ADA — Cricket noises, bugged eyes and a blank stare encompass the reaction given to me when asked if my mother would like to brew a beer together for Mother’s Day.

No comprehension, and all fear.

Little does my mother know that there is a way to brew beer that literally everyone can do.

Introducing extract home brewing,

Brewing beer is often thought as a process that is way too complicated and too time consuming. However, extract home brewing is the answer to less time, a less complicated process and minimal space solutions.

Everything literally fits in one box and can be done in anyone’s kitchen. And you don’t need to necessarily know the science behind what is happening. If you can follow the directions to an Easy Bake Oven, you can brew an extract home beer.

But where can you find the kits? Look no further than Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery and Supply in Ada.

Manager of the home brew shop supply part of Gravel Bottom, Chrissy Walker, hosts extract brewing events each month.

“The method behind my madness and my class — which is the kitchen brewing class — is more of the extract brewing because with extract brewing you don’t need as much space…is so touchable, so easy, like cooking, like baking, following directions and so easy,” she says.

“It has opened the eyes of so many people in the area, just because it is something you can do.”

Walker’s second kitchen brewing class is slated for May 30. A separate all-grain brew class is being hosted this Saturday.

“When people start asking too many questions, I like to remind them that this isn’t what it is about. Have fun with this! What I really enjoy seeing is moms and daughters just getting into it together. They don’t feel intimidated together and they really learn from one another,” Walker continues.

And if your nudge into the world of brewing continues, Gravel Bottom carries not only the extract brewing kits — but everything else you may possibly need to brew an award-winning homebrew.

There is a large wall of pre-made kits to pick your base. After you pick the base meander over to the flavor corner: Pick from purees, herbs, spices, flavors and oak chips to play around with to create your masterpiece. There is no wrong pick. You can even play around with cacao nibs and dried worm blood, while asking the Gravel Bottom team for assistance.

“I really enjoy seeing people’s eyes light up when I am talking to them,” says Walker.

If you like a specific Gravel Bottom beer on tap, you can also get a box of all the ingredients, plus the recipe used.

So grab your mother and get to work. Even if she’s not the beer type of gal, your mother will appreciate doing something with you, learning together and creating libatious memories.

And remember, like Chrissy says, “You don’t need to shut yourself off from the world. Do it at home, turn the TV on, blast the music and have fun!”

GRAND RAPIDS — The short version of this article is this: I am bummed I had to miss Big Brew Day at the Calder Plaza this year. Don’t know about Big Brew at the Calder? Can’t begin to fathom why I would be saddened for my absence? Read on.

Big Brew day falls on the first Saturday of May each year. The day was chosen by the American Homebrewers Association as a celebration where all homebrewers can belly up to their mash tuns and share a communal “toast,” connecting brewers from all over the U.S. in a single moment of fermented frivolity.

Three years ago, the folks at Siciliano’s Market devised a way to make the day particularly special for the homebrewers of Grand Rapids, and Big Brew at the Calder was born.

The first time I heard what Steve Siciliano wanted to do for the big brew I thought, ‘huh, sounds like a hell of a time.’ It was only after he secured the venue and began to hash out the details of what it would take to pull it off did I realize how much work would be involved in making the event successful.

In order to have 50 simultaneous batches of beer being made on the plaza, one must consider that the city drains may not be used, so waste water removal must be sorted out, water for the brew itself must be provided (delivered), a practical and efficient means of chilling the beer needs to be implemented, the plaza needs to be divided equally among the brewers, the brewers need to make sure to haul in and haul out their systems and 50 batches of ingredient need to be weighed, ground and prepped in order to be GIVEN to the homebrewers.

That’s right — Steve, Barb and the rest of the crew of Siciliano’s provide all of the above, free of charge. Why? To say thank you to the brewers that helped make Grand Rapids Beer City USA, that’s why!

Seriously, that’s why.

To me, one of the most wonderful things about the event is seeing regular customers I had known for years interact with one another for the first time. The event brings together seasoned and beginning homebrewers in an environment that promotes the strength of the community by way of achieving the same goal in 50 different ways.

Over the past week I have been installing a fence in my backyard. Installing a fence means I will have to set posts in concrete, so I have had to make sure that I am working in the temperature range necessary for the concrete to set up the way I want it to. I can easily imagine what my fence might look like if I hadn’t worked in the appropriate temperature range; a wonky, Seusian, Tim Burton inspired nightmare that might still function as a fence, while not at all succeeding in looking like one.

Try to prepare noodles in water just south of boiling and you’ll have something “near pasta.” A grill at too low a temperature will fail to cook meats correctly.

The metaphorical connections might continue, but suffice it to say that temperature control is as important for the above-mentioned as it is for your homebrew Fermentation temperatures.

Every professional production brewery has some system in place that is designed to control and monitor fermentation temperatures. More often than not, this system will involve a bath of glycol that is heated and or cooled before being circulated around a fermentation vessel in order to achieve the temperatures a brewery desires.

For those unfamiliar with glycol, or jackets on fermenters, imagine if your jacket was hollow between its outer and inner layers. Now imagine that there is a tank of liquid which, at your command, can fill the hollow layer in your jacket. If you had the ability to control the temperature of that liquid precisely, you would always have a jacket that warmed or cooled you to the exact temperature most comfortable for you.

Unfortunately for us, 2015 hasn’t even given us a hover board, let alone a “sleep number” style jacket, but the technology has existed in the fermentation industry for decades. Breweries utilize these systems to create a fermentation environment best suited to the yeast they have chosen to ferment with. This should function as the goal of the homebrewer as well; to provide an ideal fermentation environment for beer based largely on the temperature range designated by the yeast chosen for the batch.

Most ale yeasts have a temp range that roughly equates to room temperature, so often the homebrewer makes ales instead of lagers, or those styles of beer with extreme temperature control needs. For the purposes of this piece however, let’s assume you’ve got an itch, and the only thing that’ll scratch it is to make a mai-bock. Let’s also assume you don’t have the thousands of dollars necessary to install and implement a glycol system of your own. What then are your options?

To be frank, there is a shit-ton. The most popular of them is called a “fermentation chamber,” and even the most minimally handy of folk can put one together easily, though not without some monetary investment. The necessary components for the chamber are; A. A small insulated environment, be it a fridge, freezer, or something built; B. A way to monitor and control the temperature in the environment (see example).

The two elements combine to create an environment that a homebrew-sized fermentation vessel can easily fit in, while being cooled or heated to the specific temp range that the yeast calls for.

Though this system well mirrors the glycol jacket of professional breweries, it is, as I mentioned, costly. Some people will use a bath of lukewarm water and a damp towel to wrangle in their temps. Some hardy D.I.Y. fanatics will cannibalize computer fans and create intricate air flow systems that cool using the wind. Many and more articles are published each day with people’s clever homemade gadgets that serve the purpose of working within a specific temp range, though the prevailing method most beginners, and many seasoned home beer makes prescribe to is picking yeast with the temp ranges that best suit that ambient temperature of their own home.

Fermentation temperature should be a primary consideration for every batch of beer you make at home if you want to make beer like the professionals do. Each day it is a part of my job to make sure that the temperatures of the beer I work with are where they are supposed to be. If they are not, it is then my job to rectify the situation or risk the beer not tasting the way it is supposed to. Bear in mind, a beer fermented 10 or so degrees cooler than it should be may still be beer, but you can be sure it won’t taste the way it should. For a production brewery, that is unacceptable.

The easiest way to make the beer you intend is to pick the right yeast for the job, make sure your temperatures are in line, provide a clean and sanitary environment, and check those factors daily. The beer will take care of itself.

“You can’t sanitize a turd”. When asking Head Cellar Operator Brett Kosmicki and countless other Founders Brewing Co. employees about the importance of cleanliness and sanitation, the previous statement proved the great consensus.

Or, more simply, in order for something to be sanitized, it must first be thoroughly cleaned.

Though this author knows much of this information to be common knowledge, he reminds readers that the point of the series is to re-examine common knowledge practice from a fundamental stance.

Now, let’s assume we all know that we must first clean and then sanitize our equipment in order to make the best beer possible. Agreed? Cool. Let us also agree that the nitty gritty of chemical composition and scientific data pertaining to these products would be best suited for other articles, hundreds of which you might find a quick Google away.

When you wake up in the morning, you shower and clean yourself. However, If you have blood drawn, even only an hour after said shower, your arm will be sanitized. Beating a dead horse has its merits when it comes to home brewing like the pros. “Clean is not sanitary,” said almost every professional polled for these articles.

Following are a list of the most common products one might find in a homebrew store. The sparse information following them is by design. Please feel free to use this article as your launch pad to “geek-out” on the products below.


Designed to remove organic solids (turds).

  • PBW: A high concentration per-carbonate base similar to Oxy Clean.
  • B-Brite: A product similar to PBW, but a far milder concentration.
  • Easy Clean: Often used as a sanitizer, this no rinse cleaner is an alkaline that is a very effective cleaner. It may be used to sanitize if done correctly and allowed for its full five minute contact time.
  • One Step: Nearly the same makeup as Easy Clean, the same rules for cleaning and sanitation apply to this product.


Rid equipment of microbial and bacterial infection. These products are classified by the government as Sanitizers, an important distinction from the products above.

  • Iodine based: Iodophor and Io-San are the most commonly found in the market. This product uses a dilution of Iodine to sanitize.
  • Star-San: This acid based sanitizer boasts a very quick contact time and may be stored in a spray bottle for pre-mixed use. However wonderful a sanitizer, many dislike the amount of foam produced when using Star-San — a preference I will leave up to your independent trial and error.

Note that bleach is not used in any professional brewery setting, and will therefore be left out of this article.

It has often been said that brewers are simply janitors who clean up for, and after beer. This statement deliberately makes no mention of recipe development, efficient equipment or volume output because those are not terribly important for making good beer.

Working as a professional, I can tell you that 40% of my day consists of cleaning, 40% sanitizing, 10% visual inspection of proper cleaning and sanitizing and 10% “making” or transferring beer. In order to make beer like the a professional one must first take up the mantra of a professional — “clean and sanitize!”

A more comprehensive list of the contact times and the chemical composition of the above listed cleaners and sanitizers can be found at Siciliano’s Market (or most local homebrew shops) in the stores’ resources folder. One may also call the manufacturer of each product for more detailed information.

In the wake of a promised extension to winter so unapologetically perennial that the groundhog of fable would bite the very hand that feeds him, perhaps it is time that we take the metaphorical slap in the face and consider a different view on the winter around us.

Or, more simply, instead of making another porter, stout, or double IPA to stave off the cold, another alternative might be considered.

Acting as both a carrion call to spring and tip of the cap to a now favorite cocktail, this ginger beer recipe ought to prove a welcome reprieve from the trappings of the season.

Now, I don’t mean to claim that this beer will take the place of Goslings or Regatta ginger beer in your next Moscow Mule, but it certainly could do the cocktail justice if you were so inclined to try. Below, you will find both all-grain and extract versions of this 5-gallon recipe.

NOTE: This beer calls for one pound of fresh ginger; dry root will not compare.

All Grain: (calculated at 75% efficiency)

Grain Bill:
7# Briess 2 Row Pale
1# Briess Flaked Rice
1# Briess Caramel 10l

.5 oz Sorachi, 11.9%AAU @60
.5oz Sorachi, 11.9$AAU @30

Yeast: Fementis US-05, Whitle Labs WLP001 or Wyeast 1056

O.G.: 1.050

Procedure: Bring 4.5 gallons of strike water to 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Mash in to achieve a mash temp of roughly 150 degrees and rest for one hour. While mash rests, prepare 3.5 gallons of sparge water to 178 degrees. After recirculation and collection are complete there should be 6.5 gallons of pre-boil wort.

Once the boil has begun, slice the pound of ginger root into pieces roughly the size of candy corn. Add half of the ginger at the 30 minute mark, and the other half into the last five minutes of the boil. Other than the ginger additions, proceed with the boil as normal.

For extract: Replace the pale malt with 6# of Pilsen light LME or 5.5# Pilsen light DME. Replace the flaked rice with one pound of Rice Syrup Solids. For instruction on how to prepare the ginger, reference the procedure above. The Rice Syrup Solids should be added into the last five minutes of the boil.

To make a Moscow Mule with this delicious ale, simply sub in your home brew in the stead of commercially available ginger beer. Enjoy!

While it is a passion of mine to help people make beer at home, I suppose it would be better to state that my passion is to help people to make the best possible beer at home.

To clarify, I seek to help home-brewers to identify and construct the beer they wish to make, a beer they can call their own. More often than not, my help is offered by way of advice.

The advice usually pertains to brewing practice, subtle tweaks, yeast suggestions, different malts to try, etc. Over the years of helping homebrewers I have tried my best, and failed at times, to keep the advice I offer free of my opinion, unless it is asked for. The removal of my personal opinion allows me to offer help based on mimicking the practices of professional brewers as best as possible in a home setting.

After all, we strive to create beer to meet the standard of the professional breweries around us, and those are some high standards here in Grand Rapids.

With the goal of helping homebrewers to make the best possible beer at home in mind, I created a poll of four possible answers to the question, “How can the average home-brewer make better/the best beer at home?”

The four answers in the poll were cultivated from my years in the industry and the popularly held beliefs of home brewers who were asked the same question.

NOTE: Before reading on, please note, this article is meant to offer broad advice to the average home-brewer, more specific and technical advice for the advanced class will be offered in following pieces.

Professional brewers from Founders, Brewery Vivant, Harmony, The Mitten, Pigeon Hill, Crankers, Pike 51, Osgood, and B.O.B.’s Brewery picked one of the following categories that they felt will help any brewer to make professional quality beer.

A. Fermentation temperature control
B. Proper yeast handling and pitching rates
C. Making the switch to all-grain brewing
D. Proper cleanliness and sanitation

Of the brewers polled, 63% percent chose D, and the remaining 36% chose A. None of the brewers chose either B or C.

It is important to note that while neither of those categories was chosen, a majority of the brewers, as well as I, believe that each of the above categories would prove vitally important for homebrewers to focus on throughout their home brewing career.

Time and time again brewers responded to my inquiry with a quip of this sort, “You can make a 10 gallon all-grain batch, but if you haven’t properly sanitized it’s all for not,” and I found their logic inescapable.

Having now learned what professionals find most essential to making beer, I intend to work with them on a four-part series focusing on each of the above categories in the order that the brewers chose them. Beginning with proper cleanliness and sanitation I will work with industry professionals to attempt to provide homebrewers with A Professional Approach to Home Brewing.

ADA — Matthew Michiels, owner of Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery & Supply, opened up his pub with one simple goal in mind — creating a space that is conducive to connectedness and making new friends over a pint — either brewing or drinking that pint.

Gravel Bottom is more than just a brewery — it’s a thriving homebrew shop that has been embraced by Ada residents and those who want to explore the world of homebrewing at all levels — novice or expert.

The concept for Gravel Bottom was always a combination of both brewery and homebrew shop, but not at the level it ended up becoming. “In the original business plan, we only had a 1/2 bbl brew house. However after moving back to Grand Rapids and experiencing West Michigan’s craft beer renaissance, it was clear we needed a bigger brew house to keep up with demand.”

Settling on a 3 bbl brew house provided a big enough a space big enough to support demand, but still small enough to experiment and play.

Play is important, and homebrewing is incorporated into the tavern — six ever changing taps provide customers a diverse range of styles and experimental beers. “One of those taps is always a homebrew recipe which is open source to anyone who wants to brew it or tweak it to fit their pallet better,” Michiels shares.

At the homebrewing shop itself, Michiels prides himself on having all the necessary equipment, supplies and ingredients to create a perfect beer. It carries a multitude of different varieties of grains, hops and yeast. The brewers who work at Gravel Bottom have definitely increased the selection options as well, because they are junkies for new ingredients to play around with.

Home brewers are a big influence on Gravel Bottom. Ada is a small town, and people become regulars, neighbors become friends. Michiels tells MittenBrew a story about one of the first Home Brewers to make a guest appearance on tap at Gravel Bottom — John Weicherchess.

“John is a neighbor of mine who showed up at my house as soon as he heard I was putting in a Craft Brewery & Supply. So, of course, I offered to take him down to the brewery and show him around. At the time the place was pretty tore up, but I figure it would be a cool place to have a couple pints of his (and Steve Waakes’) home brew. After the first pint, he grabbed the jackhammer and started helping me break up the concrete floor for our plumbing. Having fun and making new friends is why I opened this place. I could not have picked a better town and I watch this same story play out regularly. This story is also one of the things that inspired us to always have at least one home brew recipe on tap.”

Michiels and his staff are all brewers, bartenders and shopkeepers at Gravel Bottom. A well-rounded bunch, anyone can help you with anything you may need.

As for the beginning brewer? Michiels has some collective tips and tricks for getting started.

“It’s like anything you want to get better at. The more you do it, the more you will learn. You begin to hone in your processes, and each time you brew it gives you the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients or tweak a recipe. Don’t overthink your recipes — take great notes and be open to new ideas and feedback. You’ll be surprised how easy and fun it is to create your ideal beer,” he said.

“And GBCB is always here to help — feel free to bring in a sample for feedback and don’t hesitate to ask our brewers about anything you want to understand better.”

GRAND RAPIDS — While the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference was certainly a win for West Michigan, it was even more so for a group of local home brewers.

Jeff Carlson (PrimeTime Brewers), Nick Rodammer (Brewsquitos Homebrewing Club) and Kathy Troxell (Rivertown Homebrewers) were three home brewers who took home medals at the event, for three very different brews.

As we sat on a deck in July, enjoying the brewers’ winning drinks, the three medalists began to talk about their approach to home brewing.

For Troxell, she was more than pleased by the results. She won a silver medal in her first-ever competition with her Cherry Tart Kiss Melomel.

“I never expected to place in the finals — this was my first mead and my first competition,” said Troxell. “I was so surprised and overwhelmed. I didn’t believe my name had been announced. The guys at the table had to tell me three times I had won the Silver.”

But for all three home brewers, it’s not just about winning — it’s about what they learn in the process.

“You want some feedback, it’s probably the best advice to get,” said Carlson.

The long-time brewer took home two medals at the conference — a gold in the Specialty Cider and Perry category, and a bronze in the Standard Cider and Perry Category.

All of them agreed that winning solidifies the fact that a home brewer can be capable of creating something on par with some of the area’s best beer, cider and mead.

“My goal every time I make a beer that I’m serious about is, in my mind I want it to come out as good as anything you buy at a pub or in a store,” said Rodammer, who won gold with his Rodtoberfest in the European Amber Lager category. “Oktoberfest is probably my favorite style, which is why I was so happy to win a medal in it.”