Ding ding ding! Jim Ambrose is the homebrewer of the week in "Know the homebrewer!" He is a proper brew nerd and the guy behind the instagram-account @macdogbrewing, so make sure to follow him there for brewing adventures. In this blog Jim talks Naked and Wet ale, German lager dunkel, tech and more.
Naked and Wet ale, German lager dunkel and tech
What is your day job?
I get the lovely pleasure of working from home as the Product Integration Analyst for J.J. Keller & Associates. I deal with customers and third-party software providers and getting them up and running on our APIs so they can use their vehicle data in other software systems.
What or who got you into homebrewing? When was it?
A good friend at my first job out of college got me hooked on it. We would brew together and share the beer when bottled. This was back in the early 90’s. We moved away and started different jobs, so I took a long break and started back up again in 2015.
Can you tell us an interesting story about homebrewing?
When my friend and I first started brewing we would name each beer for what may have happened while we were brewing that beer, like Slipper Spoon Ale, or Snowy Cable Stout. My favorite one was Naked and Wet Ale. We usually brewed at my friend’s house and then he would ferment in his office in the house. We were doing 5-gallon batches in a 5-gallon carboy. This one batch decided to plug up the fermentation lock and eventual explode in his office. It got beer everywhere including up on his ceiling. It exploded while he was in the shower and his wife screamed at the top of her lungs at him to get that mess outside. So, he ran out of the shower and grabbed the carboy and got it out in the garage as the label suggest Naked and Wet. I can’t imagine what that scene looked like. I think we bought 6.5-gallon carboys shortly after that.
How is brewing a social thing for you? Do you like brewing with others?
I enjoy brewing with others. I don’t get to do it very much though. I have donated a brewing session with me to my kids’ school auction. The winner gets to pick out a beer recipe and will get to brew it with me. I will package it up into 22-ounce bottles with labels for them to enjoy.
I also joined our local brewing club (McMinnville Area Social Homebrew Club, MASH Club) a couple of years back. I really enjoy hearing how others are brewing and what they are doing to become better brewers. I also post regularly on Instagram and have enjoyed sticker trading with many other brewers from around the world. It is really cool to see my logo sticker on someone’s Instagram keezer picture.
What advice would you like to give to other homebrewers?
For the new brewer I would say, start small and get the process down so that you are able to repeatably make the best beer you can with that system and then start upgrading different areas of the process. Like water analysis and profiles to add brewing salts to the mash for the style of beer you are brewing or doing a better job controlling fermenting or mashing temperatures. Some of that will dictate newer equipment as well.
What is the best beer you ever made? And the worst?
The best so far was my very first lager, a Dunkel, German lager that I brewed very recently. It was so smooth and nutty. I was very happy with how it turned out. I will be brewing that one again. My worst was a Saison. I was doing brew in a bag and I recirculate the wort while mashing. The bag clogged and I pumped out most of what was under the bag and my electric element started firing and burnt the wort. It tasted like drinking something through a brand-new rubber garden hose. I have a video on Instagram of me pouring that beer out of the keg, and currently has almost 10,700 views.
Tell us about your brewing plans for the future.
Before the pandemic, our brew club was having bimonthly competitions to get points for brewer of the year. I won last year and want to repeat. I assume we will pick that back up again soon. I try to come up with a unique recipe that still fits in the beer style we are to brew but takes it up a notch to hopefully get first place. I also grow hops and am hoping to have a good harvest this year and brew many fresh hop recipes.
What is your experience with Kveik?
I haven’t brewed with it yet. It will be in several of my brews this summer. I ferment in my shop where my computer servers are located so I can heat up that room quite well, especially during the summer months. I am going to change out my yeasts to Kveik on several of my recipes to see how it changes the beer.
What equipment do you use and why?
I started out on a plastic 7-gallon bucket with an electric element built in. I have been doing eBIAB from the beginning. I like the simplicity of one vessel and only needing to clean one kettle when I am done brewing. When I started back up brewing in 2015, I realized it was time to upgrade my system. I started with a 10-gallon Brü Gear kettle (it was on sale) and added another tri-clover port for the 5500-watt element. I built my 240v electric controller from a lot of parts from Auber Instruments. I have moved to using a basket instead of a bag which has made the mashing process much easier. I ferment in a Craft a Brew Catalyst fermenter and use the Anvil Carboy Cooling System and a heat belt to keep my fermentation temperatures dialed in. I love the Pro Series Hydrometer from Brewing America, with the built-in thermometer and scale. I can be very accurate with my specific gravity readings without sacrificing a lot of beer when testing. I have a four tap keezer to pour the perfect pint.
Are you satisfied with that or are you thinking about upgrading?
I am very happy with most of all my equipment. Two things that are on the list for upgrades is, a new PID controller and a DIY glycol chiller. I am really liking the Auber Instruments EZ Boil controller and hope to get that wired in soon. I have seen several plans on how to pull apart a window air conditioner to make your own glycol chiller. I freezer can’t make enough ice to keep my temps down so I can do more lagers. Just waiting to get my purchases approved by my CFO (my wife). Eventually would like to move up to 10-gallon batches.
How are your experiences with PLAATO Airlock and PLAATO Keg?
I don’t have either right now but have plans to do some upgrades on my keezer with new CO2 and beer lines and want to include four PLAATO Keg systems. I have a tablet that I want to mount to display my Taplist.io tap menu and will integrate the Keg systems into that so I can see how much beer I have left.
What do you think of being able to share the hobby with wifi-connected devices?
I am techie at heart. I use a wifi enable temperature controller for my fermenter. I like seeing where my temperature is at and being able to adjust the temperature up and down (diacetyl rest and cold crashing) all from my phone. Looking forward to using the PLAATO Keg systems for my tap list. Hopefully soon my brewing app would be able to download times and temperatures to my PID controller to automate my brewing sessions.
Do you have an unpopular opinion about homebrewing?
In my Instagram profile I put “Anyone can drink a good beer but only a few can brew a good beer.” Probably why I don’t follow people that just post pictures of drinking a beer, there are other apps for that, in my opinion. Plus, I don’t look good in a bikini while drinking beer, to post on Instagram.
The only issue with homebrewing is it is a lot of work and cleaning and sanitizing, so make sure you are ready for all of that to enjoy a great homebrew that you made yourself.
Any closing thoughts?
I hope more guys and gals can find this to be a great hobby. It really is just following a recipe. Don’t be afraid to ask questions but be prepared for a plethora of opinions. You can follow me on Instagram @macdogbrewing