Eric Timmons is a man of many interests. He spends a lot of time working on his Harley Davidson, he’s an active father and he’s an avid Pearl Jam fan.
He’s also a home brewer, making six or seven batches of beer in his garage each year. The Cosmopolis resident experiments with different varieties, flavors and ingredients — a practice that has made him an amateur chemist.
“My wife would tell you I spend a lot of time in my garage,” Timmons said. “But I can’t help it. I have a lot of fun.”
On Nov. 9, Timmons brewed a blackberry honey wheat ale, a flavor he knows his wife and friends will love.
Timmons heated a large pot of water on the stove until it reached 165 degrees, the best temperature for the grain mashing process. It’s not at all like mashing potatoes — it’s closer to making oatmeal. The grain is added to the pot in a large cloth bag, which keeps particles from entering the water.
“You don’t want a lot of sediments left in your beer, you want to make it as clear as possible,” Timmons said.
The mashing process should take about 40 minutes, Timmons said. While the grain sits in the pot of hot water, the sugars separate from the grain and become fermentable. The grain itself doesn’t end up in the beer — Timmons eventually throws it away.
“But I heard that there’s a brewery down in Portland that takes their grain and makes bread out of it,” Timmons said. “The amount of waste they have is just nil, because they re-use all the grain. But I don’t use a whole lot.”
Mashing is Timmons’ favorite part of the beer-brewing process, as he loves the smell of the grain soaking in the hot water. The aroma is warm and sweet, and Timmons said he would like to see someone make a candle with the scent.
After the 40-minute mashing process, Timmons removed the bag of grain from the pot and placed it into a large strainer suspended over a large, topless keg. Timmons uses the keg, which sits atop a propane burner, to boil the mixture — which is called wort.
Timmons then poured the pot of mash water through the strainer, along with another pot of clean, hot water.
“The hot water helps pull off the remaining fermentable sugars,” Timmons said. “There’s some debate over whether you should squeeze the grain bag, but I don’t. Some people say that releases tannins, which can add weird taste to your beer.”
The key to making a nice-tasting beer is keeping your equipment clean, Timmons said. He uses a cleaner called Star San, a food-safe acidic sanitizer that doesn’t change the beer’s flavor.
“Sterility is like the biggest thing for home brewing,” Timmons said. “Because if you get bacteria growing in there, you can really skunk your beer. You get a lot of weird tastes in there. Beer is still beer.”
After adding the remaining hot water, Timmons added some room-temperature water. He uses store-bought water instead of tap water because it doesn’t contain as much chlorine, which can also add weird flavors to the beer. Some brewers choose to add the additional water after boiling the wort, but Timmons said that can lead to bacterial contamination.
Timmons started the boiling process with about 5.5 gallons of wort, which will yield about 5 gallons of beer. But even though he only makes about 5 gallons at a time, he uses a large container to contain the foam when the mixture starts boiling.
“Once it hits the boiling point, it really starts to foam,” Timmons said. “So you have to have a big kettle or the foam will end up all over.”
As the wort heated up, Timmons added the malt. For this recipe, he used regular dry malt. Brewers can also buy extra-dry malt and other varieties. He also added honey and the hops, which were contained in little fabric bags. He kept it at a boil for about 30 minutes before turning off the burner and allowing the mixture to cool.
Timmons generally ferments his beer in a conical fermenter — a large plastic container with a funnel-shaped bottom. He’s also used large, glass jugs — known as carboys. Many brewers ferment their beer in three stages: 21 days in the primary, 21 days in the secondary and 21 days in the bottle. But Timmons combines the first two stages, leaving the beer in the conical fermenter for about 40 days.
“As the crap settles, I can just dump it all out the bottom of the cone, so I can do it all in one vessel,” Timmons said. “It just makes it a lot easier.”
He plans to add the blackberry flavoring during the bottling process. And after the 60 days of fermenting, the beer will be ready to drink.
The experienced brewer
Timmons has been brewing beer for about 15 years, and was introduced to the hobby by a neighbor. Although he’s not a master brewer, he has a firm handle on the process. He said he understands a lot of the sugar-conversion process, which allows him to customize recipes and try new methods.
“The nice thing about home brewing is it’s like having a car, you can make it as easy as you want,” Timmons said. “You can get in the car, turn the key and not know what’s going on under the hood. Or, you can know how to change the spark plug and you can really get involved in the science.”
“I would say I’m right in the middle,” he added. “I wouldn’t say I’m a master home brewer by any stretch, but I love to do it and I know a lot about it.”
Without a homebrew supply store on the Harbor, local brewers have to search a little harder for advice and fellow brewers.
Several of his friends also enjoy the hobby, and Timmons uses online resources to problem solve.
“I get most of my advice from a site called homebrewtalk.com,” Timmons said. “You have guys on there who just live and breathe home brewing. If you post a question on their forum, they’ll give you the answer.”
The site is also a good place to find recipes, Timmons said. While he has experimented with his own ingredients in the past, it’s easier to purchase a kit that contains all the grains, malt, hops and other materials he needs.
Timmons purchased supplies for this batch of beer online from Austin Homebrew Supply. He purchases most of his supplies online or from Rocky Top Homebrew in Olympia, which is the closest homebrew store.
A social event
Beer brewing often becomes a social event for his friends and family, which consists of wife Stacey Timmons and sons Parker, 13, and Gavin, 11. When he picks a recipe to try, he usually takes his wife’s tastes into consideration. And she doesn’t mind being part of the brewing process, as it usually means a fun day at home.
And while they don’t partake in the tasting, Parker and Gavin often help their dad with what he calls his “science experiments.”
“They like to help out a little, which I don’t think is a bad thing,” Timmons said. “I just try to include them. I mean, it’s science.”
Timmons made root beer with his sons once, but they didn’t like the taste.
Once the beer is finished, Timmons gives bottles to his friends or serves the brew from a tap in his “man cave.” The room, which was originally an office, is fitted with a concreted-topped bar and a TV.
“I don’t think anything could be so enjoyable,” Timmons said. “You can really enjoy the fruits of your labor, and I share it with people, too.”