Brew & A: Jason "WildGingerBrewing" Merritt

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There's a component to commercial brewing that gets left out in the final product. Once the beer has been bottled, sent on its way, then shared and enjoyed by the masses it's taken on a new meaning. No longer having the ambitions of a brewer stuffed into a bottle, the big commercial brews lose the personality that go hand in hand with home brewing.
Strawberry Blonde and Pecan Porter are two big bold beers, as big and bold as their creator. Knowing the brewer who sent them your way is one thing, but understanding their intention in brewing is quite another. Jason Merritt is WildGingerBrewing, and Jason Merritt is as big and bold as his beers.
A native to the great state of Texas, a land known for being big and bold, I sat down with Jason to find out what makes him tick, why he loves big bold brews, and how he ended up meeting a good number of HomeBrewTalk members in real life.

: How did you start brewing?
Jason: Back in the early 90's, a good friend of mine started brewing and I would go to his house, hang out and drink while he brewed. For Christmas one year, he bought me a "starter kit" and I started making extract batches with him. Then life got in the way and I took the next 15 years off. This time-around, my son bought me a Mr Beer kit for Christmas and I caught the fever again. I've been brewing steady for about 7 years now.
Austin: Was the first kit a Mr.Beer?
Jason: Actually, it wasn't. It was a LHBS kit of the starter necessities; a bucket, air lock, hoses, bottling wand, etc...I did make some pretty tasty beer with the Mr. Beer my son bought me though. It really is a gateway drug.

Austin: That it is! Is your son a brewer?
Jason: No. He has talked about getting into it, but has never gotten around to it. He's still young and has a much busier life than I do!
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Jason: I know it's clich, but I love IPA's. Always have. Even before I knew what a "hop head" was, I preferred hoppy beers. I really like a good porter and the occasional stout, as well. I've also been into Black IPA's quite a bit over the last couple of years.
Austin: What's your favorite IPA that you've brewed?
Jason: I make an all Citra IPA that is great. I have a batch in secondary now with dry hops and lots of peppers. I really like "pepper" beer.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Jason: Ferment fridge. No question. I could use pretty much any pot to boil, and I have a couple different mash tuns, but I could not do without temp control, especially since I ferment most of my beers on the low side of the temp range.
Austin: Did you make your own or did you buy one?
Jason: I made it. We bought a new fridge for the kitchen so I took the old one to the garage. Removed all of the shelves and attached a Johnson Control to it and voila! Ferment fridge.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Jason: I hate to say it, but Fermcap. I don't think it's a bad product; it just never worked for me. It didn't matter how little or how much I used or at what point I added it, it never stopped boil overs. Plenty of people love it, but I had no luck with it. I find that a spray bottle of Star San keeps me from boiling over, but a bigger BK works best!
Austin: Why do you home brew?
Jason: In my past life, I was a musician. I love creating. One of my favorite parts of brewing is creating a recipe and sharing that recipe with others. Getting to hear their "take" on my recipe is really cool. The responses to my strawberry blonde and pecan porter recipe threads have been great. There is nothing better than a well-crafted beer, regardless of style.
Austin: Can you tell us more about the creation of your strawberry blonde and pecan porter?

Jason: The strawberry blonde recipe was a take on an extract recipe that BluelineBrewer posted here. I turned it into an AG and made a few tweaks over the years. It is still one the favorites among my friends. The pecan porter just popped into my head one day. I came across Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan and thought that pecan would go well in a porter. I already had a porter recipe that I really liked, so I figured I would add pecans to it. The key is roasting the pecans and drying them, to remove as much of the oils as possible; the oils will kill head retention.
Austin: What's your home brewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ___?
Jason: I brew all-grain. I have a great LHBS (Winemakers Toy Store) so I never have to worry about shipping or waiting on ingredients to show up. I usually stop by the brew store a day or two before I brew and pick up everything I need. When I started I did a few extract/partial mash brews but knew pretty quickly that I would make the jump to all-grain as soon as money allowed.
Austin: What were some obstacles in the conversion to all grain? How did you see all grain as a novice brewer?
Jason: AG scared me to death. In my mind, it was very complicated. I helped another homebrewer brew a batch and realized how easy it was. From then on, there was no looking back. Being a beer drinker, I own several coolers. I converted one of them to a mash tun. I made a copper manifold and added a ball valve and I was good to go! I still have that mash tun and still use it.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable home brewing experiences.
Jason: I don't think I could narrow it down to one, but the times I remember most are the times when it was a community brew day. Several of my friends brew (also HBT-ers) and all of my friends drink, so we like to make it a party. We've had as many as 5 brewers brewing at my house, at the same time and numerous others just hanging out and enjoying brew day. Those are my most memorable experiences.
Austin: You know HBTers in real life? Who do you know? How often do you meet up? How did you take the plunge? I know a lot of people find meeting people they met online worrisome.

These guys worrisome? Nah.

: Believe it or not, I do. TXCrash and Zuljin are both in the Dallas area and we brew together on occasion, as well as hang out. TXCrash and I actually work for the same company, but we knew each other on HBT before he came to work here. Since I am one of the "heathens" in the "thread that can't be mentioned", I have met up with a few others as well. Whut has become a good friend of mine, although we have yet to meet in person. I have traded beers with numerous HBTers and when it's possible, we try to get as many of us together for some drinks. Randar, Shecky and AMonkey have all been in town recently. As to how I "took the plunge", I figure a bar is about as safe a place to meet someone as anywhere, plus, as we've gotten to know each other over the years, I think most of us have become friends, even if we are imaginary.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Jason: I don't think there is a such thing. There are very few beers that I don't like. I will be in the minority, but I don't like Belgian beers or sour beers. Just about everything else is an option for me. I have been into fruit beers lately. I make a strawberry blonde that is really good and I recently made a blackberry ale that turned out great.
Austin: It's a tough question, but one that's meant to inspire you. What's your favorite quality in beer? What flavor, taste, and texture, compels you to brew more?
Jason: If pressed, I would say a perfectly balanced IPA. Not too hoppy and not too malty, just the perfect balance. That's a hard one to achieve
Austin: Wait a minute...did you just say you hate Belgians? Every time someone says they hate Belgian Beers a Monk cries.
Jason: Ha, but yes, I have never had one I liked.
Austin: Ouch. A man in a monk's robe just shed a single tear.
What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?

Jason: I have no idea. I really like my "ghetto" set-up. I would love an electric, single tier system with electric pumps, controllers, computers and all the gadgetry, but I feel like I'm creating more when I have to do the actual work. Plus, I spend so much money on this hobby that my wife would kill me if I started building a new system.

Austin: Does your wife support your brewing or does she just tolerate it?
Jason: As long as I stay out of her hair, she doesn't seem to care! In reality, as long as I'm happy doing it, she's happy with it. She doesn't drink beer at all though, so I rarely get her to taste something I am very proud of. And when I do, she usually just says "it tastes like beer, gross".
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Jason: Control your temps! This is one thing for which I did not have a complete understanding. I live in Texas. Sticking a bucket in the closet is not the best option. We don't have nice, cool basements, and a closet at 74F is not the best place to ferment beer! Getting a ferment fridge and a Johnson Control is the best thing I ever did to improve my brewing. And of course, PKU
Austin: Any other hot weather brewing tips or tricks?
Jason: One of the hardest parts of brewing in the hot Texas summers is cooling the wort down. The ground water temps are very high. I will usually stick a pre-immersion chiller in a bucket of ice and connect that to my immersion chiller. That helps some. This summer we were under heavy water restrictions. We were limited to watering our yards twice a month. I was worried about the excess water from the immersion chiller, so I connected a soaker hose to the "out" end of my chiller, and I was able to water plants, and the foundation of my house, with the run-off. I was pretty happy with that plan.
It was a pleasure and an honor to sit down with my fellow Texan, WildGingerBrewing. I ask you find the biggest boldest beer in your collection, crack it open, and join me in lifting it to Jason Merritt, this weeks Brew & A.

I have to admit, I like a well-constructed IPA myself. My best one is rather expensive to brew, but darn good! Keep brewing!
That HLT on top of the ladder is scary. Seems like a nasty scalding accident waiting to happen. I hope you're careful, but that may not be enough.
HLT on the top of his ladder is the least of his worries, trust me. You should see him removing the burner when he's done heating the water.
Pecan Porters are awesome.... cool tip on roasting the pecans.... I love the one from 512 also... makes me want to brew one!
Awesome story about my friend Jason...
We just brewed together this past weekend and he is now pumping his hot liquids with the addition of two pumps. No more ladder...