Brew & A: Kevin "BierMuncher" Mattie

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Have you brewed any of these beers?
Black Pearl Porter, Blue Balls Belgian Wit, SWMBO Slayer - Belgian Blonde, Krisper Kolsch, Nierra Sevada, Ode To Arthur - Irish Stout, Captain Hooked on Bitters, Bass & Co, Pale Ale,Orange Kolsch (AG/EX,Maltese Falcon - America IPA (All Grain,Litehaus Wheat (Boulevard Wheat Clone), Aberdeen Brown Ale, Aberdeen Brewery - Session Haus Ale, BierMuncher's OktoberFAST Ale,Centennial Blonde, BierMunchers Helles Belles, Drowning Hops - IPA,Kona - Fire Rock Pale Ale, Six Shooter Pale Ale, Sterling Gold, Sacred Summit Pale Ale, StoneHedge - Oak Aged IPA,Cream of Three Crops, Ugly Kettle Pale Ale, Captain Hooked on Bitters, BierMuncher's Outer Limits IPA, Loon Lake Smoked Porter (Award Winner), Tits-Up Imperial IPA (3-Time Medalist - 2 Golds, 1 Silver)
You might want to go over that list one more time. Although representing a wide diversity in the brewing world they all one thing in common, Kevin Mattie.

here on HomeBrewTalk, Kevin is a leader when it comes to recipe design and creation with 28 (as of this writing) recipes shared with the community. A force only contained by his own pure awesomeness, I sat down with Kevin to get to know this brewing legend in this weeks Brew & A.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Kevin: It started with the perennially popular "Mr. Beer Kit" my wife bought me for Christmas in 2006. The resulting batch was predictably yeasty and tangy, but something about this gimmicky brew kit sparked in me a deeper interest. I'd brewed a couple batches about 15 years earlier using a more conventional bucket setup, but the lack of ingredients at that time left me with disappointing beers and after just a couple of batches, I stowed the equipment away in my basement. Maybe it was the magic of listening to the yeast churn away in the Mr. Beer fermenter. Maybe it was the bready smell coming from the airlock. Maybe it was just the idea that I was making my own beer. Of course it could have been I was just deathly bored in the middle of the winter. Whatever the reason, before the Mr. Beer batch was more than 3 days old, I dug out the old equipment, ran to the local Homebrew Shop to buy whatever pieces of equipment I was missing, and was heading home with a recommended recipe kit. My original brewing equipment was back at work. No sooner had I pitched the yeast in this new batch of beer, than I was running back to the LHBS and buying more buckets, more ingredients and working my way through a LOT of Sam Adams to procure the cherished empty bottles. That winter, I brewed 8 consecutive weekends. By the 4th batch, I was into all grain. When I wasn't brewing, I was scavenging for materials and building my own brewing equipment. I was hooked.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Kevin: I'd have to say it goes back to my reason for homebrewing in the first place. 2 weeks downing many a pint of Special Bitter in the English countryside in 1988 left me hooked on that wonderful ale. Unfortunately there was no craft beer industry to speak of yet in the states, so when I returned I was back at the store looking for Michelob. To this day I can still remember the flavor and aromas as I sipped on that cellar temperature, malty and slightly under carbonated beer in various brew pubs across England.

Austin: What's one piece if your brew setup you can't live without?
Kevin: There's a saying. "The most important task in any endeavor is simply...the task at hand". When it comes to equipment, the most important piece of equipment I own, is the piece of equipment I need to use right now. Without my banjo burner, I have no rigorous boil. Without my ugly keggle, I have nothing to boil it in. Without my homely looking immersion chiller, I have no way to chill my beer, and without my racking cane, the beer isn't getting into the fermenting bucket. When the beer is finally fermented, cleared and carbonated, the most important piece of equipment is a decent pint glass. So you see, every piece of equipment is the very piece I can't live without at some point during the brewing process.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Kevin: I honestly can't say I've ever used a product I didn't like, but I'm a bit anal retentive when it comes to researching and purchasing a product. There are products that I don't use as much as I thought I would, but that doesn't mean they fall into a "worst product" category. Plus, I make the vast majority of my own equipment so I've only myself to blame if something doesn't work.
Austin: What have you made? Any advice for member designing and implementing their own equipment?
Kevin: Well I guess my ugly keggle is the best publicized example of my DIY skills. None of my equipment is pretty, but it works. Most of it is all hacked together from parts I found wandering the aisles at Lowe's. A five-tap keezer in my brewshop. A two tap kegerator in the kitchen and my Rolling 3-tap Kegerator are all built from scratch. My entire all-grain brewing setup is just an assembly of an old turkey fryer, a banjo burner and a couple of workbenches on wheels. Even my fly sparge "system" is just an old bucket with a gazillion teeny tiny holes drilled in the bottom. My aim has always been to keep it simple and put function over form. My advice to anyone who wants to build out their system themselves is to look around at what other people are doing and copy what works. The beautiful thing about the homebrewing community and HBT in particular, is that we tend to be very unselfish with our DIY ideas. So if someone wants to replicate the exact design of my ugly keggle, I'm fine with that.

Photo courtesy of Passedpawn.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Kevin: For me this is simple. I brew to keep 7 active taps in my house flowing with the best beers possible that meet a wide variety of tastes. I don't always feel like a pint of Tits Up IPA. But if I do, it's there. I have two taps running two slight variations of English Bitter. I have a lot of people who enjoy my lighter beers so there are always a couple of taps loaded with a Blue Balls Belgian Wit or a Cream of Three Crops. People who come to my house are always eager to have a fresh pint drawn for them and I'm always happy to oblige. And at the stage, it's more or less expected of me to be serving homebrew to the neighbors, family and friends.
Austin: What do you currently have on tap? Do you have one brew you make sure to keep constantly as opposed to a style. You said you have two ordinary English bitters, but do the recipes change out?
Kevin: Currently on tap?:
"Tits Up IIPA" I brew this once a year and keep on hand as an occasional treat
"Captain Hooked on Bitters" Special bitter A perennial favorite. This is always on tap.
"Your WITness" Belgian Wit (From my "Just another Brew Day" thread).
My "OctoberFast Ale" A must have during the cooler months.
"Kona Pale Ale" clone I always like a moderately hoppy APA on hand. For me it's one of the best beers to go with the spicy food I like.
"Black Pearl Porter" with vanilla coffee bean In the deep dark nights of winter, this is a must have.
And my last tap is usually reserved for a light ale. Right now I have my take on a Kraftig clone that is very popular.

Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Kevin: The first 4-5 batches I brewed (right after the Mr. Beer) were extract with steeping grain. The next 175(ish) batches were all grain. I moved to doing 10-gallon batches after about 8-9 brew sessions because the extra yield compared to the small amount of extra work was a no brainer.
Austin: Do you feel extract brewing as an accessible means of brewing keeps people from going AG? Everyone I've talked to says they start out in extract or PG but make the conversion to AG after a just a few batches, so in my mind why are we all starting with extract brewing? Is it a hindrance, or helpful in moving people to more advanced brewing?
Kevin: I really think if it weren't for the advances in the quality of extract brewing, the homebrewing population would be much smaller than it is. There's a ginormous variety of extract brewing ingredients and they are high quality. It's relatively easy to get into extract brewing without a lot of equipment. Most importantly, it gives a budding brewer the chance to decide if brewing is right for them or not. The majority of the most ardent all grain brewers I know, got hooked on the hobby when they opened that first can of liquid extract and dumped in their bittering hops. The smell of that first batch in the kitchen is still in my memory. Extract is definitely the gateway drug for homebrewers.

Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Kevin: The most memorable was probably the worst brew session I had early on. I was brewing an all grain 10-gallon batch of Stout. It was the dead of winter with a foot of fresh snow on the ground, winds gusting and temps slightly below zero. At that time I was still brewing in my garage. The list of minor catastrophes goes something like this:
Somehow I measured my grains incorrectly and ended up adding a half pound of black patent malt. (I think the recipe called for 2 ounces)
My burner kept getting blown out because the wind was gusting (and snow drifting) under the 7" gap I had under the garage door.
I crushed the grains far too fine and ended up with the stuck sparge to end all stuck sparges. I ended up having to ladle out the mash one saucepot at a time and strain through a small colander.
My garden hose from the outside spigot to the immersion chiller burst outside because of the cold.
While I was outside trying to move the hose indoors to thaw out, I smacked my thumb against the brick side of the house and ended up nearly losing a nail.
Some snow had dusted its way up to my setup and as I was pouring my wort into the fermenter, the bucket slid away and about one full gallon of black sweetness rolled down my garage floor.
Add to all of this the fact that my fingers (the nine good ones I had left) were on the verge of frost bitten and I was chilled to the core for 4 hours.
On the upside, I quickly became familiar with the benefits of rice hulls and I was immediately motivated to convert my basement workshop into what is still my warm and dry brew shop.

Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Kevin: English Pale Ale. Hands down my favorite. Deep malt flavor and a firm but balanced bitterness. When I brew mine I always toast about 2-3 pounds of base malt which gives it a nice bready aroma and flavor. A bit maltier and robust for the cooler season, and a little lighter grain bill for the warmer months. A good Special Bitters is something I can drink all afternoon and never tire of the flavor, and the hops are not so overpowering as to destroy your taste buds with the first pint.
Austin: Do you have a recipe you like you'd care to share with us?
Kevin: Ha ha... Anyone familiar with this site knows I'm none too shy about sharing my recipes. But I do try to show some restraint. For every recipe I have published here on HBT, there are a half dozen that (while they were pretty good) didn't meet my expectations for sharing with the world.
Austin: Since you've published so many successful/popular recipes, describe the process by which you go about designing one.
Kevin: Lots of trials and lots of errors. The recipe I put together this week will be a slight variation (and hopefully an improvement) on last month's brew that I'm sipping right now. But your question makes me go back and rethink what you asked about the piece of equipment I can't live without. For me, the most crucial tool at my fingertips for putting together a balanced recipe within style guidelines is a good brewing software program. I happen to use BrewSmith. I like tweaking different grains and hops in and out of the recipe program. With as many brew sessions as I have under my belt, I can almost taste the wort as the recipe comes together. I can smell the slight variation between EKG and Fuggles hops as I tinker with the timing of the additions. I can sense the caramel tones I'll get from adding invert sugar to my English ale. Before I breakout the scales and start assembling my grist, I am pretty confident in how the beer is going to taste...and that comes from experience.

Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Kevin: I think I have my dream brew rig. There are no pumps. No electronic gauges. No control panels. No polished stainless steel. My setup is completely manual. I roll out my work bench, stack my various liquor and brew pots, put together my Igloo mash tun and fire up the propane burner. I like to think I'm doing it very close to the way our forefathers did it several hundred years ago. I like lifting, measuring and transferring the grains by hand. My sparge water goes into my fly sparge bucket one saucepot full at a time. I still have the original racking cane I started with many years ago. For me, brewing is my zen time. The time to make something with my hands. Others might strive for a set-it and forget-it push button system, but brewing the ole fashioned way is good for my soul.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've given you when you first started?
Ha ha... Seriously though, all the advice I wanted to find I found right here on HBT way back when. There is really nothing I wish someone would have told me. However, after all these years of brewing and interacting with new brewers there is one consistent piece of advice I give to people wanting to get into this fantastic pastime...."Just Brew." Don't spend time researching, analyzing and turning over every stone before you fire up the kettle. No book, website or mountain of advice will substitute for simply brewing your own beer and gaining experience. Don't wait to have all of the perfect equipment. If you don't have a mash tun, brew extract. If you don't have a 15 gallon keggle, brew 5 gallon batches. If you don't have a banjo burner, fire up the stove top. But for the love of beer...BREW!!!
Austin: What's this about the rice hulls?
Kevin: Rice hulls do two things for me:
First No matter the grain bill size or composition, I know I'm going to have a steady, clog-free sparge from my mash tun. No more worrying that I might have too much flaked wheat in my wits. No more crossing my fingers when I open the valve to drain my stout with a bunch of flaked barley. Rice hulls are a great filtration adjunct and the make my brew days effortless.
Second When I started using rice hulls, my efficiency jumped several points. Rice hulls fluff up the grain bed and it seems a "fluffier" mash is less prone to channeling than one that is tightly compacted.
Rice hulls are cheap and I always have a large sack laying around.

Extra: You've been a member since 2007 and a have more published (and brewed) recipes than anyone else. But beyond that, you've been a Moderator since 2008. What's it been like to help watch over HBT all these year?
Kevin: I've always enjoyed being a Moderator for HBT. I consider this place my virtual "brewpub". It's important to me to not only be a contributor, but to help keep the place fun, friendly and welcoming to new brewers. Let's face it, when it comes to homebrewers, there is no shortage of passionate opinions. Now add to that passion the fact that the end product of our hobby is alcohol, and you can get some pretty spirited debates going on. Just like any real pub, it's inevitable that passions are going to flare and someone is going to get their feathers ruffled. My philosophy has always been to not interfere until someone is disrespectful, clearly breaks a rule or does anything to make HBT an unfriendly place for newbies. I love brewing. I love HBT and what it does for the hobby. Being a moderator is just a way I can give back just a little. The other Mods are just as dedicated to keeping HBT true to its beginnings and that makes my job easy.
Kevin is a major driving influence in the brewing world. Designing recipes, sharing them, improving them, and starting over anew, Kevin represents the best that brewing has to offer. Care, commitment, innovation, and respect. Please join me in lifting a glass to Kevin "BierMuncher" Mattie, this weeks Brew & A!

Thanks for all your contributions to the home brewing world Kevin! My house always seems to have 1-2 of your recipes on tap, right now the C3C and Kona clone...love that Kona clone.
I like the bits about rice hulls. I've never had a stuck sparge, but I have problems with a giant MLT and sometimes light 5g batches. I'll have <3" grain bed sometimes. I'll look into getting a sack of rice hulls to fill it in more.
Big fan of the recipes of his too. Sometimes I don't want to think / worry about my recipe, and his are as sure of a thing as you can get in homebrewing.
In my interviews so far I'm finding brewing is a "zen" moment for most brewers. There's no stress after the first few batches, and an abiding philosophy best summed up in this interview as "every piece of equipment is the very piece I can't live without at some point during the brewing process".
Kevin is a Brew Sage. We're very fortunate to have him pass down his wisdom.
Great read. I always end up going back to the Centennial Blonde recipe.
I'll have a pint in your honor tonight BM, thanks for everything!
Great one, thanks!
To all, if you haven't seen it, the thread detailing his trash can kegerator build is an epic read!
And can we all agree to NOT referr to BierMuncher using only the two initials? Meh.
Nice read. Glad to have known you better. Thanks. And yes, I've brewed your recipes. A few are house favorites...thanks.
What a breath of fresh air!!!!!!
I spent the last Saturday at my brew club's get together. Fella had $5,500 in equipment and $4000 more on the shelves. Nice to see we can still do it on the cheap. AND DO IT WELL!
Thank you.
I wish kevin had put the bit about rice hulls in the blue balls recipe.. that was the second brew I ever tried to make, and my first stuck mash. I too now worship at the church of the hulls of the rice...
The Centennial Blonde was one of my first all-grain beers I made, and really helped me learn the process. Such a great recipe, too.
Also, +1 for rice hulls. I use them in every batch.
Great article.
I think "recipe guru" is the highest possible position in the Brewing Jedi order.
I can't imagine how many people have brewed your recipes, not to mention how many times! Contributions greatly appreciated.
That was a very good read. Anything re: fermentation temperatures? I'm matching my beers to the seasonal temperatures and not had any issues yet, specially since I got into saisons to brew in Summer...
Good interview. Thanks to Kevin for his rolling kererator thread which I pretty much copied and it works great! Also for his October Fast recipe which I brewed a year or so ago and it came out great.
I agree that a simpler system can make great beer. The shiny Stainless everything with all the bells & whistles is nice, but simple works every bit as well. It makes me feel a bit old fashioned, but hey, I'm old & have my own fashion!...Cheers!
Nice article! Kevin is a great guy and brewer. I'm proud to have met him and have enjoyed his beers.
Nice interview Kevin. Centennial Blonde and Cream of 3 Crops are on my "oft repeated recipes" list.
You're much more clean cut of a fellow than I expected, though. From your Ugly Junk, I sorta pictured a big bearded biker dude looking guy, for some reason. :)
if i may ask, you brew your IIPA once a year. how fast do you go through your batch? i have yet to brew an IPA because i don't want to rush through a 5gal keg to myself because the hops start losing it's aroma or the beer starts tasting bad because i'm not drinking fast enough.
I love that picture of seven fermenting carboys/buckets. It would appear that you don't have the need for any active fermentation temperature control. Does the ambient temp in that room (presumably part of your basement) allow you to "float" your fermentation(s) year round?