique out of AG. Also, my pastry chef friend makes spent grain bread, which is the real reason I think AG is better than extract
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
James: As I have said I have only had a few dozen experiences in the hobby, but I think what comes most to mind is bottling my first 5 gallon batch (an Abominable Winter Ale Kit) with my friends, and also the time my melomel ejected an airlock straight up in the air and ruined the paint on my dining room ceiling. My wife nearly killed me...
Without a proper mash tun we wound up using cheesecloth, a spaghetti strainer, and two buckets. Super inefficient, super frustrating. Looked like a scene out of I Love Lucy. The beer came out just fine. We were SUPER happy to be done with the sparge and took a little time off to rest up.

Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
James: I think the most perfect beer I have ever consumed was Serpent Stout (I had it in San Francisco and I think it is local). The aroma is chocolatey and honestly a little irony in a pleasant way. Color is extremely black, two finger head. Tastes as if a half can of evaporated milk had been added (but obviously hadn't). More sweet than bitter, but with enough of a hoppy punch to let you know it was there. Gorgeous. This was a few years ago, though, so some of my memory may have faded.
Austin: Have you tried to brew it or find it locally?
James: I have never seen it locally. Wish I could! As for brewing it, not sure why I have never thought of that...
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
James: Honestly, I'm not sure. As a New Yorker, I have limited space, so my dream set up would be extremely portable/collapsible. I'm still at the point in the hobby where I am most interested in listening to the advice others have to offer.
Austin: Brewing in tight spaces is a huge topic of discussion. What space saving techniques do you use? Any tips and pointers for those brewing in tight places?
James: Clean as you go. This is important with any project but particularly with brewing in a tight space. Also, your brew buckets fit inside each other, and carboys can nestle inside your kettle when not in use. Lastly, I don't care if you have made the same recipe a thousand times without an issue, use a blow off tube with each and every brew. Nothing is a bigger threat to your brewspace (read: kitchen) than SWMBO after a mead eruption.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
James: Honestly? Just buy a cheap autosyphon and a cheap capper. RDWHAHB can drive a person crazy (we are hardwired to worry), so I think I would just rebrand the advice as HISDTB "Hell, I'd Still Drink That Brew".
That interview went down smooth. Usernames are unique, a reflection of who we are, what we want to be, or sometimes just a random smashing of keys, but all the same it's a chosen name, and I can't think of a better name for James Babiarz than CreamyGoodness. Please join me in lifting a pint to this weeks brewer in our latest Brew & A!

Hey, buried right under your nose!
That okra mead was the ralph beer for the ages! Looked like Slimer got to it. And you'll like biab. Easy less equipment. And try a ten minute dunk sparge. I stretch the bag over the smaller kettle so I can stir the sparge as ell. OG's will be higher. Nasdarovie!