Brew & A: Thad "GilaMinumBeer" Johnson

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Knowledge is a funny thing. It has so many ways of being conveyed, so many methods of entering our consciousness that we rarely note them.
Beer is one the holders of knowledge that rarely gets noted. Not its impact, who drinks it, which regions drink the most, all of that which is much studied through market research, but through the knowledge each bottle conveys about a time, a place, and a person who brewed it.
Thad Johnson is a brewer compiling his brewing experience into the beer he makes. More than that, his beer reflects the time, and inspiration that brought rise to them in the same way many of ours do. A tour through Thad's brewing is a journey through the life of Thad.
I present to you, the fine folks of HomeBrewTalk, Thad "GilaMinumBeerwww.homebrewtalk.com/members/gilaminumbeer" Johnson, this week's brewer profiled in our latest "Brew & A.".

Brewing Assistant Kiernan
Austin: How did you start brewing?
Thad: I was sitting on the front porch at my best friend's house. We were drinking Budweiser that had gotten warm and to that, someone made a comment about how craft beer doesn't taste as bad warmed up as Budweiser does. My buddy made a comment about how, supposedly, you could make beer at home and it doesn't cost as much as store bought. He also commented that he thought there was a store for homebrew supplies nearby.
Later that day I looked up the store and the next day I went in and bought a start-up kit.
Austin: Do you remember the store? Is it still open?
Thad: The Brew Shop. Ownership has changed hands, and I am fairly certain it is still open. It's been a very long time since I've been in since I do most of my shopping online.
Austin: What's your favorite beer?
Thad: I have favorite brands of styles, but not an absolute favorite beer. If there is one beer I tend to buy the most often it would be Hoegaarden Original White. But I generally I buy that because nothing else on the shelves tempted me.
Austin: What do you like about Hoegaarden White?
Thad: I like that it is crisp, has a bit of occasional phenolic bite, and is quaffable without loading you down or lighting you up too quickly.

Kiernan stealing boots that clearly aren't his.
Austin: What's one piece of your brew setup you can't live without?
Thad: Plate Chiller. I'd give up brewing if I couldn't do single pass chills to pitch anymore.
Austin: Who made yours?
Thad: My plate chiller is part of the Sabco chill wizard, but the actual chiller is a rebadged Blichman Therminator. The only thing I do out of the ordinary is use a hop back filled with rice hulls as a pre-filter to avoid any chances of getting trub or hop debris lodged into the channels.

Image courtesy of Brewmagic.

Austin: What's the worst product you've ever used?
Thad: pH buffer. Useless IMO.
Austin: Why do you homebrew?
Thad: I started to brew because I like beer in general and wanted access to styles that just weren't available when I started. I continue to brew because I like to do things myself.
Austin: How many years have you been brewing? Do you have a strong local brewing culture?
Thad: Been brewing at least a decade, if not more. We have a moderate culture here in Oklahoma City if HBT is to be any indication. It's been a very long time since I participated in any brewclub activities. Staying sober through brewclub meetings became an issue so I stopped attending.
Austin: What's your homebrewing style - extract, partial mash, all-grain, biab, or ?
Thad: Mostly all-grain but if I want to brew and am limited on time I don't hesitate to brew extract or partial mash. In fact, the last 3 times I've brewed (haven't done much in the last few years) it has been with extract kits.
Austin: Do you notice a difference in the beers you brew in their varying methods?
Thad: Difference in style when brewed? Do you mean a difference between AG, PM, and straight extract? If that, I can't really say that I do as I don't tend to duplicate brew metrics of yeast and ferm temps. I like variation in beer too much to continually chase perfecting a style from differing metrics. does that make any sense?

Tristan, the Junior Brew assistant to GilaMinumBeer
Austin: Tell us about one of your most memorable homebrewing experiences.
Thad: I was using a cobbled together brewery in a cooler mash tun. Had one of those domed false bottoms. Had used it a few times without issues but had decided to do a much larger batch of a much higher OG. Everything went fine until it came time to sparge and then all hell broke loose. The sparge was stuck. Turned out the dome had collapsed. I tried to salvage it and it collapsed again, and again. I eventually became so frustrated I threw the dome FB across the street and dumped the batch. I ordered a Sabco FB the next day.
Austin: Describe the perfect beer - style, aroma, flavor, etc.
Thad: The perfect beer, for me, is the one in the glass I am holding at the time.
Austin: Which beers do you hate then? Are all beers good provided you have one?
Thad: I've only ever had one beer that I truely hated, Michelob Ultra Pomegranate. I couldn't even finish a bottle. Bought it because I figured it's been around long enough it must have a following to justify it. Nor can I say all beers are good as long as they are in my hand. I am not fond of spice beer (Pumpkin ale, Winter Warmers, etc...) or fruited beers. Not that I have to choke them down to finish them, I just don't prefer them which is kind of strange for me because I've had some Belgian beers with strong yeast derived clove phenols that I thought were amazing.
Austin: What's your dream brew rig, and how would you assemble it?
Thad: My perfect brew rig is the Brew Magic with the chill wizard. I assembled it per the instructions (lol)
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Austin: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone would've giving you when you first started?
Thad: Don't get too caught up in the details of chasing the perfect recipe. Just learn to brew the best you can with what you have available. And don't be surprised when your improvements just cause you make a mess of everything.
Austin: What improvements made messes? Had to throw out any batches aside from the horrible dome incident?
Thad: For years my motivation to brew was very Callagionian' (Of Dogfish fame, I googled it so you don't have to - Austin) in nature. Big beer often brews with obscure to me ingredients or combinations. Many were decent but not appealing enough to repeat (much like my opinion of Calagione made beer). I learned a lot from them but mostly learned what to not make again. Over the years the obscure beers have less appeal. Mostly due to a dedicated move to kegging and the volume makes them less appealing to brew and store.
I made a fantastic 13% Rye Stout once. Beautiful beer but heavy, very strong, and just wasn't something I could drink through 5 gallon of very quickly. In fact, took me a couple years to find the bottom of that keg. Even then it took my wife to help me. She used a lot of it as the liquid base to make Shepherd Pie. We've talked about making it again but I hesitate because it moved so slowly.
I've not thrown out many batches due to making a mess of them through brewhouse "improvements" but I have endured some very long brewdays to see a batch through and I've made several recipes I'll never consider making again. More often than not, I've just gotten tired of a particular beer and dumped the keg just so I could move on.
Most recently, I've taken to just brewing the beer styles I find most quaff-able and the least obscure. Relegating other styles to store bought examples so I am not left with 4 gallons of a beer that I have grown tired of drinking.
***
With over a decade of brewing experience, Thad is a wealth of knowledge. A staple of our community with 49,000 post as of this writing, if you brew, and you're on HomeBrewTalk, you know GilaMinumBeer.
Please join me in raising a glass to Thad, this weeks' brewer interviewed in our series, Brew & A.
Salud!

 
"Thad: Don't get too caught up in the details of chasing the perfect recipe. Just learn to brew the best you can with what you have available."
I think this is great advice for the average home brewer.
Thanks for your insight Thad.
 
I agree on the simple premise of doing the best you can with what you have. I'm a minimalist in that respect. Bells & whistles are nice, but not necessary. It is interesting though that some rare or extinct styles are more sessionable than previously thought. But brewing what you enjoy most after experimenting a few years has a lot of merit. Sooner or later, experiments become minimal as we find out what qualities we enjoy most. God, to the point interview.
 
I came to the same conclusion about picking which style to brew. I try to keep the kegs full of beers that get consumed. German pils, IPA, pale ale, stuff like that. Something like a blonde for when I want something refreshing and light.
I remember a keg of weizenbock that took a LONG time to go. It was not a bad beer, it just turns out I don't want 5g of it.
 
Good stuff. Agree about brewing more quaffable beers and just buying a bottle of DFH when you want something a little "out there".
 
This is an excellent read. I think this is an article all beginners should read. I found that in the beginning I was so focussed on getting all the cool stuff, but kept turning out crap beers. Since then Ive changed direction and do more research and have more patience and work with what Ive got, and now my beers are actually palatable :) Thanks for the great interview!
 
I didn't know chill wizards used to use Therminators. Its especially funny because they know have a subtle smear campaign for, what I think is obviously, Blichmann:
https://www.brewmagic.com/product/chill-wizard-plate-chiller/
 
Great article. I like to do the "best of both worlds." I enjoy simple 2.5G stovetop BIAB batches for more obscure or experimental stuff, but do 10G of the IPAs, Lagers, the "quaffable" beers. I have had a few experimental batches that were so good they went quickly, but I can always scale them up to a bigger size- especially for beers that will benefit from age. This is a great article all beginners should read +1 on others comments there.
 
"Most recently, I've taken to just brewing the beer styles I find most quaff-able and the least obscure. Relegating other styles to store bought examples so I am not left with 4 gallons of a beer that I have grown tired of drinking."
Couldn't agree more with this sentiment. When I started brewing in Ireland all you could buy was light lager, stout, red ale or wheat and if you wanted something else you'd have to make it.
Now all the extreme crazy beers are available everywhere and I can't find a simple easy drinking lager or other German style to save my life so I have done a 180 and I'm now brewing the easy drinking quaffable stuff.
Adam
 
I agree with your style of brewing, in that, brewing obscure beers just doesn't appeal to me. I read about them, think about brewing them, and even formulate recipes, but never brew them. It took me up until this month to realize that part of home brewing is to brew a beer that I really enjoy and not something original. I'm not in it to sell it and I don't need people lining up outside my door. I think this site has opened me up to the ideas and also helped kill those haphazard ideas that may result in a beer sitting for ages because it is tough to drink.
I love the pictures of your son. He looks like a true character. Thanks for the great interview.
 
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