Boaters are a characteristically self-sufficient lot, but when it comes to beer, most are satisfied with picking up a case at the grocery store or fuel dock.
Not Joey and Candi Tedder. True Northwesterners, they take their beer seriously, to that point that they brew their own while living aboard their Coronado 41, Filthy Whore. And they say it’s surprisingly easy, even on a boat.
“Anyone who has somewhere to live that’s warm can do this,” Joey said. “It’s easy to home brew.”
Joey lists several reasons to brew your own: it costs about half as much as store-bought beer after an initial investment in equipment (more about that later), tastes better and is “virtually hangover-free” since the suspended yeast in the beer is pure vitamin B complex, known to be an effective safeguard against morning-after misery. And of course, there’s the satisfaction of enjoying a beverage you’ve made yourself.
I dropped by the couple’s boat at Des Moines Marina on a recent chilly afternoon to watch Joey brew up a batch of Belgian witbier, a pale brew with an orange flavor. The brewing process involves converting a starch source into a sugary liquid known as “wort,” then fermenting the wort with yeast to turn it into beer. The beer is then bottled and aged anywhere from a week to several months.
Joey started by thoroughly cleaning his equipment with an iodine-based product that kills any stray yeast or dirt. Failing to keep equipment clean, he said, is the easiest way to ruin a batch of beer.
“The key thing is making sure everything gets sanitized properly,” he said. “I haven’t messed (a batch) up yet.”
Working on the dock to avoid creating a large amount of condensation onboard, Joey filled his brew pot with water and set it on a propane burner. He stressed the importance of using the brew pot only for beer, which will absorb the flavor of anything else cooked in the pot — in other words, boaters, don’t cook your crab in your beer pot unless you want Dungeness-flavored beer.
“The brew pot,” Joey said, “is sacred.”
After heating the water up to the right temperature (usually between 155 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit), Joey put a mesh bag of mixed grains into the pot and let it steep (steeping times range from 15 minutes to half an hour, depending on the intensity of flavor desired). Then he added a thick, condensed malt extract to the pot, followed by a package of hops.
The brew boiled for an hour, then was quickly cooled using a coiled device known as a wort chiller, after which the wort was poured into a food-grade, six-gallon bucket. Water was added to make a five-gallon batch and combined with yeast for a period of primary fermentation.
After that, the beer would be transferred to a glass carboy for secondary fermentation, which separates the beer from the sediment that forms on the bottom of the first container. The final step is to transfer the beer to a keg and add carbonation.
Since space is limited, Joey and Candi store their brews in five-gallon soda kegs instead of bottles. They use malt extract rather than making their own by mashing grains, which would require a large quantity of grains. And they stick to cheap thermometers, which tend to frequently fall into the water.
“There are probably half a dozen of those sitting under our slip at our old marina,” Joey said.
Beer is one of the oldest beverages in the world, thought to date as far back as the 6th millennium B.C. It was brewed by early Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, which raised barley as a staple grain. By the 7th century AD, beer was commonly produced and sold by European monasteries, and the art of brewing subsequently spread through Europe.
In the United States, home brewing became illegal during the Prohibition and remained that way until 1979, when President Carter, himself a home brewer, signed into law a bill repealing federal restrictions on home brewing. But transporting homebrewed beer was against the law in Washington until recently, with the exception of beer headed for tastings or competitions. And even then, only one gallon could be transported.
That changed in 2009, when the Legislature passed a law allowing home brewers to transport up to 20 gallons at a time for private use. Homebrewers can legally brew up to 200 gallons of beer per person annually, but selling it is prohibited.
A longtime beer enthusiast who reckons he’s tried several hundred varieties, Joey started brewing his own a couple of years ago. At the time Candi couldn’t stand the stuff, but quickly changed her mind after trying her husband’s homebrews.
“I really didn’t like beer, but the first one we did, I thought it was pretty gosh darned good,” she said.
Since then they’ve tried countless recipes, from pale ales to IPAs. They stick to ales, which ferment at about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, versus the cooler temperatures required for lagers. Joey will tweak recipes to his taste, adding lemon peel for extra crispness or tossing in extra hops to amplify the flavor. For a change they sometimes make pop, old-fashioned cream soda or root beer.
Joey’s favorite homebrews include his variations of Manny’s Pale Ale and Liberty Ale (the originals are made by Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing Company and Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, respectively), while Candi prefers the smoothness of Belgian brews.
For aspiring brewers, Joey recommends reading “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian. Homebrewing supplies can be purchased at stores around the state (Joey’s favorite is Larry’s Brewing Supply in Kent). Expect to spend about $100 for bottling supplies and around $350 for a kegging system, not including the cost of a pot and a propane burner.
The cost of ingredients depends on the type of beer being made. A basic blonde or IPA costs about $25 for the equivalent of two cases, or about 50 cents a bottle. Higher-alcohol content beers cost more, since they require additional malt and hops. At last summer’s beer-soaked Lats & Atts cruisers rendezvous in Anacortes, revelers lined up to try a brew Joey made and dubbed “Big Al-Coholic” for its 17.8-percent alcohol content.
While the Tedders say they’re fairly low-key, fellow boaters don’t seem to have much trouble finding them.
“We’re kind of homebodies,” Candi said. “But people know where the beer is at.”