“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” — Dave Barry, bestselling American author and Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist
Of the seemingly endless variety of ways to enjoy a pint of beer, learning to brew may be the purest possible expression of the love of suds.
At least, that’s the answer you’d get if you ask Charlie Sandoval, president of the New Mexico Wort Hogs, a brew club in Rio Rancho.
He’s already blown out part of the electric stove top in the spacious kitchen of his Rio Rancho home.
He said he burned out one of the stove’s elements when he misused it, boiling a giant, stainless steel vat of wort, which is one of the early stages of the home-brewing process.
“I owe my wife a cook top,” he said, with a wry smile.
Above, Charlie Sandoval shows off his beer-brewing equipment in his garage. Right, Sandoval uses this grain to make beer. (Rio Rancho Observer—LEE ROSS photo)
He’s owed it to her for a couple years now. Having been a dedicated home brewer for more than four years, Sandoval has moved his brewing operation out to the garage, where he has four home-brewed beers on tap in his kegerator — a refrigerator modified to store and dispense beer.
He also has a work bench full of tools for the job and recently acquired an intimidating-looking, professional beer brewing setup. The rack of kettles, gears and gauges comes with temperature regulators, gas burners and every manner of gizmo. It is a device that is sure to put a smile on any gear-head’s face.
Sandoval is engrossed in his hobby, to say the least. He even has been known to bring out a plate full of different types of grains — one of the main ingredients for beer, the sprouted and dried grains and those with a nutty flavor — to taste while chewing the fat about his favorite beers and sampling one of his many brews. And he can wax on for hours about what may be his favorite ingredient: hops.
He’s on a never-ending quest to brew the perfect Indian pale ale, he says.
But even with all the different names and varieties of beers in the world, there are actually just five ingredients in the beverage — water, sugar, yeast, grain and hops.
It’s a beverage that is becoming increasingly popular, though.
There are two breweries in Rio Rancho, Turtle Mountain and Cazuela’s Mexican Grill, and a new brewery in Bernalillo, Kaktus Brewing Company.
According to the Brewers Association, a national organization that does advocacy work for brewers, there were 2,483 small breweries in the United States as of June. In 2012, there were 27 breweries in New Mexico, and several are producing world-class beers.
At the 2013 Great American Beer Festival — which had more than 5,000 entries and could be the most elite beer competition in the country — New Mexico brewers brought home eight medals. Il Vicino Brewing of Albuquerque and Second Street Brewery of Santa Fe both won gold medals for a coffee stout and America-style amber lager. And brewers are helping bring in money from tourists and local beer fans.
“People are getting more sophisticated with their beers,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval said his club, and other clubs in the state, are part of the driving force that is bringing better beer to New Mexico. And his club is trying to learn more about the beer they drink as they go.
Members’ homework for the past several months has been to brew up pale ales using different types of hops, then meet and taste the different brews and discuss how they’ve changed the flavor of the beer.
Sandoval also produced a wheel of “off flavors,” which tells the brewer where to look if his brew has a bad taste, like old walnuts or the inside of a tire, for example.
According to Tim Haverman — who runs the Rio Rancho home brew supply store, The Grain Hopper — finding out about brewing problems, such as unwanted flavors, is one of the benefits of joining a brewing club.
“You get to go and get some unbiased criticism from members that may not be family and friends,” he said. “That really makes us all better brewers.”
Most of the people who have gone on to brew professionally, he said, started in a brew club.