Brew & A: Mike "Stauffbier" Stauffer

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Why are there so many Texas homebrewers? Home to a significant amount of our community, a couple of the admins included, Texas produces brewers who in turn produce a wealth of information and experience adding to the complexity, proficiency, and quality of our beers.
Meet Stauffbier. Known in the real world as Mike Stauffer, Mike is a brewer calling Texas home. Encapsulating the spirit of Independence, Pride, and Quality that is shared by Brewers and Texans alike, I got to know Mike in our latest Brew & A.
A big man who loves big beers, and big food, I spoke to Mike about the issues plaguing all brewers in terms of temperature control, how he got started in brewing, and why you should always measure twice, mill once.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Mike: I'm a bit of a self-proclaimed foodie, and the idea of turning sugar into alcohol was piquing my interest. My first experiment with fermentation was with a batch of hooch. I used some cherry juice and baker's yeast. It actually came out surprisingly tasty. I decided to share my exploits on Facebook one day, and a friend suggested that I should try making beer. The next day I ordered an equipment kit, and it snowballed from there.
Austin: What was your first kit? How did it turn out?
Mike: My first kit was called "Black Dog Amber Ale" from Midwest. It came out really good. It really shocked me that I could actually make good beer at home. I liked it so much that I ordered it again as my 2nd brew. The day I brewed it, at the last second, I decided to throw some spices in the boil and call it a Holiday Ale. I took it to a Christmas party, and it was very well received. Even the Bud drinkers liked it. That really boosted my confidence and caused me to embrace the hobby even more.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Mike: That's a really hard question for me to answer. I'm not the type to have any one favorite of anything in life. My tastes change with my mood, season, curiosity, etc. I will say that I probably drink APA's, IPA's, and stouts more than other styles.
Austin: Right here, right now, what's your favorite beer?
Mike: Right at this moment my favorite beer would probably be Ten Fidy. I just love that stuff. With that said, this time of year I really love imperial stouts from many breweries.

Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Mike: This would definitely have to be my fountain pump that I use to recirculate ice water through my immersion chiller. I live in a very hot climate, and my ground water is almost as high as 87 degrees in summer.

Austin: Are there any other issues affecting you as a hot weather brewer?
Mike: Hot weather doesn't really cause me any problems anymore. I've overcome everything that gave me trouble. Probably the only thing that I have issue with is physically dealing with the heat myself. When I brew in July, it's usually about 100-105F degrees. Once I get the boil going, my patio thermometer will get as high as 120F. That time of year, don't be surprised if you see me brewing with nothing but shorts on.
Austin: Have you had bad batches due to not controlling the fermentation temps?
Mike: I have indeed had a couple batches that weren't very good because of high fermentation temps. Those beers ended up having very unpleasant, fruity esters and high levels of fusil alcohol. I tried aging them to see if they would improve, but they really never did. Eventually they were used to clean my drain. Building my fermentation chamber was easily one of the best things I ever did for the quality of my beer.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Mike: I'd say the worst product I've ever used was hazelnut extract. I used it in a stout once, and it basically ruined the batch. I thought it tasted very artificial and nothing like hazelnut. Since then I have never used flavor extracts again.
Austin: Have you attempted to brew hazelnuts otherwise?
Mike: I have indeed brewed with real hazelnuts once. I made a "tea" with ground hazelnuts. I allowed the fats to come to the surface of the tea; I then froze it and scraped the fat layer off of the top. It worked great, but the flavor was subtle at best.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Mike: I brew for a number of reasons. One reason is the fact that it gives me the ability to be creative, and brewing channels that creativity for me. The second reason is the mere fact that I just really enjoy my brew days. It's a chance for me to disconnect from the daily vigor of life, and just relax. I call brew days my "Zen time". The final reason is obvious. I get tasty beer to enjoy as a result!
Austin: Since it's your "Zen time" do you brew alone, or is it a community event? Have you ever brewed in a large group?
Mike: Up until a few months ago, I always brewed alone. I recently met a local brewer, and I started co-brewing with him in an effort to trouble shoot his new system for him. That quickly turned into a friendship, and now we brew together about once a month, or so. I still enjoy brewing alone the most though. The only time I ever brewed in a large group was at a craft beer festival. I sat in with the local brew club while they did a brewing demonstration, but I was basically just assisting.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Mike: I'm an all grain brewer. For a long time I used a standard rectangular cooler as a mash tun with a stainless steel braid as a lauter filter. I have recently changed over to a hybrid style where I use a BIAB bag in my cooler as a filter instead of the braid, but I mash and sparge like normal. I really love the new method for a large number of reasons. I also dabble with standard BIAB every once in a while.

Austin: Did you start your brewing life with extracts, and if so how long before you made the conversion to AG?
Mike: I did indeed start brewing with extracts. I think I made about 6-7 batches before I advanced to all grain.
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences..

Mike: My most memorable experience is when I accidentally over tightened my mill, but I didn't realize it until I had already milled my entire grain bill. I ended up with almost 20 lbs. of coarse flour. I decided to add 2 lbs. of rice hulls and just roll with it anyway. Well... the mash got stuck. It wouldn't even drip. I ended up dumping the entire mash into a keggle with a biab bag. It was a really long, difficult brew day, but the beer turned out fantastic!
Austin: What did you learn from that mistake? Are there any other solutions in retrospect that would have worked?
Mike: The main lesson I got from that was to always inspect my mill and my crush before I run the entire grain bill.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Mike: The perfect beer?! That's another hard one. I guess perfection is in the palate of the beholder. I would say as long as a beer fits the parameters of the style exactly as it should, it's perfect.
Austin: Then what's your favorite style? Do you have one you prefer over others?
Mike: I really don't have a favorite style, per se. My tastes change with my mood and the seasons. In summer I brew a lot of sessionable beers, like pales, kolsch, and generally light colored - low ABV beers. In winter I prefer more malt character and higher ABV, so I brew more stouts, porters, browns, etc. I always like IPA's, and I brew them from time to time all year round. So, perhaps IPA would be the closest thing to a favorite style for me.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Mike: I really don't know if I would ever change a thing. I like the fact that my set-up is very simple. I appreciate automated, shiny systems with all the bling and bells and whistles, but I'm happy with my system just like it is.

Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've given you when you first started?
Mike: This has likely been said a million times by countless numbers of brewers. The advice that I wish I would have received as an early brewer would have been "control the fermentation temp!"...

I really appreciate Mike letting us into his life for a minute there to find out more about the man behind the beers. Please join me in raising a glass to this week's Brew & A, Mike "Stauffbier" Stauffer.

Whereabouts in Texas are you from? I brew in DFW out of my garage, and like you mainly by myself. SWMBO helps on occasion, but she's easily bored and distracted so I'm the only brewer manning the kettle through the whole day. There's definitely a "zen" aspect to spending brew days on your own, but eventually I'd like to brew with someone with more experience to make sure I'm doing everything right (or at least nothing wrong).
I have to agree on brewing bling. Nice to have, but my system works for me. BIAB definitely has it's advantages. I like it myself.
We make up the bulk of the membership. Well, at least in people that list where they are from. It doesn't surprise me one little bit. Homebrewing and Texas share that same attitude. Walk your own path.
Great article. I especially liked the story about milling too fine and the mash getting stuck. But you improvised with BIAB and all turned out well. Just goes to show that even bad brew days can yield great beer--never give up. Thanks for sharing!
Haha, yeah MaxStout, that batch actually came out so good I considered always doing it that way, for a minute.... Just for a minute, though. Thanks my friend!