When Josh Bertsch, 23, entered “Little Chapman” — a brown ale brewed with his brother Eric, 26, in their father’s driveway in Granger — into the Indiana State Fair Craft Beer Competition, he wasn’t really expecting to place, much less win.
The beer ended up winning first place in the American Ale division of the competition, against 53 other entries from around the state — some by much more experienced brewers.
“It was exactly what we were going for, an easy drinking beer,” Eric said. “We used chocolate malt and roasted barley to give it coffee flavor. We wanted to make something our family would like.”
The brothers share a love of beer, but now live in different places; the brewing process was a way to “spend time together,” Josh said. “My brother knows a lot about craft beer, and I know a lot about the brewing process, so both of those things worked together.”
Josh, who is working on a master’s degree in physiology at Ball State University, brought the science background. He helped start a school-sanctioned brew club, and learned techniques through trial and error from 10 different beers.
Eric lives in South Bend and is more “artsy with flavors and recipes,” Josh said. The ale was the brothers’ first joint brew.
They began on their dad, Kent’s, driveway in May, using a keg for a boil pot and a mash tun cooker (nicknamed the Mashtunator) to extract sugars from barley and malt grains. In a process called sparging, they diluted the batch by pouring more hot water through the grain, then added hops plants for flavor and aroma.
The longer process involved a transfer of the product into a fermenter with yeast to “let it do its thing for five weeks,” Eric said. It was ready for competition on July 11 in Indianapolis.
Home brewing has been a steadily growing trend since the practice became legal in all 50 states in July 2013, according to Stateline. The Indiana Brewers’ Cup at the Indiana State Fair is one of the nation’s largest competitions, according to the website, featuring nearly 1,300 home brew and professional brew entries each year.
While the brothers say their brewing is just a hobby for now, it’s one they plan to continue. They recently made a strawberry rhubarb wheat beer and a chocolate oatmeal vanilla bean stout “to share with family and friends,” Josh said.
“A lot of how a drink turns out is chance, to be honest,” Eric said. “It’s important to just have fun with it. Taste through all the stages and put together flavors you think will taste good.”
To find out more about home brewing, check out the map of homebrew supply stores in the Michiana area, which offer equipment, ingredients and classes. Plus, keep an eye out for the fall issue of Flavor 574 Magazine, where we’ll have tips, tricks and more locals making their own beer and wine.
Michiana Homebrew Supply Stores
Bell’s General Store
365 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo Township, MI
DIY Coffee and Ale Supply
114 E. Washington St., Goshen, IN
Gateway Cellar Winery
211 S. Main St., Goshen, IN
Michiana Brewer’s Supply
117 S. Michigan St., South Bend, IN
Quality Wine and Ale Supply
108 S. Elkhart Ave., Elkhart, IN