Moffat County resident Robert Schenck has passion for home brewing
August 21, 2010
Schenck’s Beer Lineup
• 7 Drunken Nights — a smoky, pitch-black Irish stout that finishes with a bit of bite; 5 percent alcohol by volume.
• Drunken Bean — a dark, smoky and sweet stout with a kiss of vanilla; 5.5 percent alcohol by volume.
• Beach Vacation — a California common ale with a distinct hop aroma, flavor and a bitter side; 4 percent alcohol by volume.
• Wild Rover — a smooth pale ale with the perfect balance of sweet and bitter; 3.5 percent alcohol by volume.
• Rusty Truck IPA — a distinct India pale ale with two types of hops and a finishing bite; 4 percent alcohol by volume.
Robert Schenck has never had anyone tell him they didn't like one of his home-brewed beers.
"Everybody likes your beer — it's free," said Schenck, echoing the thoughts of many friends that have drank his beer as he sat in the bar of his two-story home northwest of Craig.
Schenck, 40, has been brewing his beer — mostly pale ales and stouts — for about three years. In that time, Schenck's hobby has developed into a passion from its humble beginnings on his stovetop.
He has taken his passion for combining grains, hot water and yeast and branched out by forming the Northwest Colorado Brew Club, entering his beers in competitions like the Moffat County Fair and even making plans to open a nano-brewery.
Schenck contends the art of brewing is rewarding when entering — and hopefully winning — competitions and fairs.
But, the true enjoyment he derives from the hobby comes from the feedback he hears when someone sips a cold one, he said.
"When that complete stranger comes up to you and says, 'Man, that's a good beer,'" he said. "Or, when your friends are like, 'Can I buy some?' 'Well, unfortunately no, but I'll give you a six-pack.'"
The process of creating something from nothing is enough to keep him brewing batch after batch, Schenck said.
"I'm making something from scratch," he said. "I'm not going to the store and buying something that was made by a minimum- wage guy under the supervision of another guy in a factory.
"This is something that I have crushed the grains, that I've added just the proper amount of the ingredients to, sat there and watched it for an hour while it cooked, (and) bottled it by hand, and my wife created the label."
Simply put, Schenck said, the beers he makes are "just me."
"This would be my art, and I get something out of it," he said.
From empty kettle to award-winning
Schenck has lived in the Craig area with his wife, Krista, who is a Craig native, for about five years.
Schenck was born in Jersey City, N.J., and served in the Army for 16 years as a psychological operations team leader.
After the Army, he received his degree in automotive management from Pennsylvania State University in 1998. Currently, he works for Craig-based Simons Petroleum company.
When Schenck retired from the service, he wandered into a home brewing shop in New Jersey, he said.
"I went there one day and bought a small starter kit and brewed my first batch," he said. "It came out OK. It was good, it wasn't phenomenal or anything spectacular."
Schenck brewed beer periodically through college, but set aside the hobby.
It wasn't until about three years ago, when Schenck found his old brewing equipment in a storage unit, that he decided to start brewing again at Krista's suggestion.
"It's a nice little hobby," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't do anything small scale anymore. I read everything I could possibly read on it that was available on the Internet (and in) books."
Currently, Schenck makes five different types of beer: 7 Drunken Nights, an Irish stout; Drunken Bean, a vanilla stout; Beach Vacation, a California common ale; Wild Rover, a pale ale and Rusty Truck, an India pale ale.
Schenck brewed 30 gallons of beer in April in preparation for the Moffat County Fair, he said.
He entered all of his beers in the wine and beer competition including, Wild Rover, which won grand champion, and 7 Drunken Nights, which won reserve champion.
He is going to send the three remaining Wild Rovers he brewed for the fair to the Brewing Network in California to be judged. Next year, Schenck's goal is to win the National Homebrewer's Competition or the Samuel Adams Longshot Competition.
The grains, hops and yeast
Schenck has brewed about 50 batches of beer in three years. He usually brews smaller batches, which are five gallons, or larger, 10-gallon batches.
Brewing five gallons of beer, Schenck said, costs about $21 and yields 54 bottles, or nine six-packs.
Although there are about 23 different styles of beer, from pilsners to barley wines, there are only two classes of beers — lagers and ales, Schenck said.
The difference between lagers and ales is the yeast. Lagers ferment from the bottom when yeast is added, and ales from the top. Schenck brews ales because lagers have to ferment cold, he said.
Proper brewing technique starts with the selection of the right grains, which determine the style, color, flavor, smokiness and sweetness of the beer. Hops are added to the beer to give it a distinct aroma and bitterness, and also to help offset the sugar of the grains, Schenck said.
"The beauty of home brewing is (if) you find a beer you like, but there is something you would like a little more or less of, you can tailor every beer in the world," he said. "Recipes for almost every beer (are) out there."
The process of brewing beer begins by bringing the water to a high temperature, then pouring the water into a mash tun filled with specific grains, which will turn the starch of the grains into sugar. After about an hour, the grain-water mixture is drained into a kettle and cooked. After cooking, the beer is fermented, which takes a few weeks before being bottled.
Schenck contends the sign of a good brewer is consistency, but sometimes mistakes occur during the process.
One of Schenck's mistakes, he said, turned into a "really good" beer, which he has not been able to reproduce since.
"I have tried to reproduce it and I can't even come close," he said with a laugh. "I don't know what I did."
If a brewer can consistently brew a good beer, Schenck said, "that's how you become a professional and people will buy your beer."
Selling his beer, although illegal as a home brewer, is Schenck's next goal, he said.
Schenck hopes to open his own small-scale brewery — a nano-brewery — in the near future and sell his beer locally.
"That is the hope," he said. "The dream I guess."
Schenck is currently in the process of applying for the myriad of licenses needed to brew and sell his beer.
"I've won every competition that I have ever entered, not that there is much competition here in town," he said. "Everybody I have talked to is, 'Man, can I buy some?'"
Some people, however, have told Schenck he might not be able to turn a profit by operating a nano-brewery.
"I probably really don't care," he said. "I think just being able to sell beer in town and have somebody else try my beer other than my friends and get a comment would be great."
Schenck also dreams of opening his own brewpub in town, he said.
"If I could come up with the capital, I would put a seven-barrel brewpub in town," he said. "But, I don't have half a million dollars."
For now, Schenck is simply excited by the opportunity to keep brewing and hopefully sell his beers, he said.
"If I start to see a demand, then I might actually further pursue looking into small business loans," he said. "But the nano-brewery is going to test the waters a little bit."
Brian Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.