Brew & A: Jessica "Hello" B.

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Do you remember the moment you decided to brew? Do you think back on it fondly with the sort of emotion typically reserved for holidays from your youth, or time and events shared with your loved ones?
One of the greatest things I've learned from Brew & A over the past year is not only how important our brews are to us, but how important the idea of brewing is to us. Always thinking things through, always brewing in our minds, we are complex creatures. Constantly at the forefront of our thinking, brewing is a lifestyle choice, and one that demands time, energy, and dedication.
Jessica "Hello" B. is a brewer with true dedication. Through thick and thin (literally as you'll learn in this interview) Jessica has kept moving forward with the goal of being a better brewer. Starting in the standard fashion (kits), but quickly moving to the not so standard (sours), I sat down with Jessica for this weeks Brew & A.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Jessica: I started brewing over a year ago. Initially I figured I did not have the time or patience to brew but I started searching the internet for information on brewing. There were kits online that made it seem so easy. The idea that mixing up a few ingredients would result in me making my own beer in about a month seemed simple but had a chance to be even more complex and in the end I just thought it would be pretty rad.
At some point there was a Groupon deal for a deluxe beer making kit and I immediately bought the deal. It took me a few months to even pick up the kit because after reading more and more, I started to worry that maybe I would end up making something that was undrinkable and all my time would have been wasted. Friends and neighbors all had their opinions about homebrew that worried me as well. One said the biggest concern was sanitation and that it was a very tedious task to be sure everything was spotless and sanitized. Others simply had ideas based on their experience with drinking homebrew. Their experiences were fairly negative and most said the beer was terrible and not worth drinking. People complained that there was no way to make beer at home and get the quality of a commercial beer. I think it was at that point that I became reengaged with the idea and most of all the quest to prove them wrong.
Austin: Have you made anything undrinkable? If so do you know what you did wrong?Have you changed the minds of your neigh saying contemporaries?
Jessica: I've made three undrinkable beers; the jury is out on the 4th.
The first undrinkable batch was an amber I was trying to brew for a friend who said that the prior attempt, at 18 IBUs was way too bitter. I wondered if he got the extract twang taste so I re-brewed, did my first late extract addition, and found an overly malty beer. He said it was still bitter. At 8 IBUs I gave up and bought him a 12 pack of Fat Tire.
The second undrinkable batch was my first all grain brew. I absolutely tried my best for sure, but there were a few errors. First, the beer recipe provided was adjusted for someone's equipment at the brew shop. It was for a 4 gallon recipe instead of the 5 I do. Being my first all grain batch, I had that going against me but I also didn't get the conversion of the grain that one would expect. I misread my dial thermometer as I ran past the boil kettle and thought it read 170F. It was 150F, I was reading the wrong measurement. My strike water was way lower than it should have been, it was about 140F and I didn't know how to recover from that. I posted a thread here and got immediate answers, but I posted it after I started to worry, so recovering was pretty much not an option. That advice has served me well for many brews after.
The end product was thin but "drinkable". In the end I just couldn't drink any more watered down swill. I dumped 3 of the 4.5 gallons I ended up kegging.
The third batch was drinkable until I added natural blackberry extract to the finished product of what was to be a blackberry wheat beer. It was disgusting. I've heard people achieve good results with extracts, but this particular one was foul. I used 1.5 ounces to 4.5 gallons instead of the recommend 1 ounce per gallon. It was over powering and absolutely disgusting. Still, I kegged it and tried to drink it. When I couldn't, I just dumped it for better brews.
The fourth is actually half of the batch of the blackberry wheat beer I tossed. I added a giant can of blackberry puree to the beer when it was done fermenting and caught a lacto infection. It is beautiful. I took a sample into my LHBS and let them try it. They agreed it was one to let ride. I discovered the infection on June 4, 2014, I pitched brett dregs to it on October 21, 2014, and I intend to test it again shortly. So far it is a mild sour, which is right up my alley. The infection was likely caused by the questionable can opener I used. Little did I know, Star San doesn't fight all!
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Jessica: I am definitely a big fan of darker beers but I don't discriminate and it's hard to pick only one, so I won't. Today, I would have to say my most favorite beer is Double Barley's Thrilla in Vanilla Porter. They're a small brewery just barely a year old out of Smithfield, NC. On a wider scale, I would say if I had to nail one down, it would be Troegs Nugget Nectar and Bell's Two Hearted Ale. They're both solid beers and Nugget Nectar is the first beer I throw at the person who tells me that amber ales are boring.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Jessica: It is simple, my thermometer. I did not realize how often I used it until someone who brewed with me mentioned how that thing didn't really leave my hand the whole day. Temperature control was not discussed with me when I began brewing. The brew shop who gladly sold me my kit never even mentioned it and I was pretty unaware how temperature could change everything. Now I'm a bit obsessive about it.
Austin: Do you have a brand and style you like?
Jessica: You mean thermometers? Well, I just got a Thermapen for Christmas. Before that I used a Thermpop. I got that myself and it has served me so well. I was going to buy a second, but the Thermapen came up and I got one of those. They're both fast, the Thermapen being 2 seconds faster and has a slightly longer probe, and easy to read. After I misread the dial on my thermometer with my first all grain batch, I went digital. I'd like to consider myself smart, but a new process coupled with the likelihood of me having had a couple of beers, well, you can see where this is going.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Jessica: I don't think I've had a bad product. I try to research what I buy and make decent buying decisions because I've already been through the phase where I grew out of my kit and I don't really want to do that again.
Austin: What all does your research process include?
Jessica: Thermapen seems to be an industry brand well outside of home brewing. If you ask what thermometer here, you'll undoubtedly see responses that include CDN and Taylor, but someone will always say the Thermapen is the best thing they ever got/bought. So there is that. Usually, when I am buying something I review Amazon (if Amazon sells the product) as well as just using google. You may not be shocked to know that sometimes when you google something, websites such as "ihateXXXproduct.com" will pop up. I also ask people. Earlier into my hobby I did not know any home brewers so I asked questions here or searched and read threads new and old. Now I have forged relationships with people who brew and often ask them.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Jessica: At first it was just because it seemed like a cool idea, so why not?! I half-heartedly figured I'd ditch it after the first brew based on what people had said about the work, time, cleanup, and possible terrible end product. Then after the first batch was done, which was not the most stellar hefeweizen to touch my lips, I saw it as a challenge to learn more and do better. I am naturally curious which makes me a natural learner. I tend to feel a need to absorb everything I can about what interests me most. What was once done because it seemed cool, is now done because I simply admire the craft, the fact that there is a lot of DIY in the hobby if I want it, and of course I feel like I make a drinkable product that I can share and enjoy with friends.

Austin: Do you have other hobbies that play into that natural skill set?
Jessica: Unfortunately I don't really think so. Best I can say is I like woodworking and just DIY home improvement. Those two "skills" if I can be so bold as to call them that, will come into play when I start work on my new brew shed. The shed will come as a shed comes and I will be laying down flooring, putting up insulation, and drywall. I also intend to build my brew table, I think. I do wish I had more electrical experience because I'm finding that not having it is going to cost me.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Jessica: I brew all-grain with an occasional dabble in BIAB.
Austin: What do you like about BIAB?
Jessica: BIAB is great. In fact, I believe if I would have found a way to lift the grain bag out of the kettle without having to hold it, then I would do BIAB. Even all electric BIAB. I think it's a wonderful single-vessel option for anyone wishing to do all grain. In fact, I don't really see where BIAB is better or worse than a traditional three-vessel system. I am certain when it comes to batch size, BIAB may not be as feasible, but overall, when comparing 5 gallon batches, I'd say I can think of pros and cons of each.
I did not know much about BIAB when I went to all grain, but I was under the impression that I needed some kind of pulley system. I saw it on this site but never really considered it because I knew I wanted to brew indoors eventually. I don't have any regrets, but I think of it like art. No one said that an oil painting was somehow more meaningful than a water color painting. Both can result in fine art and isn't that the point of our beer? If you get good beer using any method, including extract, then there is no need to critique the method in which the beer was produced. I think the exception would be that I would never openly admit to brewing in a toilet, even if the end result was award-winning.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Jessica: I brewed a clone recipe of a beer produced by a local brewery. I contacted the brewer/owner who gave me a few pieces of information. I was left to my own devices on some things like mash temp, hops & hop additions, and base malt. With the information in hand from the brewer and my own guesswork, I came up with a beer that was pretty close. What set it apart from the original was my mash temp was a tad off and my volume was lower making the adjuncts stand out more. In spite of this, the brewer asked me to come down with some and do a side-by-side. I did and the brewer (one of two owners) and the other owner were both impressed. Then I caught them sharing it with customers and explaining to them that I made it. I would say that may have been the most memorable and humbling experience to have a professional brewer and owners of a brewery enjoy a beer I brewed.
Austin: What was the beer and who were the brewers?
Jessica: The beer I brewed a clone of was Thrilla in Vanilla Porter by Double Barley Brewing. The brewery is owned by Larry and Cheryl Lane. Larry was a home brewer for many years and all of the beers I happily drink of theirs were his own home brew recipes scaled up for commercial brewing. They're now just over one year old and on October 11th they introduced their anniversary beer, which was a Pecan Porter-She Can Pecan Porter. This beer was my recipe that I brewed with Cheryl and a few other ladies. It was our "girl's brew" combined with their anniversary brew. It was a hit and although I was nervous about the end result after taking a gravity sample, somehow it just worked.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Jessica: I think it's fairly subjective though about what is a perfect beer. I think in general terms the perfect beer would be one that fits the style best, even though I think I am terrible at dissecting a beer. For me though, I think one of the perfect beers would be one that I can have with or without a meal and that identifies with the style it claims to be.
Austin: Most people have had a hard time with this question. It's a thought experiment. When you close your eyes, take a deep breath and think of beer, taste, texture, all that, what are you tasting? It doesn't have to be a specific style, or brand. What's perfect to you right now?
Jessica:Today it is easily an IPA that was dosed heavily with a rich honey and citrusy hops. I can nearly smell the hops and the fruit together right now.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Jessica: I want a single tier all electric HERMS 3 vessel 15 gallon system. Is there a clean in place option? I don't know because it is that kind of digging that eventually gets me looking at which organs I can sell off to make it happen. This whole rig would ideally be in the temperature controlled and fully plumbed non-existent shed I want in my backyard.
Austin: How long till you have your dream setup?
Jessica: Well, I guess it will now take however long it takes me to save up a bit more and get the work done. Two months ago I decided it was time to have a dedicated brew space. I was tired of the setup and tear down. I stood in my garage and tried to figure out how I could brew in my garage and keep the brewery setup. Aside from challenges such as not wanting to give up my parking spot, having every wall lined with shelves, a workbench, a motorcycle, bicycles and so forth, and the fact that I tinker with wood a lot during spring and summer, I just couldn't see how a brewery in the garage would be possible. Sawdust alone gets into places you didn't know you had. Investing in an electric brewery and then riddling it with dust seemed fairly dumb to me. So I bought a shed two weeks ago. It isn't huge, I had requirements regarding how far it stuck out from behind my house and then clearance requirements that I could not control, but it is a shed nonetheless.
Once the shed is here I have to hire an electrician to run a sub panel out to the shed for my new brew control panel, which should be here this week, my ferm chamber and other goodies I'll need to stay warm or cool and ventilated. I'll have to invest in at least one more kettle and eventually I'll move towards matching kettles, and another pump and all that, but the really major pieces outside electrical are taken care of. I keep going back and forth with everything because this is where a hobby becomes a serious obsession and I question why, then I brew and realize how rad it will be in the end. I'm sure neighbors will think I am absolutely crazy considering the amount of space I have inside my house to do whatever I want!
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Jessica: I have two pieces of advice, control your fermentation temperature no matter what. At the very least have a way to control the temperature of your beer. That will make or break your end product. Also, do not buy a 5 gallon kettle. No matter what method you use to brew, buy at least a 10 gallon kettle because in the end, you'll wish you had. My first question was "how big of a kettle do I need" and the guy at my LHBS said the 5 gallon would be fine. I believed him and two brews later I was looking at a 15 gallon kettle. I had no wiggle room.

Austin: How are women received in the brewing community? Do you feel it's a boys club, or do you see that changing? I'll be frank, conflicted in this line of questioning. There's a part of me that thinks calling out the fact you're a lady is making an issue of it rather than just not mentioning it. Thoughts?
Jessica: I don't know whether to laugh or be offended that you called me a lady!
But really, let's face it, home brewing is a boy's club right now, but the number of women brewers is increasing. I was not surprised to see that men dominated the hobby and to be honest, when I see another woman brewer I am probably oddly star struck. It is like spotting Bigfoot, only prettier and I probably don't have to fear for my life. I would love to see more women brewing, but it may never take off like it has for men. I don't think I could come up with a valuable reason, but I encourage women to brew or get with their significant others and brew together. It is a nice hobby to have because there is usually something to enjoy in the end and it is done at home where you can be present with loved ones or a needy dog; what isn't there to love!?
As far as the question goes, I think it is a fine question to ask. I almost want to believe that women home brewers are independent and very strong. That we value our families, but we have a hobby that is definitely going against the grain of what some people still may believe is inappropriate for women. I think there has been a stigma associated with drinking beer and that it was a man's drink. I think a woman drinking beer from a can, bottle, or even pint glass may be viewed as anything but sexy. A woman holding a nice glass of wine or a nice martini glass was probably more of the picture people had when they thought about women drinking. I still question whether or not this is still the case based on what I see just hanging out in breweries and such. Granted, there are still women around and some who are drinking beer and those who don't look like they're annoyed or bored being at a brewery, but obviously the ratio is definitely skewed in the favor of men. As a lady, I don't mind sitting in a place riddled with men. Men are glorious!
History is a funny thing. It takes our views and perspectives and changes them, applying new understandings to our world. Duties and responsibilities change, and what was once a job for the poor, the rich, women, or men, can vary decade by decade, culture by culture.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Circa Egypt 2050 - 1500 the brewing responsibility fell to women. Although now admittedly a boys club we would not be where we are at today without the influences, lessons, and history of women brewers.
Please join me in raising a glass to this weeks Brew & A: Jessica "Hello" B., a brewer, and a women serving the legacy of homebrewing.

nice interview! sounds like you're a bit of a social rebel. someone gives you nothing but negatives and you push through to a positive just to tell them they're wrong! love it!
Great interview! Cheers, Jessica! I have had the pleasure of brewing with Jessica a few times at a local brew shop's "Big Brew" event, as well as trading homebrews to both enjoy and evaluate. Jessica is obviously more advanced than I, both technologically and in knowledge/techniques. I have, however, found her to be extremely helpful and encouraging. When we first met, I was a complete noob and had just brewed a couple of batches of extract. I have been brewing for about a year and a few months and moved to BIAB almost a year ago. Jessica's advice and encouragement have made a big difference! She also gives honest and constructive feedback on my beers, which is crucial to improving the process.
We have a few female brewers on this great website that have impressed and inspired me. I have in secondary currently Yooper's Oatmeal Stout, 2 gallons of which I am giving a gingerbread flavoring. I have no problem at all with female brewers. Thank you, Ladies!
Thanks all. It was fun to do. This site has been nothing but an amazing resource, and maybe a bit of an enabler at times, but mostly a resource. :) There are so many incredibly knowledgable and helpful people, it is only right to try and portray that same attitude myself.
Nice interview.
"When I see another woman brewer... it is like spotting Bigfoot, only prettier and I probably don't have to fear for my life."
I chuckled at that.
Well, lol, in my day when you were "headin' for the shed" you were gettin' a whoopin' in the coal shed. This gives it a rather new meaning. since medieval times, brewing changed to der hausfrau. In ancient times, & some kings & such, the cook was also the brewer. Hence ales like Midas Touch. In Germany, the hausfrau would hang her broom out the window when she had beer available for sale to add to her family's income. Then the men saw something to capitalize on & causes a legal ruckus. I taught my wife how to brew, so it doesn't matter to me at all. But I still use the same 5 gallon kettle I started with for pb/pm biab. Everything works if ya let it! Cheers for being here!
Loved it.
If there is any fuss over women brewers, I wouldn't know why. I am more astonished that men are any good at it. I say that because I have no talent for cooking. If I had the effortless talent for cooking that my mother and grandmother had, I'd be a natural at brewing.
I brew as if I'm fixing a transmission.