Brew & A: Melana DiDomenico Spalding

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There aren't too many of us that use our real name on HomeBrewTalk. Hidden behind obscure references, random integers, and mysterious combinations of words that almost make sense, it's a rarity to see anyone who uses their real name in the community.
Melana DiDomenico Spalding is one of those members. True to form, she takes a direct approach to brewing and interacting in the community. Straight forward, and absurdly helpful, Melana is celebrating her 8th year with us. Considering we're only 11 years old that's quite the accomplishment.

Aside from brewing Melana contributes greatly to our love of food. As we find out in this interview, there's not much this woman can't do. Antique autos, brewing, making bacon, if there's another set of skills someone needs to learn, it's beyond me.
Austin: How did you start brewing?
Melana: I started brewing probably 10 or so years ago with my then boyfriend (now husband) in my kitchen. We had heard my cousin talking about brewing in the kitchen with extract kits and thought we could try it. On a whim while I was out and about I just happened to wander into the LHBS and picked up an equipment kit and ingredients. So we tried it and in the following years we made many extract brews. It wasn't until after a four year hiatus when I finally moved into all grain brewing and I will never look back.
Austin: What did you make, and how did it turn out?
Melana: Lorena sent me a recipe for a fantastic IPA which has become one of my 'house beers' along with its rye version. Very tasty and well balanced. What more would I expect from a brewing goddess?

Melana at Masstoberfest taking home the gol..trop..well, that thing.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Melana: I don't know if I have one 'favorite beer' per se... if I did have a favorite beer style it would be the deep dark imperial stouts. There is something so seductive to the palate about the big dark beer. It's almost evil and oh so tasty.
Austin: Do you brew an imperial stout? If so, did you develop a recipe or use one found here on HomeBrewTalk?
Melana: Oh yes, I have brewed my RIS twice now. I approached the recipe for the RIS like I approach anything that comes out of my kitchen.... Take a solid recipe and tweak it a bit here and there. My first RIS that I brewed in October 2013 is just starting to come into its own (I used a tad too much molasses in it so I'm waiting for that to mellow). My 2014 RIS is still waiting and bulk aging in the carboy in my basement. I used a new recipe this year because when we moved my RIS recipe got.... misplaced. Now I keep a log of all of my recipes in my laptop (instead of on paper) so this sort of thing doesn't ever happen again. Well, that's not totally true I also keep a paper copy and have a hand written log book because I have a touch of the OCD.

Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Melana: The one piece of equipment I can't live without is my thermometer. All of the equipment is fairly critical however without the proper temperatures I have nothing. Love my thermometer it's not fancy or digital or anything and it fits in my pocket. When I'm brewing it's always in my pocket.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Melana: I homebrew because I like beer and I like control. It is the same reason I cook food and cure meat I like understanding the process and creating something that is uniquely my own. Besides... BigJohn is always thirsty.
Austin: Can you tell us more about what you cook and your meat curing? What meats have you cured? Have you done a panchetta or any of the bacon cousins?
Melana: Have you seen this thread that is picking up in popularity?
I do cook a wide range of different foods. I love baking pies, cakes, cookies, etc. Oh and bread... I love baking bread... Cooking to me is my release and sanity therapy if you will (which is what lead me down the path of brewing). I see a recipe and have to try it out, see how it works, see if I can do it. The whole art of taking raw ingredients and making them sing in a perfectly orchestrated final presentation to me is awesome. Bacon... yes please! And Pancetta? Oh my. I do cure my own because I am frugal and can make 10lbs of pancetta for under $30, keep it in chunks wrapped in my freezer, and use it in everything. I have not yet delved into the realm of sausage (yet) or cured salumi but it's on the list.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Melana: All grain again another level of control. If not for Lorena's kind words of instruction I would still be in extract land.

Austin: Can you share Yooper's words that inspired you to move into all grain?
Melana: Lorena encouraged me when I reached out to her and assured me that I could do it. She also told me what to look for, and walked me through it from the UP. That's one amazing person.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Melana: As described above my perfect beer is a Russian Imperial Stout. Dark and malty with a well-rounded mouthfeel. Almost like sitting on a black velvet couch in a dark smoky room in a castle... the beer should draw you in and keep you coming back for more. The roasted malt should be there in the flavor with a hint of molasses.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Melana: I'm still working on what my dream rig would/will be. What I want is a rig that can handle double batches at the same time (to maximize my time/effort). I would like a single hot liquor tank that can feed two Mash tuns. I would also need duel kettles. I really want to be able to brew two different beers at the same time 10 gallons each.
Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Melana: Go straight to all-grain. You can do it.
Austin: In my interview with Jessica "Hello" B, we discussed the nature of brewing and whether is was a boy's club. What are your thoughts?

Melana: Oh yes. It's a delightful boys club that (thanks to the pioneering efforts of the site Admin) respects women. Now that's a place for me! I've been to beer functions where I'm the only woman brewer (beer mistress perhaps?!) and the guys are totally cool with having a woman in their midst. My other hobby antique autos is a male dominated hobby and I have no problems fitting in there. I speculate that it's a boys club because most women don't like beer. Pfft... oh well. Girl/boy/whatever... I like hanging with people that brew. On HBT we are all gender neutral. I have in recent years started to define myself as female by my avatar which I do change frequently... I'm completely comfortable being 'just one of the guys'.

***
Melana is such an active force here on HomeBrewTalk it's hard to define her contributions in words. Supportive, knowledgeable, friendly, all start to explain her, but none do her justice.
Please join me in raising a glass to Melana, the latest brewer to join Brew & A.
Salud!

 
Yet another awesome Brew & A. Nice to get to know folks backgrounds so when you see them post you can associate with them more.
 
Good Brew & A. I like how using a mash can give so much more variety in a beer. And the caddy looks like a fleetwood brougham my bro had years ago. Croozr fer sher.
 
What a great interview! And thank you for all the kind words about me- we're 'soul sisters' for sure!
I love Melana's positive outlook on everything she touches, and loved reading this interview, as the excitement about everything just bursts off of the page. Thank you for contributing so much to our forum!
 
Great interview! Melana talks about Yoopers generosity, but for the record, she's sent me sourdough starter herself, and contributes a LOT to the What Did I Cook This Weekend thread, which is one of my favorite threads on the site!
I'd tip my hat to her, but I'm not wearing one. Guess I'll tip my glass instead! Cheers!
 
Man, I love you DIY ladies! Lots of respect. I'm about as handy as a rock, but I love the creative end of things...which ya'll seem to have a knack for, as well. I enjoy your posts on the "What did I cook..." thread, I have enjoyed several of Yooper's threads and comments and recently have bottled a batch of Yooper's Oatmeal Stout, and I am fortunate enough to know Hello and live nearby. She has been a great help and very encouraging! Great interview and cheers to our Homebrewtalk Ladies of Brewing! I'll open my test bottle of Yooper's Oatmeal Stout later tonight for my first "official" taste...bottled on 1/19. Salud!
 
Another great article. It is wonderful to get to know the members on a deeper level. And a great reminder as to how many positive contributors make HBT such an inspirational community.
 
I love your other hobby. That is super rad as well.
The idea of running two batches at once is fantastic. Do you keg or bottle?
I was very nervous about all grain as well. I recall reading some threads where you and Yooper chimed in and figured I just may be capable enough, or crazy enough, to try that. I look up to both of you for the length of time you've been in this hobby. It seems like it was long before it became much more popular. I bet this site has changed drastically for you as well.
Nice interview and I love how you put that this is a "delightful" boys club. I agree. All hail to the club-o-boys and their acceptance!
 
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