Many Yalies are fans of beer, but some take that love to a higher level.
Whether in residential college suites or off-campus housing, a small but connected group of Yalies are brewing gallons of beer to trade and compare. Brewing in college dorms has become dramatically more popular over the last decade, due in part to the increase in craft brews, seasoned brewers interviewed agree, and Yale is no exception. As members of a brewing club or as solitary craftsmen, Yale students are pursuing a sometimes contradictory goal: cheap, quality beer.
On stovetops, in closets, college basements and off-campus kitchens, students experiment with grain ratios, sometimes working off instructions found online.
But for many brewers, the act is more than just a hobby.
Shane Hetzler FES ’12 and home-brewer Dan Berkman FES ’12 said that craft brewing represents a lifestyle that is conscious of what one consumes and in step with the current national upswing of interest in organic and sustainable products.
“If you talk to any brewer, they are going for the finest ingredients: fresh hops, not laden with pesticides,” Hetzler said, adding that more craft brewers now use organic ingredients.
But with creative work often comes the potential for failure.
One student’s first attempt consisted of a bunch of yeast poured into a bucket of fruit juice.
“Some of [the brews] are good and some of them aren’t,” Hetzler said. “Sometimes they just come out with nasty sh-t and it sucks.”
But other brewers like Katie Dana ’05 ENG ’14 begin with a strong understanding of the process. On the West Coast, Hetzler added, some microbreweries sponsor individuals to create new brews in their homes.
Back on campus, Yale student brewers are using their liberal arts educations to produce the perfect beer brew, and small communities flourish at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the School of Engineering & Applied Science, brewers said.
JUST ONE MORE EXPERIMENT
Engineering students are particularly suited to the brewing practice, possessing the technical knowledge to finesse the craft of brewing, Dana said.
“It’s basically just chemistry — and we are all scientists,” said Dana, who has been brewing sourgum beer for about a year since she became allergic to gluten. “It helps understanding the fermentation process when you’re tweeking on your own.”
Dana said she was sick of the poor-tasting gluten-free alternative beers and remembered as an undergraduate seeing her friends hide their own homebrew in the Morse College basement. She added that when she returned to Yale and saw what some of her fellow engineers produced in their kitchens she decided to begin her own brewing.
The whole process, from cooking the grain to the final product, takes Dana about a month, she said, though the art has stayed the same for generations.
INDUCTING NEW GENERATIONS
As a high school student, Dana watched her father brew and then received specific instruction from chef Stu Comen of Silliman College while a senior at Yale.
With 15 years of brewing experience under his belt, Comen said he teaches those of age who ask him to and brings a batch of a home brew to Yale every spring to celebrate the graduation of Silliman’s seniors.
“It’s part of the brewer’s premise to teach others,” Comen said.
He said he uses his cook’s expertise to hone the flavor and styles of his beers, serving them in his basement from six taps, including one that creams his Guinness-inspired stout with nitrogen.
Some young brewers learn the craft from the proprietors of local brewing stores.
Eddie Fishman ’11, who brews in off-campus kitchens with a group of like-minded “brothers,” said that he now plays with “all grain” brews with advice from the owners of Maltose Express of Monroe, Conn.
“It’s much more rewarding; there is a lot of creativity,” Fishman said.
But often beginners, like those in the Saybrook Brewing Club, stick to pre-mixed powder packets that clone popular commercial brews when they practice brewing in the Saybrook student kitchen, president Rachel Wolf ’11 said.
John Ela ’11 and Rick Gilliland ’13 said they have only experimented with fermenting so far, using buckets to make hard ciders and fruit wines in their closets.
But regardless of the level of expertise, all brewers interviewed said they found it convenient to be in possession of large quantities of beer.
“Even the bad beer is good for practical jokes,” Wolf said.
Homebrewing was legalized in 1978 by then-President Jimmy Carter.