Home Brewed Hobby
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By Alex Strauss
As a medical oncologist and researcher at Sanford in Sioux Falls, Steven Powell, MD, spends the bulk of his time trying to answer some of the trickiest questions in medicine. In his off hours, he wants what a lot of people want - to relax with a great beer.
Making a great beer, that is.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even much of a beer fan until I started brewing. That is really what got me into it,” says Dr. Powell of a home-brewing hobby that started as a small stove-top operation and has now taken over the garage. “My wife bought me a home brewing kit for my birthday when we were living in Minneapolis during my first year of residency. I like to cook, so she thought it might be something I would like.”
It turns out, she was right. Like most home brewers, Powell started with extract brewing small batches, a process he likens to making cake with a mix. But the biochemist in him was not content with this simplified version of brewing and he soon began working with whole grains instead of prepackaged extracts for more control over the finished product.
“It’s actually very scientific. You use malted grain and you grind or mill the grain to crush it,” he explains. “Then you spray water over the grain, which causes it to sprout. As a brewer, you’re using water at a specific temperature to try activate certain enzymes and break down the sugars. Different grains will produce different flavors. You use a mixture of ingredients to produce the flavor you want.”
As his interest - and his batch sizes - grew, Dr. Powell moved the brewing operation into the garage where he now uses propane burners to make about 10 gallons of beer every couple of months. A single batch can take 5 to 6 hours of active work, but the payoffs are big -- a process he finds fun and relaxing and a product he is proud to show off and to share.
“I give a lot of beer away and I have a lot of requests from family and friends,” he says. “It’s amazing how many people want to be friends with you!”
He has also won more than one first-place ribbon at the Minnesota state fair (an impressive feat in a region he describes as a “hotbed” of home brewing) and recently took a chocolate coffee stout all the way to the finals in a national competition. Powell says the interplay of different grains with hops and yeast, as well as the use of exotic additions like fruits and flowers, allows the inspired brewer to create an almost infinite array of styles and flavors.
“I think what I and a lot of other physicians really love about brewing is that it is a blend of science and art,” says Dr. Powell. “If you happen to be a science geek, you can get very involved in even little details like the chemistry of the water you use. On the artistic side, you can do all sorts of creations, focusing on how it looks and how it tastes.”
While he continues to refine his own brewing process, Powell says his next goal is to fine-tune his taste buds and quality as a certified brewing judge. “You have to take tests and sort of realign your senses, but I think that would be very cool,” he says.