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Jim Vondracek, known to the brewing world as Pappers_, sat down for our latest installment of Brew & A, Legends in Brewing so we could better get to know the man and the brewer.
Coming from Illinois, Jim is an award winning brewer and BJCP judge. A regular contributor to HomeBrewTalk both in his moderation and advice as a brewer Jim has helped a number of brewers on their path with fantastic tutorials such as
Easy Stove-Top Pasteurizing - With Pics
BJCP Tasting Exam
and these notable recipes I'm sure many of you have brewed.
First Place 2013 Chicago Winter Brew Competition - Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale
White House Honey Ale: 2nd Place, 2013 Chicago Cup
Silver Medal 2012 Chicago Cup - Singing Boys Cream Stout
TxBrew: How did you start brewing?
Jim: The first time I 'made' beer was when I took my young boys to a business on the northside of Chicago where you paid them around $100 and they helped you make beer. The boys got to measure grain, extract and hops, grind the grain, pour things in, stir - they thought it was great fun. A couple of weeks later, we came back and bottled our beer in bombers. It was an ESB if I recall correctly.
The best part of that story, though, is that when the brew-on-premise went out of business, the folks who took over the building are the local offices for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which my wife is a pastor. Whenever I go in there, I swear I can still smell beer and malt.

TxBrew: Is your entire family involved in brewing?

Jim: My oldest son enjoys brewing and is a member of our local homebrew club. This summer, we have brewed six times together, which is fun. My wife is a member of our club (Brewers of South Suburbia www.bossbeer.org) too and helps with winemaking and bottling. She is a hop head and loves hoppy IPAs and APAs.
Yooper: Where did your brewery/winery name come from? Do you maintain your blog routinely?
Jim: All the boys in our family sing, and it seemed appropriate. I go in fits and starts on updating the website - a couple years ago when I updated it weekly or so, about 1,000 visitors a month stopped by. Now its about half that.
TxBrew: What's your favorite beer?
Jim: I enjoy IPAs and APAs, not too surprising there. If I could only brew one sort of beer, that would probably be it. I like big Belgians and RIS's, too.

TxBrew: What's your favorite? Is there one you can't stand?

Jim: My favorite APA that I make is something I call Revenge of the Kiwi Bird, and features organic Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand. I also make an IPA that features Mosaic, Citra, Summit and Amarillo that I'm quite fond of.
Commercially, I've been enjoying the beers from a small, new local brewery called Hailstorm. They will be at the GABF, check out their beers.

TxBrew: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?

Jim: My 1/2 gallon pitcher. Really.

TxBrew: What's the worst product you've ever used?

Jim: I'm one of those folks who never could notice a difference in the beer I brewed based on whether or not I used the 5.2 pH product. I'm sure it works, it just seemed like throwing money away for my water, I guess.

TxBrew: Why do you homebrew?

Jim: I like the artisanal, handmade aspect of brewing. I like cooking and culinary stuff generally, and it fits into that part of my life. I love that so many of our fellow brewers are big into the building of systems, engineering stuff, diy - but that's not me.
Now, I'm a part of two communities of brewers - virtually here and in real life. Those social connections, between brewers, also keep me brewing.
I use, when practicable, organic malts and hops, in an effort to support those engaged in their production - there aren't that many commercial organic beers available.

TxBrew: Do you do a lot of cooking? What's your favorite dish to prepare?

Jim: I do a little more than half the cooking in our household and do enjoy it, but don't do anything too fancy. This winter, I was on a graten tear, making one kind or another of a graten to pop in the oven. Its a flexible, French dish where you can use ingredients that you have already, I love that kind of cooking. For example, in a deep covered casserole, alternate layers of potatoes, leeks, spinach, ham, shredded cheese, and cream until the casserole is full, cover and bake until bubbly. Serve with a salad and a handmade beer!

TxBrew: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?

Jim: I do all grain, but for really big beers, I add extract because of my smallish mash tun.

TxBrew: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.

Jim: I'm a BJCP judge and, about a year ago, for three successive competitions, I was assigned to judge spice, herb and vegetable beers. Oh my god.

TxBrew: You have to expand on that. What was the worst? Any surprises?

Jim: Well, the challenge with that style is that there is so much creativity encouraged, but not all ideas are good. An example that did not work for me was a sage/rosemary/thyme beer - those flavors are so closely associated with poultry for me, that I thought I was drinking a chicken beer. No bueno. On the other hand, I remember a delightful jalapeno cream ale that was delightfully balanced and delicious. But there are a lot of, ummm, unusual combinations in that category.

TxBrew: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.

Jim: I can't really do that - one of the things I love about brewing is that each batch is unique, different. I do enjoy hoppy hoppy beers, IPAs, APAs. I've won a few medals in both of those styles. If I could only drink one sort of beer, it would be dry and easy to drink, 1.008ish, a prominent malt backbone with maybe just a hint of caramel, supporting a nice strong bitterness. But the citrusy hop flavors and aromas carry the day, for me.

TxBrew: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?

Jim: I am among the most "rustic" brewers I know. The only equipment I use that really matters in my brewing, as a piece of equipment, is my fermentation chamber, to control fermentation temps. On the brew day itself, I use pots, a propane stove, a cooler, a 1/2 gallon pitcher, and a long long spoon with volume markings on it.

I sometimes think about getting a more advanced brewing system. I have absolutely no desire to make one, but might, at some point purchase one. The new Blichmann all-in-one system looks interesting. But, when thinking about the cost, at this point, for us, I just can't justify it.
One of my best real life brewing friends invited my son and I to brew a double batch RIS with him a couple of months ago. He's retired, has a beautiful semi-automated system, that he's put together (he's a former nuclear technician, lots of engineering skills), and he spoke longingly that day of simplifying. Well, I've got the simple part down pat!
TxBrew: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Jim: Fermentation temps. Control your fermentation temperatures. Did I mention that brewers should control their fermentation temperatures?
TxBrew: You did. What's your favorite method of controlling temps? Do you use any products?
Jim: I have a chest freezer with a digital temperature controller hooked up to it. Bought the freezer from a local woman who advertised on Craigslist that her ex used to store his meat in it and she wanted it to be gone - like he was.
If you have any questions for Jim please post them in the comments. I really appreciate Jim taking the time to answer my questions this week. If you haven't already please be sure to visit his blog, www.SingingBoysBrewing.com. I'm sure if we ask him super nicely he'll start updating it again.
Great interview. I laughed out loud at the 'chicken beer'. I judged a comp where I had a rosemary stout- it was 'lamb roast beer'. But never chicken beer!
Jim, thanks for sharing so much with us over the years. Your calm wisdom and common sense (as well as being a great brewer) is appreciated! I've learned from you, that's for sure.
This is a great series, thanks for doing this. So who is going to interview TxBrew??
I updated the website today, with a post about my oldest son's "Summer of Brewing" www.singingboysbrewing.com
Good interview. Gives a real sense of the man. I too dig simplicity! Now if I just had a cart with swivel wheels to cart everything back & forth between the man cave & kitchen!...
Good stuff.. I tried a brew by Hailstorm at the Oak Park Beer Festival this past weekend. Dominatrix IIPA. It was one of the standouts to me.. lots of Simcoe and Citra
@azscoob Sounds great! Our club is having a big picnic in mid-September, out on a farm south of the city, you'd be welcome to join us at that, its great fun - pig roast, 20 handmade beers on tap, a jumper and other activities for the kids. Let me know and I'll get you more info. Or just meeting at someone's taproom would be fun, too.
Really nice to get a chance to know the person behind the "handle". I'm also big on simplicity, probably the main reason I stay with extract brewing. The other reason is the availability of so many great recipe kits, I can try so many different styles, and variations of those styles. In the 3 years I've home brewed, Home Brew Talk has been an invaluable resource thanks to the members like Pappers_, and way too many more to mention!

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