'Beer guy' says sharing is best part of brewing
Hilliard resident Jeff Berry's home-brewed beer varieties have won or placed in several competitions this year throughout the Midwest.
Hilliard resident Jeff Berry likes to hand out bottles of home-brewed beer to adults as they walk their costumed children to his door on Halloween.
"I give the kids candy and I offer a beer to mom or dad," said Berry, 42.
Berry said he gets an odd look now and then, but most people appreciate the gesture.
And for those in the neighborhood who know Berry as "the beer guy," Beggars Night is circled on the calendar.
"What I enjoy most about making beer is sharing it with my friends," said Berry, who provides all his creations free of charge because Ohio law allows only licensed brewers to sell their beer.
Berry said there is "a lot of red tape" in getting a license and some cumbersome requirements that would no longer make the hobby as enjoyable, so the homemade beers remain gifts for family and friends.
Berry, a 1989 graduate of Hilliard High School, began making his own beers four years ago after a friend invited him to a "Teach a Friend to Brew" event at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Columbus' Arena District.
"The hobby has really exploded," Berry said. "I loved it. It's a tight-knit community with a lot of people who are great to know and who help each other with getting started and becoming better brewers."
In the past year, he has won 15 medals at competitions throughout the Midwest.
Berry most often makes ales and does advance research on whatever beer he intends to craft.
For the purpose of competitions, beer-makers typically are judged on duplicating the style of the intended beer.
Creativity only comes into play if a brewer is making a specialty beer or perhaps a fruit beer.
"If you're making a brown ale, or say, blonde ale, you need to make it in that style," Berry said. "Even if a judge might like what you've made, it has to have taste, texture and appearance of the style you're crafting."
In 2010, Berry won his first contest, sponsored by the Scioto, Olentangy and Darby Zymurgists, a central Ohio organization of home-brewers.
Zymurgy is the chemical reaction in the fermentation and distillation process of alcohol.
In the past year, he won contests sponsored by Gentile's, a wine shop in Grandview Heights, and a "Wizard of Saaz" contest in Akron. Saaz is a specific kind of hops, a necessary ingredient of beer.
"Most contests make plays on words specific to our hobby," Berry said.
He most recently won a gold medal at the Ohio State Fair for the "best light hybrid ale." He won silver and bronze medals at previous State Fair contests.
Berry made a cream ale that he described as a "Depression-era style beer" similar to the mass-marketed Little Kings or Genesee beers.
"It's probably not what beer connoisseurs would flock to ... it's more of a lawn mower kind of beer," Berry said.
The origins, he explained, are traced back to Prohibition when manufacturing beer was illegal.
"People would use table sugar and other adjuncts, whatever they could find," he said, to ferment and make what amounted to "a batch of bootleg hooch."
Berry uses a modified Igloo cooler to brew his beer.
"I got a colander from Bed, Bath and Beyond and ground the handles so it would fit snugly inside the cooler," he said.
Berry uses about 10 pounds of grains, depending on the kind of beer, and six gallons of water for his batches.
Once the water drains through, yeast is added to the liquid wort and the fermentation process begins.
"It usually ferments for about two weeks," he said. "Then it goes into a clearing tank and finally to a keg."
Berry said he enjoys the camaraderie that results from home brewing.
"My wife had friends coming over and after I began making beer, I'd say, 'Try this,' and pretty soon it started becoming an event," he said.
"I think it's an ice-breaker, too."
Berry, a project manager at Nationwide Insurance, said his hobby makes him popular at work, too.
"My co-workers ask what I'm making next," he said.