April Member Spotlight
Club VP and prolific brewer, this month’s Spotlight Member always brings us new techniques, ideas, and knowledge. Let’s meet Joel Farabee:
What’s your day job? I’m the Communications and Technical Director for The 360 Church in Sarasota.
When did you start homebrewing? I started brewing almost 2 years ago when my friend Justin asked if I wanted to go in with him on a brew setup that another friend was selling. I had been wanting to get into homebrewing for about 10 years, and that was all the encouragement I needed to dive in full bore.
When did you join HAMS? I joined HAMS in the fall of 2016
What got you into brewing? When I was in college, I never liked beer. Then a friend talked me into trying Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. It was so different from anything I had tasted before, and I fell in love with craft beers, and the unique flavors that can be coaxed from simple ingredients. I spent the next decade studying beer styles and figuring out what I liked and disliked until I finally jumped in to brewing.
Where do you like to brew? We brew mostly on my back porch. It’s screened and shady, so I can brew there year round in almost any weather. I brewed beer during a tropical storm last year, which was a great way to spend a rainy day.
Where do you ferment? We ferment in my garage. I have two chest freezers that we use as fermentation chambers, and they allow us to have a lager going alongside any ales I might have rolling.
What size batches do you brew? We usually brew 5 gallon batches, though I’ll put anywhere from 6-7 gallons in the fermenter so I can make sure the keg is filled at the end.
What kind of equipment do you use? Love it? Hate it? We have a fairly simply setup. We use a 10 gallon drink cooler for a mash tun, a 10 gallon Spike kettle to boil and an immersion chiller to cool. I have a piece of painters scaffolding that lets me get the mash tun above the kettle, so I can use gravity to lauter. It’s a highly manual process, no pumps, no automatic controls. Every now and then I dream about having a more advanced system with some degree of automation, but I also love having to work for the flavors in my beer, it makes me feel more involved.
Do you have a “pet name” for your setup? No.
Favorite styles to brew? Why? I love lagers and pale-colored beers. We hardly ever do anything with dark malts or roasted grains. Bohemian Pilsner is one of my favorite styles, but I also love Belgian Golden Strong, Tripel, Witbier, and Saison. I guess my style is “refreshing.” Even though I’m a native Floridian, I really don’t like the heat and humidity, so most of the time I want some cold and drinkable.
Tell me about your best batch ever. The best beer we ever brewed was our second batch, and the first time we brewed all grain. We had done a Porter extract kit which didn’t turn out horrible, and knew we wanted to jump into our own recipes from grain. So I found a recipe for a Belgian Pale Ale online, and made massive changes to that recipe to fit what I thought we wanted in something closer to a Saison, and then we got to brewing. Justin’s friend that sold us the gear came over to hang out, and we wound up doing a vertical tasting of 7 massive-ABV beers while we were mashing and brewing. We got hammered. We have no notes of what we did that day, but somehow we made the best batch of beer we’ve accomplished so far. Even though it worked in our favor that day, now I try to limit my drinking while brewing.
How about your worst? Last year we tried to make a kumquat witbier. We used wheat as 50% of the grain bill, but I bought unmalted wheat and it didn’t convert in the mash. OG was somewhere around 1.030, and the beer never recovered much flavor. It wasn’t terrible, but I wound up dumping the last couple gallons from the keg to make room for something better.
Advise to other/new Homebrewers? To quote Denny Conn “Malted barley wants to become beer.” I think it’s easy to focus on the shiny equipment, and to worry a ton about mash temps and hop addition timing, but I think more brewers should focus on fermentation control before worrying about the hot side. Especially in Florida, find some way of controlling fermentation temperature, that will make more of a difference in your final beer. I think a 4 degree difference in the fermenter makes a larger impact than a 4 degree difference in the mash tun.