Hilliard man's home brews lauded at contest
Hilliard resident Jeff Lewis (center) recently was named "Master Home-Brewer" for the second consecutive year at a pilsner beer-brewing contest hosted by Pilsner Urquell on July 26 in Chicago. Pictured with Lewis are Chad Wodskow (left), Pilsner Urquell brand manager, and Vaclav Berka, a Pilsner Urquell brew master who was among the judges of the contest in Chicago.
Jeff Lewis has been down this road before, but it's no less exciting than it was the first time.
The Hilliard resident was named "Master Home-Brewer" at a pilsner beer-brewing contest hosted by Pilsner Urquell on July 26 in Chicago.
This marked the second consecutive year Lewis won the title and for doing so, he and two other master brewers from regional contests will travel to the Czech Republic in October to tour the contest sponsor's historic brewery.
"I could speak this time," said Lewis, 42, who recalled being so stunned and surprised at last year's victory that he stammered through an acceptance speech.
"But it's still just as exciting."
The pilsner beer style is named for its origin in Pilsen, a city once in Bohemia but now in the Czech Republic. Pilsner Urquell has been produced since 1842 at the brewery Lewis will visit.
Lewis will meet with Pilsner Urquell Brew Master Vaclav Berka, who was among the judges of the contest in Chicago. His wife, Susan, assists in some of the brewing processes and will travel to the Czech Republic with him, along with two other regional winners and their guests.
Lewis said has brewed a variety of beers, especially lagers and pilsners, for about 15 years. But, no one, himself included, expected him to be a master brewer based on his earliest efforts.
While a student at Princeton University, he and his classmates decided to take a crack at making their own beer.
"We just took a stab at it," Lewis said. "We didn't do any research and just tried to make beer. It didn't turn out very well."
About five years later, Lewis, while drinking a beer with some of the same friends, pondered what the outcome would be if he actually did research.
"In those short five years, the Internet had become commonplace," Lewis said. "And I was amazed at how much information about it was out there."
Lewis even discovered a club called SODZ: the Scioto Olentangy Darby Zymurgists. The first three names are waterways in central Ohio, and water is a main ingredient in brewing. Zymurgy is an area of applied science concerning fermentation.
"There are a ton of like-minded people out there and it's a great source of information, as well as fun," Lewis said of his membership in the club, where he has gained rock-star status.
He brewed four 5-gallon batches of his award-winning pilsner beer and chose the best of the four to take to Chicago.
Lewis did not name his beer the first time, but opted to call it Yellow Dog Lager at this year's competition, a nod to his canine companion, a yellow Lab named Barley.
In making his pilsner beer, grain and water is steeped at particular temperatures and starch converts to sugar, creating a substance called wort.
The wort is drained into a kettle and hops are added and boiled.
"The hops add bitterness, flavor, and aroma" to the sugary wort mixture, Lewis said.
After this all-day process, the wort is chilled. The wort is fermented into beer by the yeast during a three- to four-week period.
The beer is further lagered, or stored for cold conditioning, for about another month.
Lewis describes a pilsner as "a medium-bodied, golden lager."
But if you want to try one of Lewis' beers, you're probably out of luck: It is illegal for him, or most other home brewers, to sell beer.
The federal government places an excise tax on alcohol, making it illegal for home brewers to sell without the required permits and licensing, which include meeting health code and sanitation regulations.
"I give to friends. ... It makes for a good present, too," Lewis said.
He said he and his fellow brewers often share their original beers while tailgating at Columbus Crew soccer games.