Ephs tap into creativity with backyard brewery

Tim Marrs '11, left, and T. Sam Jensen '11 transfer their dorm-made beer during the brewing process.
Tim Marrs ’11, left, and T. Sam Jensen ’11 transfer their dorm-made beer during the brewing process.

If you ask most students at the College, their drink of choice on rowdy weekend nights is apt to be Keystone. However, when the watered-down taste of this popular beverage just can’t satisfy students’ unquenchable desire to imbibe, there is another option: do-it-yourself dorm-brewing. For two students, Tim Marrs ’11 and T. Sam Jensen ’11, satisfaction of their beer craving does not require a drive down to the Spirit Shoppe; in fact, their beer dispensary is located within the confines of their dorm rooms.

These two adventurous Ephs began their beer-brewing quest last year when Marrs heard about the process from his cousins. “My cousins first told me about it, and I thought it was pretty cool so we decided to try it,” he said. “Our first attempt ended up being a sort of hard cider . . . It was really harsh and very alcoholic tasting. It definitely was not the best.”

While their first encounter with home-brewing was far from successful, the two nonetheless persisted, experimenting with various recipes until they finally perfected their brewing skills over the course of their sophomore year. “We’ve done a different recipe each time we’ve brewed beer, no repeats,” Jensen said. “We have a couple books of recipes that we follow and we also buy kits from some of the Web sites that we buy ingredients from. We’ve been all over the map since we all have very diverse tastes, so we’ve done light and fruity beers as well as darker, more manly kinds of beers.”

The duo usually begins their beer-brewing routine on Friday afternoons after amassing the various ingredients that they purchase online. The preliminary stages consist mainly of cooking all the ingredients, including grains and grain sugar, before leaving the liquid in a large jug with yeast to initiate the fermentation process. Then, a couple of weeks later, the beer is ready to be bottled in order for it to be naturally carbonated. “While the beer is fermenting, you allow it to release pressure, but then we bottle it so that it can’t release pressure anymore and will start to carbonate. The main byproduct of the sugar fermentation is alcohol and CO2, so instead of having to carbonate it with a machine, we do it naturally. It’s the old-school way,” Marrs said. “It’s basically a chemistry problem for us,” Jensen added.

Marrs and Jensen admit that at first the beer-brewing procedure seemed rather daunting, but once they got some hands-on experience, the process became a quick, easy and especially rewarding hobby. “Sophomore year was pretty easy, so we just bought some equipment and just went with it,” Jensen said. “We were really surprised how successful it was. The first time we made beer it came out pretty well, which was surprising considering the fact that we had no idea what we were doing – we were just following instructions off a piece of paper. It was really pretty easy and so we decided to just run with it.”

In fact, the two assert that some of the hardest aspects of home-brewing relate to the weeks of waiting necessary before they can enjoy a sip of their delicious concoctions. “From the time that we first start brewing the beer to when it’s been bottled and properly carbonated, it usually takes about a month,” Marrs said. “It’s definitely the hardest part of the process. Sometimes it depends on how patient we are – if we’re lacking in patience we’ll sometimes drink it before it is probably ready.”

Although each batch of home-brewed beer makes about four cases of 12-ounce bottles, Marrs and Jensen are wary to drink their beer all in one sitting. Instead, they reserve the consumption of their homemade beverages for the most special occasions. “We always make an effort to conserve it because four cases do actually go pretty quickly, and we don’t want to just rip through it,” Jensen said. “We mostly use that beer for the weeknights after a long day of studying – you know, we all just sit down, watch some Gossip Girl and have a beer. It’s more for casual drinking,” Marrs added.

On top of  the ease of procuring beer as a result of their dorm-brewery, Marrs and Jensen also say that their hobby is surprisingly inexpensive. “It’s usually about $30 worth of stuff, plus $6 to $7 for shipping, to make each batch of beer,” Jensen said. “There were some overhead costs since we had to buy some equipment in the beginning, but that wasn’t too expensive; it was about a couple hundred dollars of equipment, which is pretty good considering the amount of beer we can make.”

Furthermore, for Marrs and Jensen, there is always the perk of impressing friends and even parents with their homemade infusions. “When our parents have tried it, they have had really low expectations and then they taste it and realize that it’s not actually that bad at all,” Marrs said. “Pretty much everyone has low expectations and then they end up liking it a lot.”

Now that the two have over a year’s worth of beer-brewing experience under their belt, Marrs and Jensen are not only confident in their brewing aptitude but also their ability to taste their creations. “It’s definitely given me more appreciation for beer because when you make it you taste it more as it is changing – as it is fermenting and carbonating, as it grows since its character really changes throughout the process,” Jensen said. “I think you can definitely taste the flavors of the beer more. Since at college our beer world can be narrow sometimes, especially since Keystone doesn’t taste like anything except maybe urine, it opens up your eyes a little more when you’re drinking beer.”

While their college years will soon be over, both Marrs and Jensen insist that their do-it-yourself beer brewing will not end with their time at the College. “I think we kind of dream of owning our own brewery,” Jensen said. “My mom was telling me about our neighbors who actually have a brew room in their basement, so I’d love to be able to do something like that in the future . . . It’s just a really nice hobby because it doesn’t really take a lot of time and it’s great that at the end of it we have something to enjoy.”

If you’re tired of chugging down another bland Keystone concoction, take some advice from Marrs and Jensen and experiment with some of your own home-brewing. After all, it really does just boil down to simple chemistry and following instructions, and it’s bound to be easier than your organic chemistry lab.

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