Beer Spoken Here
When I walked into the dimly lit “Mad Room” in Mad Anthony’s Lake City Taphouse in Warsaw, Indiana, I found an almost medieval scene: 22 homebrewers at a circle of tables, each presenting a few of their creations. I had come to meet the Kosciusko Kettleheads: Warsaw’s homebrew club.
Among the homebrew community, the Kettleheads, who were founded in 2010, have a reputation for pushing the boundaries of traditional styles of beer. I quickly learned that the reputation is well deserved.
Keeping It Light
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Jason Rich, a founding member of the Kettleheads, as he poured me a sample of his oak-aged saison with a grin. “We pay close attention to beer quality and educating brewers who want advice, but we don’t adhere to strict beer styles or rigid guidelines.”
As I handed my own Chinook SMaSH (single malt and single hop) to Rich to be included with the tasting schedule, a few batch titles caught my eye: Rum-Soaked Oak-Aged Coconut Stout, Peaches & Herb Dry-Hopped Peach Cider, and a cider infused with honey and Ceylon tea—to be served both hot and cold.
Most of the Kettleheads are avid ale brewers, using a top-fermenting yeast to create their beer. Their abilities range from brewing premeasured “kit-batches” to formulating their own recipes, and at least half of the group have explored meads and ciders as well. Many new brewers join to receive honest feedback about their brews, to compare their batches and to experiment with new methods and ingredients.
Cake ’n Bacon
Batches such as Michael McGuire’s Cake ’n Bacon convey the limitless possibilities of ingredients.
“It’s a wheat-based porter brewed with dark chocolate, racked onto bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and smoked bacon,” McGuire said. “I smoke a pound of bacon to remove as much of the fats and oils as possible prior to adding the meat to the secondary [fermenter].”
McGuire said he plans to brew another batch of Cake ’n Bacon, adding that it will be the fourth version of the recipe. Even though each change to the recipe has been mostly from his own experimentation, the other Kettleheads have given him ideas for changes as well.
“There has been a strong positive response to using actual bacon inside the carboy.” Apart from doubling the amount of bacon in his next batch, McGuire plans to smoke his bacon longer at a lower temperature.
“With the feedback so far, I am really striving to not only balance the cake, but to blend this with a nicely balanced bacon: the mild smoked flavor of a good bacon that is not overly salted but has a hint of sweetness,” McGuire said.
Yet when it comes to exotic beer ingredients, Cake ’n Bacon only scratches the surface.
“There have been some truly stunning homebrews served by the Kettleheads over the years,” said Rich, including a Gingerbread Christmas Ale, a Vanilla Bourbon Imperial Stout and a Menthol-Infused Rye Ale.
And just when it seemed like the most obscure recipes had come out of the woodwork, Buckley Watson cracked open a bottle of his Peaches & Herb Peach Cider. “I was going for weird, and I think I obtained it,” Watson said. “I came up with the name, then I had to come up with the drink.”
Such has been the modus operandi of Watson’s brewing procedure, which has led to a themed series of beers. At this particular meeting, Watson had a beer from his Princess Bride series: Inego Montoya Prepare to Die Beet Cider. It was very red. And extremely beety.
Creativity Meets Tradition
In its simplest form today, beer is only four ingredients: barley, water, yeast and hops. But brewers such as myself often forget that beer isn’t limited to these ingredients—as the Kettleheads taught me, the most memorable beers thrive on unexpected additions, everything from beets to bacon.
Creativity as a craft homebrewer is limited only to the imagination. Thanks to brewers like Jason Rich, Buckley Watson, Michael McGuire and the other Kettleheads, I’ll be stopping by the farmers market or the produce aisle before I fire up my next brew kettle.
Brew Good, Do Good
The Kosciusko Kettleheads proudly share their brews at every meeting and with the community as well—not just for tasting, but also for charity.
“We adopted the motto ‘Brew Good, Do Good’ as a way to remind us to use our brewing for good causes,” says founding member Jason Rich.
Since 2011, the Kettleheads have partnered with Cerulean Restaurant in Winona Lake, Indiana, for an annual tasting, the proceeds of which are donated to charity. And each Christmas, the club adopts a family through the Salvation Army and has contributed to the Pierceton Chamber of Commerce, United Way and Combined Community Services.
“They are a very eclectic bunch with a huge heart for the community,” says Stephen Possel, executive director of Combined Community Services. “They are truly neighbors helping neighbors in need.”
The Kettleheads have raised over $13,000 for the Warsaw-area community since their founding in 2010.
The Kosciusko Kettleheads meet the second Sunday of each month at Mad Anthony’s Lake City Taphouse in Warsaw. More information about tastings and other events can be found at Kettleheads.org.
Interested in brewing your own?
Here are a few good places to get started:Quality Wine & Ale Supply
108 S. Elkhart Ave. Elkhart, Indiana
Quality has established itself with a robust online presence and has been operating since 2000. Apart from beer supplies, Quality has also received the Winexpert Retailerof the Year award 10 years in a row, and is a leading authority on home winemaking. DIY Coffee & Ale Supply
114 E. Washington St.
Goshen, Indiana Owner Chris May has a passion for brewing beer. He is also a skilled coffee roaster. His store specializes in equipment for both. Michiana Brewers Supply
117 S. Michigan St.
South Bend, Indiana
Michiana Brewers Supply provides everything needed to make beer, wine, cheese and soda at home. Owner Aaron Goldstein is a homebrewer and the former manager of the South Bend Brew Werks store (now a brew pub).