Brew & A: Ryan "finsfan" Emley

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HomeBrewTalk is many thing to many people. A community, a resource, a support structure, and your local pub all wrapped up into a website, the community provides countless outlets for countless members.
Regardless of your brewing style, we all have one thing in common. We had to start somewhere, and for finsfan, also known as Ryan Emley, that place was here, and that time was May of 2013.
Quickly gaining experience as a brewer, and in turn sharing his lessons learned with the community, Ryan is a brewer to watch. Calling Manhattan (Kansas) home where he shares his love of the outdoors and homebrewing with all who will listen, I sat down to get to know Ryan in this weeks' Brew & A.

Austin: How did you start brewing?
Ryan: I actually got into home brewing by complete accident. I was browsing Craiglist for brewania last spring and I stumbled across someone selling a Mr. Beer fermenter. Up to that point, my knowledge of brewing beer or home brewing was zero. Heck, I was still drinking BMC and hadn't gotten into craft beer. I started looking into it and decided I could handle a Mr. Beer kit. After a few batches, which did not come out like I was expecting, I decided to look into better extract kits. This brought me to HomeBrewTalk and the overwhelming amount of great brewing information. A friend of a friend was getting rid of his brewing stuff so I jumped on that opportunity to get cheap gear and started from there. About four 5 gallon extract kits later I decided to jump into all-grain to "save money" and I haven't looked back since.

Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Ryan: My favorite beer style is probably Saison but I have really been enjoying all Belgian styles a lot lately. I have also really gotten into sour beers but good ones can be hard to find in KS. As far as commercial beer, Crooked Stave is easily my favorite brewery. Everything they put out is top notch and a majority of the time it overlaps my two favorite styles, Belgians and sours. You really can't beat that! I really cannot discriminate on any style though, rather its an IPA, BA Stout, Hefe, or Dunkle, I do enjoy a good example of any style.
Austin: Sours seem to be getting a lot of attention lately. Why do you think that is? What do you love about sours?
Ryan: Because they are awesome! To me, sours are refreshing. Most are very crisp and dry, but the complexity/varying levels of acidity and tartness bring it all together.

Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Ryan: Normally I would say vinator, but after my past brew day that answer has changed to an efficient and effective wort chiller. I brewed a double batch of Buffalo Sweat and tried to chill 12 gallons with a 50 foot immersion chiller. DO NOT TRY THIS! After 80 minutes it was only starting to creep below 90 degrees. It was torture. I will be adding a pond pump/ice water tub to recirculate cold water in the future.
Austin: Who makes your immersion chiller? Any complaints?
Ryan: I actually bought it used off craigslist with a grain mill. Its a 50' stainless chiller from WilliamsBrew. So far it has been great, but I would like to compare this to a copper chiller to see if there is a noticeable time difference.
Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Ryan: Unfortunately, the worst product I have used is what got me into brewing: Mr. Beer. The end result (at least for me) was less than desirable and in one case was undrinkable. The convenience is unmatched in this industry, but the beer produced and the price per gallon heavily outweighs any time saving factor. I consider this a good thing though since I have not come across many sub-par or bad brewing products in my limited experience. I do like to research a product before buying it, so that may have helped me out from time to time. If in doubt, ask HBT.
Austin: Which kits did you brew? What did you hate about it? If you could design a kit what would you do differently?
Ryan: I did a Mexican Cerveza and the Czech "Pilsner" twice. The biggest thing I think I would have to change is removing the hopped extract. Actual hops and fresh dried yeast, I think, would do wonders on the outcome.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Ryan: This is a great question that I have probably never asked myself or reflected on. I think I stayed with it in the beginning because I was fascinated on the science and process that it took to make beer. Now it has become a very enjoyable hobby that I cannot see myself giving up anytime soon. It's a great feeling when you make something that can be thoroughly enjoyed by yourself and others. Oh, and the beer! Having a ton of good beer around isn't bad either.

Austin: What's the public reaction to your beer? What does your family think about your brewing?
Ryan: Everyone is very supportive and enjoys the fruits of my labor, probably too much. Its to the point where I cant brew fast enough and give away about half of what I brew. The biggest hit across the board is obviously Apfelwein, but it's surprised me how positively people respond to beer I didn't think they would like. I kinda enjoy giving people beer that may be out of their comfort zone.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Ryan: I have been brewing all-grain for about a year now, although I started with extract and eventually a few BIAB brews while I was still gathering everything for my mash tun. My setup is somewhat simple but is ever expanding; a keggle for HLT, Coleman cooler for MT, and a newly acquired 16 gallon Bayou pot for BK. It's nothing fancy but it gets the job done dammit!

Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences
Ryan: Its nothing exciting really, but the most memorable and helpful step in my home brewing career was when I finally made a great beer I loved. The first 7 or so batches ranged from dumpers to just ok. Once I finally made something worth talking about it really helped to fuel my home brewing fire. I got really excited about learning more to further improve my beer. It certainly gives you confidence knowing that your time, effort, and money are going into something you can enjoy at the end of the day.
Austin: Isn't that the best feeling? What did you brew? Did you take notes? Have you brewed it again?
Ryan: It was a great feeling as it lit the fires again to brew more. A good friend of mine told me to start taking notes after I told him about the first batch I made and I'm glad I listened. The beer was an attempt at a firkin I had of Pumpkin Buffalo Sweat. I just recently brewed it again and it turned out even better than the first. (Shameless Plug) If anyone wants to try it, here is a link.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Ryan: The perfect beer would be a brett or sour saison. I am not picky when it comes to great or outstanding beer so there could be a multitude of answers here, but a funky/acidic saison appeals to me greatly.
Austin: Explain the flavor profile to me. A lot of people drink sours and just spit it out. What do you taste that keeps bringing you back to it? Same with Brett Beers. Many won't even touch them. I feel it's close to a strong cheese in that you have to get past that initial shock to really get the depth of flavor.
Ryan: I am terrible at describing beers and wont even attempt this haha. Sour beers are certainly an acquired taste and it took time to warm up to them. The first one I had was a Love Child, which I picked up due to the praise it got from the drinking thread. I didn't know it was a sour until I starting drinking it and it was hard to finish. Now its one of my favorites.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Ryan: My dream rig would be one which requires no DIY-ing. Probably a single tier 3 vessel system, but not sure on whether I would go gas or electric. Lot of pumps would be a must though! Luckily I have plenty of time to contemplate on the specifics before I can afford it.
Austin: Do you have a link to your dream rig? When do foresee you having it?
Ryan: I don't even have a clue what I will want when the time comes to piece it together. I doubt it will get done in the next five years as priorities aren't on fancy brew gear, but it better be within the next 10 years! New goal of mine.

Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Ryan: I wish someone would have pushed me into all-grain brewing sooner. The better beer quality and ability to tweak any recipe is a huge advantage compared to extract. Not to mention the gratitude you feel from brewing beer the same way people have for thousands of years. All-grain should not be intimidating or seem like a daunting step up. There are a few more steps involved and brew days took a little longer, but the payout is worth it. A little reading beforehand is helpful but actually brewing all-grain will teach you a lot just through experience. Get out there and brew HomeBrewTalk!
Austin: Great advice! Why do you feel all-grain is so daunting?
Ryan: I feel there are people out there who play it up to be more complicated than it really is. Brewing all grain is as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. When going the easy route or just starting, the most difficult aspects can be mash temps and collecting wort. Anyone who can follow a recipe can brew all grain.

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm sure you're stuffed silly. After many toast over the holiday, to friends, to family, to the thing we're grateful for, I ask you to raise one more glass, this time Ryan "finsfan" Emley, this weeks brewer profiled in our latest Brew & A.

I see you too got the chromed steel wire rack for your stuff. More & more seem to be grabbing those. I needed it to unload my fermenter stand that was reaching critical mass. Not to mention, less bending, etc. I too found that mashing isn't the rocket science big deal it's made out to be. I love it, as it allows me to brew more styles & add complexities to the beer AE can't do quite as well.
Great article, thank you @finsfan for sharing with us. It's great to know that there are so many people from KS and MO on here brewing awesome beer and making great wine.
Hey, you totally ripped off my Hefeweizenberg! Just kidding, great article and I've definitely learned a thing or two from your posts around here. Cheers!
Thanks for all the kind words and of course to HBT for putting together such an amazing line of articles. I have had a ton of fun reading them. Cheers!
Great article and a very interesting read. Thanks for putting it together. Great advice about going AG as early as possible. Oh, and BTW, my brewing partner and his family just moved back here from Manhattan!