Brewing in the Arizona desert

May 12, 2003 at 12:05am

Author(s): Rich and Anne Brady

If you find yourself out in the desert west of Phoenix, Ariz., in a sparsely populated farming town called Buckeye, keep your eyes out for a bunch of guys out front of a small house with propane tanks and brew pots. If one of them is using a shower head to sparge grain, you’re at a Brewmeisters Anonymous brew off. Brewmeisters Anonymous is a club for home brewers living on the west side of greater Phoenix.

The club doesn’t always meet at the Buckeye home of member Greg Naff, but when they do, it’s always a festive, lively event. At one recent brew off, Greg showed off his newest invention -- stock pots made from old kegs. They’re stylish and fun, and they’re part of systems he designs that are sold through the local brew supply store, What Ale’s Ya, owned by BA member Chuck Therio. Greg’s father, Norman, is also a member and works part-time in Chuck’s store. When he first came to stay with Greg in 2000, he told his son, who like his brother Jeff in Denver was already a die-hard homebrewer, “I’m sure your beer is wonderful, but I like Bud.” Within a month, he had converted. “As soon as I found out there was beer with flavor,” he says, describing the life-altering moment. However, beer brewing has not always been smooth sailing for the Naff family. Greg’s buddy Jim Viersen recalled a time when Jeff was fermenting in his closet and a batch “blew up all over his wife’s wardrobe.”

A number of BA members got their introduction to brewing through Mr. Beer. “My kids bought me Mr. Beer. My wife thought it up,” recalled Randy Page. “I made two batches. The first batch, I waited too long to bottle it. The second batch, the water wasn’t right.” Still, he stuck with it. Even after he started branching out into recipes for beer, he continued using Mr. Beer as a fermenter for three years. He joined BA in February 2002. Today, he uses a conical fermenter and brews all-grain. A traveling sales manager, Randy enjoys visiting brew-supply shops in each town he travels to. Frank Patterson said he often thought beer brewing would be “cool” but never tried it until his wife bought him a Mr. Beer for Father’s Day. “What do I know? I was drinking Budweiser,” he said. “I made a pale ale first. It was OK.” Now Frank calls himself the “experimenter of the group.” He’s made everything from Honey Dew-me Ale, made with honey dew melon, to beer made with Prickly Pear cactus pad. “When I go into What Ale’s Ya, Chuck is always giving me a hard time,” said Frank. “He’ll say, ’There is no honey dew melon in beer.’ I have brewed every style of beer there is. And I don’t have a problem with anything except American (commercial) beer.” Frank boasts the unlikely claim that he’s lost 30 pounds home brewing -- not from the exercise, but because now he savors a couple good beers in the evening instead of chugging six packs. “I sip and enjoy beer, rather than pounding back Budweisers,” he says. “Instead of a 30-pack a week, I’ve gone to two or three a night, and I really enjoy them.”

Another BA member who started with Mr. Beer is Richard Brady. His wife bought him one (albeit after he pouted and shuffled his feet a few times) as a gift a few years ago. Today, Richard brews all-grain, and he has come up with some pretty creative recipes himself, but he still uses Mr. Beer as a fermenter for testing a new recipe. Rich recently left behind a life as an accountant to start an Internet site to bring What Ale’s Ya inventory and the in-store experience to the rest of the country: At Brady’s Home Brew, customers can order the exact ingredients they need to make a recipe using the Build Your Brew page/calculator, without paying extra for the privilege. Some of Rich’s favorite recipes are there for the brewing as well.

Club member Dan Wagner got started in brewing when his dad got tired of commercial beer. “Dad said if I wanted to do it, he’s subsidize it,” recalled Dan. So he went into What Ale’s Ya last October and bought a $99 starter hit. His first brew was a Scotch Ale, and he hasn’t looked back since. “I haven’t screwed anything up yet,” he said, although he realizes from talking with fellow brewers that his day will likely come eventually. What most members really like about BA is everyone’s willingness to help each other out, by sharing tips and recipes, and even some of the fruits of their hobby. “You don’t find people being proprietary with recipes,” says Norman. “People are always willing to help. I like how the people are always open to teach you. The professional brewers in the club are outstanding.” One such member is Joe Bob Grisham, the brewer at Bandersnatch. Joe Bob got interested in brewing back in 1988 when he met one of the club’s founders in a bar. He basically learned to brew from the club, and now he repays the favor, sharing his professional expertise and experiences at monthly meetings. He is also BA’s Webmaster. He says his most embarrassing moment as a brewer was when he racked hot brew into a carboy sitting on cold concrete. “It busted right in the middle,” he recalls. “I lost the carboy, but it was the beer I was more upset about losing. Although, my grass really grew well after that.”