Two students are standing over a giant five-gallon stainless steel pot in a house on Plum Street, looking quizzically at what they’ve just done.
“That look like two gallons to you?” One student asks. He dips a plastic pitcher into the pot, removing some water.
“That looks like two gallons,” he says, affirmatively. Both friends pause and then laugh. “This isn’t an exact science.”
This inexact science of eyeballing two gallons of water is the first step toward home-brewing beer, a recreational exercise for many, but one junior Chris Blanchard hopes to turn into a successful career.
“I’ve been brewing beer since I was 19,” Blanchard said. “I’m 100 percent self-taught.”
Armed with The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and a $100 intermediate brewing kit, the teenaged Blanchard began his new passion upon entering college, an act legal for a 19-year-old in Blanchard’s home state of Michigan.
Blanchard’s parents had no issue with the hobby.
“My dad thought it was awesome,” Blanchard said. “I’ve been raised that alcohol is not a toy, it’s something you sit down and drink with friends, not as a social lubricant.”
Blanchard soon found fun brewing with others and entertaining guests at parties with Chris Blanchard homebrewed beer.
If one is willing to put in the time, homebrewing is a cheap alternative to buying retail. Blanchard said that after a one-time $100 cost of buying his kit, additional costs to get microbrew kits containing hops, malt and grains range from $10 to $30. These batches yield five gallons, or 56 12-oz. bottles of high-quality microbrew.
“(When I started out) I wanted to stop the perception of beer as (Natural) Light,” he said while sipping on one of his own American Cream Ales. “When the realm of beer is so delicious and vast.”
Blanchard took his homebrewing to Kettering University, a small engineering school in Flint, Mich. There, he put a false wall in front of a small propane campfire stove in his dorm room. At night, he would brew beer and do calculus homework at the same time.
“Twice a semester I would make five gallons … I didn’t drink all that beer,” he joked. “I remember from midnight to 3 a.m. running in and out with a Nalgene bottle to the water fountain.”
Now having transferred to Miami University after his parents moved to Cleveland, Blanchard is sitting in a house brewing beer in far less shady circumstances.
Tonight Blanchard is brewing with sophomore Alexander Dawson. The two met in the fall when both of their girlfriends were roommates. After a semester of pushing, Dawson brewed his first batch of beer. Tonight, he’s helping Blanchard prepare some Belgian White.
“This is cheaper than a case, and tastes like something from Steinkeller,” Blanchard said.
At first glance, the way the two haplessly pour water into their pot, one would not think that the brewing process is as tasking and serious as it is.
To brew beer, one needs to invest in a kit that contains several instruments including a hydrometer that measures the weight of a liquid relative to the same volume of water, glass carboys for bottling, and an auto-siphon.
Brewing a batch of beer requires boiling water, steeping grains and fermentation, among other steps. Preparing the batch for fermentation takes a few hours and the fermentation process can take anywhere from three days to two weeks depending on how dark the brew is.
Dan Listermann, a Miami alumnus, owns a brewing company in Cincinnati that sells beer and winemaking kits. Blanchard is on the list of his patrons.
Listermann sells 55 different kinds of beer kits, all made from raw ingredients, ranging from typical wheat ales to a concoction made with ground cicadas Listermann experimented with last summer.
“There’s a lot of science and engineering behind (homebrewing),” he said.
Blanchard is hoping he can put a lot of entrepreneurship behind his craft as well. Currently he is enrolled in The Redhawk Hatchery, where business, computer science and systems analysis students brainstorm businesses together, and then must start up a venture in a year or receive an F in the class.
Blanchard hopes he can turn his homebrewing into that business. If he doesn’t get teacher approval, he said he plans on opening up shop in Oxford after graduation with money he’s saved from several engineering firm internships and spread his brews across campus.
“I would love to work for a company, but I did that for two years,” he said. “My aspirations and goals are to be an entrepreneur, whatever that entails.”
Despite where his homebrewing takes him, Blanchard hopes to keep his passion.
“It’s scientific, but it yields something I enjoy,” he said. “I can take up video games or sports, but this is art on a very tiny level.”