Homebrewers take their craft camping MASH, SCUBA and, of course, beer
MASH-NJ Treasurer Micha Stark (left) and President Karl Weiss celebrate National Homebrew Day, Saturday, May 5, 2018 at the Great Divide Campground in Andover.
Photos by Mandy Coriston
by Mandy Coriston Andover — Saturday, May 5 marked the 30th anniversary of National Homebrew Day, and to celebrate, homebrewers from the Morris Area Society of Homebrewers’ (MASH-NJ) hosted a Big Brew Day event and campout at the Great Divide Campground, nestled in the hills between Andover and Green. The club, formed in 2012, celebrates the thousands-year-old tradition of homebrewing and promotes the sharing of recipes, tips, and techniques for making one’s own beer, cider, and mead. MASH-NJ is proudly affiliated with the American Homebrewers Association, which was incorporated in 1978. Joining MASH-NJ for their Homebrew Day celebration were members of SCUBA (Sussex County United Brewers and Alchemists), and around three dozen participants. MASH-NJ President Karl Weiss said, “This is our fifth year celebrating National Homebrew Day as a club, and our third at the campground. They’ve been very accommodating about us bringing our equipment up here and giving us a great venue for our festivities.” The festivities included, of course, brewing beer. There were pots and kettles for soaking and filtering grains, large propane burners set up for boiling, and kegs and buckets waiting to hold the day’s products for the fermentation process. Thinking of everything, the brewers even brought a small table with a built-in grinder, so they could mill their grains for the brewing process. Chris Shinn of SCUBA was milling barley for a Pale Ale and said, “It’s really simple — just a two-way electric motor mounted into the tabletop — but it saves us a lot of time.” The brewers also set up several “jockey boxes,” coolers equipped with taps and cold plates, so that they could enjoy the beers they had brought to share. MASH-NJ Treasurer Micha Stark was eager to give a crash course on the brewing process. As he checked the temperature of the mash he was preparing for a Black IPA, he explained that the grains and water (the mash) would soak for about an hour. Then, he said, “we filter out the mash, and what’s left is the wort.” The wort is essentially a malt tea, the taste of which can only be described as liquid bread. The wort is then boiled, and the hops are added. The next step is cooling, and then fermentation. The liquids are poured into metal kegs or plastic buckets, fitted with one-way valves, and yeast is added. “The valves are the important part,” Stark said, “We need the yeast to break down the sugars in the wort without letting any air get in.” He also said the fermentation process takes about three weeks to complete. Once fermented, the brewers filter the beer once more and package it in either bottles or kegs for consumption. Many of the brewers in attendance said the fun of homebrewing is in the creative process, but that competitions were also a big draw for them. Weiss explained that a social membership in MASH-NJ is free, but paid membership ($25/year) offers benefits such as club-only competitions, events, and discounts at local breweries and businesses. “We have about sixty paid members, who can participate in club-only contests. The competitions can really prepare you for some of the bigger events, such as the fair in August.” The accolades among the gathered brewers were plentiful. SCUBA’s Rob Giaquinta won last year’s NJHOPZ competition for the right to have his beer, a pilsner named Carriagemaker, to be on the menu at Czig Meister Brewing Company in Hackettstown. Giaquinta, who was mixing a large vat of mash, said, “I like to go by the book and use traditional recipes. For me, it’s about perfecting the process and using the best ingredients to make the cleanest beer.” Paul West of MASH-NJ, who wasn’t brewing but busy taking photographs of the event, said, “Beer can be forgiving. The ingredients are very simple. But it’s about the process and playing with the ingredients to get the desired outcome. You wouldn’t want to do that with wine. But with beer, you can have a little fun.” Caitlin Orloski and her boyfriend Kevin Stickle were attending the event, along with Caitlin’s father Mike Orloski. The elder Orloski was the 2017 New Jersey Homebrewer of the Year, a title given to the brewer who accumulates the most points over the course of several competitions. Caitlin was working on an Extra Special Bitter, an English style of beer, and Kevin was just about to start brewing an IPA called SMASH the Galaxy. The name is a clever nod to the ingredients (single malt and single hop) and the hops variety being used (galaxy hops). Kevin has been brewing for two years. “Caitlin taught me after she learned from her dad,” he said. Caitlin said she began brewing on her own four years ago, and in her first year gave her father a gift of her own homemade brew. “He didn’t know I’d bought my own equipment and asked me where the beer came from. When I told him I’d made it, he was really surprised and proud.” Both father and daughter have won numerous ribbons at the New Jersey State Fair’s beer competition held in August, including an award for the beer Caitlin made at last year’s campout, which she dubbed “Campground IPA.” Brewing is also a family affair for Joe and Cindy Eddy of Branchville. They set up shop for the campout and were working on an American Amber. Cindy was excited for the wort to be ready. “I’m stealing a little bit of Joe’s wort to set aside for the fair. I’m working on a secret brew for the Jersey Pride category,” she said, “They added the category last year, and it’s really fun to take part in it.” The couple has been brewing for about 12 years and are members of SCUBA. As the brewers moved along in the brewing process, a large bin began to fill with the grains of the spent mash. The grains from brewing at the event were later donated to the campground to be composted, but the mash doesn’t necessarily need to be discarded. According to Micha Stark, the MASH-NJ treasurer, “It’s great for baking. It can be used for bread, and it’s actually perfect for dog biscuits.” Stark said that brewing can be an expensive hobby. "So we don’t like any waste.” While he estimated the cost of basic equipment between $150-$200, it's the ingredients that "can get a bit pricey.” “We often pool resources and purchase things like grains and hops in bulk to keep costs down,” Weiss said. Over the course of the event, the brewers used approximately 130 lbs. of grain and produced about 80 gallons of beer. As the clock approached 1 p.m., Weiss announced that it was nearly time for their toast. With National Homebrew Day being celebrated at hundreds of locations across the country, a simultaneous salute was to be held in honor of American Homebrewers Association founder Charlie Papazian, considered to be the father of modern homebrewing in America. Weiss said an approximate 200,000 homebrewers would be taking part in the toast nationwide. “Okay, everyone, it’s time!” Weiss said, as those in attendance gathered around and raised a glass. “Thanks for joining us today! Here’s to National Homebrew Day, here’s to the New Jersey homebrewing community, and here’s to the best hobby in the world! Cheers!” Information on MASH-NJ can be found at their website www.mashnewjersey.com. They hold free monthly meetings at various brew pubs around the area, and quarterly meetings for paid members. SCUBA also meets once a month and can be found on the web at www.scubabrewclub.com. The Great Divide Campground has facilities and amenities for both tent and RV camping, detailed information can be found at their website, <URL destination="http://www.campthegreatdivide.com. ">www.campthegreatdivide.com.