Kevin Drake’s one-car garage would look like any other Tahoe carport if it weren’t for a few out-of-place things. Next to the many skis, snowboards, surfboards, skateboards, and backpacks are plastic tubs overflowing with glass and plastic tubes, several six-gallon glass jugs, a gas tank, two copper coils, propane burners, and six kegs with the tops cut off. At first glance, you might think you were in some kind of makeshift laboratory. You wouldn’t be altogether wrong.

Drake is a type of scientist, although he considers himself also part craftsman, part artist. Drake is a homebrewer, his Kings Beach garage his brewery. A self-styled ‘craft-beer evangelist,’ Drake is on a mission to spread the word about the benefits of making your own beer, convert non-believers over to microbrews, and find kindred homebrewing spirits. His tool — the North Tahoe Brew Crew, the first homebrewing club in the area.

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Drake, 31, has been an active homebrewer for 13 years. He developed a taste for craft beer in his hometown of Portland, Ore., which has been dubbed the country’s beer capital for its 28 breweries, more than any other city in the U.S. By the time Drake graduated high school, he was something of a micro-beer connoisseur. He couldn’t legally drink, but he had a favorite beer – Black Butte Porter, made by local brewery Deschutes. For his 19th birthday, his mom gave him a homebrewing kit.

‘I love that it’s an art and a science,’ said Drake, who compares making beer to cooking. ‘There are certain rules of the game you have to understand, but there’s no end to the raw ingredients you can use.’

Drake explains that there are only four ingredients necessary to make beer: barley, hops, yeast, and water. But the possibilities for ‘adjuncts’ — brewing lingo for extra ingredients like sugar — are endless.

‘There is almost no end to the type of styles and flavor profiles you can use — agave nectar, honey, and fruit as fermentable sugar; spices; and brown rice and quinoa for grains,’ he said.

Last month, Drake experimented with coconut to make his Toasted Coconut Brown Ale and used hops with a hint of orange in his Apollo Pale Ale to give it a citrusy flavor. Also on tap at his Kings Beach brewery is Sorachi Ace IPA, made with a type of malted rye and named after a hop with a lemony aroma developed in Japan at Sapporo Breweries.

‘Beer isn’t just light, fizzy stuff,’ said Drake, wh is also an environmental scientist and planner in Tahoe City. ‘It can be a really interesting, complex drink.’

Over the years, Drake has had a couple steady brewing partners, but lately he had been brewing solo. He started to get lonely. The idea of forming a homebrewing club began fermenting in Drake’s head as a way to meet like-minded people. Last fall, he talked to Todd Ashman, the brewmaster at FiftyFifty Brewing Co. in Truckee, about starting up a club. Ashman suggested hosting the first meeting at the brewery. In November, the North Tahoe Brew Crew was officially born. A dozen people attended the gathering, where they were led on a tour of the brewery by Ashman and got to sample some FiftyFifty and homebrew beverages.

Drake’s purpose in forming the club is both educational and social. He wants to help novice homebrewers get started with an Intro to Homebrewing class, aid veteran homebrewers in improving their skills, teach people how to pair beer and food, hold beer-themed potlucks, and eventually have a North Tahoe Homebrew Festival. There are currently no fees to become a member, although Drake said that is on the agenda, as well as getting the club recognized by the American Homebrew Association, which would allow the club to compete in national homebrew competitions. (FiftyFifty is considering hosting a homebrew contest this summer. The brewery would brew the winning beer, serve it on tap, and enter it into the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver in September.) Moreover, forming a homebrew club gives Drake the perfect platform to talk about the glories of craft and homemade beer.

‘I take it upon myself to dispel myths and preconceptions about beer, and how to become a more informed consumer of beer,’ he said. ‘The number one complaint about craft beers is that people don’t like hoppy beers. But the difference between beer with a lot of hoppy flavor and aroma, and beers without that, has to do with how they’re brewed.’

Drake said that just by sampling some of his homemade beers, he has ‘converted’ a number of people over to craft beer.

In February, Drake held the second NTBC event, a barleywine tasting and beer and cheese slam, at his house. He challenged people to come up with beer and cheese pairings. A group of 25 people showed up, bringing 15 different types of cheese and 25 types of beer. The winner, who coupled Deschutes’ Hop Henge Experimental IPA with Cambazola blue cheese, received a beer-tasting notebook as a prize.

‘There are so many more possibilities of pairing cheese with beer than wine because beer is a grain processed by microorganisms, and so is cheese,’ he said. ‘It’s very similar processes in beer and cheese-making; they are both created by bacteria.’

And oh, how Drake loves to talk about bacteria. In the brewing world, yeast is king.

‘It’s a magic thing, relying ultimately on yeast to create an environment where brewing yeast can thrive,’ he said. ‘It’s more yeast farming than anything else. If the yeast throws a good party, the beer turns out great.’

Ultimately, Drake’s broader goal with the NTBC is to create a larger brew culture and appreciation for craft beer in the region.

Currently, FiftyFifty is the only brewery in the North Tahoe Truckee area. Drake would like to see that change. Maybe one day, with the help of the NTBC, everyone will be sporting a bumper sticker like the one in Drake’s garage that reads: ‘I brew the beer I drink.’

For more information about the North Tahoe Brew Crew, call Kevin Drake at (530) 308-1942 or visit http://groups.google.com/group/north-tahoe-brew-crew.

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What ’s on Kevin’s Bookshelf

‘Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles’ by Ray Daniels
‘Tasting Beer: An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink’ by Randy Mosher
‘Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass’ by Randy Mosher
‘Beers of the World: Over 350 Classic Beers, Lagers, Ales, and Porters’ by David Kenning
‘The Homebrewer’s Companion’ by Charlie Papazian

Homebrewing Online Resources
American Homebrew Association: homebrewersassociation.org
Brewers Association: brewersassociation.org
Craft Beer: craftbeer.com
Nikos Homebrew Supply: nikobrew.com

Local Resources

Reno Homebrewer: 2335 Dickerson Rd., (775) 329-2537, renohomebrewer.com

Author

  • Melissa Siig

    Melissa Siig ditched international politics in Washington, D.C. in 2001 to move to Tahoe, where she quickly found her true calling — journalism. She has written for regional and national publications, and enjoys writing about community issues and quirky human interest stories. When not at her keyboard, she is busy wrangling her three children, co-running Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema, or playing outside.

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