Homing in on the homemade brew


Armed with college-student budgets and engineering educations, two UI students are cooking up intoxicating flavors and stove-top savings in an apartment kitchen operation: brewing beer.

A year and a half ago, 26-year-olds Kris Thornburg and Garrett Jensen invested in the new hobby, which will nurse their taste for high-end brews. After watching a friend bottle his own beer in his kitchen, the two purchased the equipment and ingredients needed to start their own brewery.

“You can make a beer you actually like for a fraction of the cost,” Thornburg said.

Now, operating out of a tiny, hallway of a kitchen is their very own hobby operation, the Flying Norseman Brewery.

Although buying equipment to start up took some money, overall, the investment has been worth it, they said, and the roommates have saved more than 75 percent in money spent on drinks.

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Thornburg said the process takes the duo roughly five weeks before the beer is ready for drinking, and they usually consume their supply — around 15 gallons — at the rate it takes to brew it.

The process involves boiling grains and water into a mixture called the wort, the liquid that is fermented to become beer. The wort is boiled together with hops and sometimes other ingredients to add to the flavor. They then add yeast to the cooled concoction and allow time for fermentation in a large glass bottle called a carboy. Eventually, Jensen and Thornburg bottle the beer in reusable glass bottles with hinged tops before chilling the brews in their apartment fridge.

The students devoted time to researching the process in depth before testing it out at home.

Standing in front of two large kettles, Jensen holds a stack of books purchased before the brewing began, each holding different tricks to the trade: beer recipes, brewing techniques, and tips for compatible flavors.

“This is pretty much the Bible,” he says, pointing to one froth-stamped cover.

But the skills they learned only complemented the knowledge the two already had. Pulling from their industrial engineering majors, Jensen and Thornburg were able to build some of the equipment needed for the brewing, including a copper pipe device used for extracting sugar from the grain.

“Beer brewing really is a science,” said Jerry Anderson, the owner of Bluff Street Brew Haus, a beer-brewing supplies store in Dubuque. Many at-home brewers are often chemists or engineers, he said, similar to Thornburg and Jensen. Most get involved with the hobby out of curiosity, and the price and flavor of the beer is an added benefit, he said.

Some of Jensen’s and Thornburg’s favorite frothy flavors have come from the fun they have experimenting with new ingredients and combinations. Christmas ale, a dark coffee porter, and pale ales are among their favorite flavors. One of the most requested is a pumpkin ale, which takes a whole pumpkin in the kettle to brew.

“We’re free to do our own thing,” Jensen said. “And the finished product doesn’t taste like anything you’ll get on the store shelves.”

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