There's something brewing in Piedmont kitchens and basements — something light, dark, yeasty, hoppy, bubbly and, for beer lovers, irresistible.
A dozen or more local residents have discovered the fun of making small batches of beer at home, often right in the kitchen, and they are sharing their home brews Friday afternoon at the first-ever Piedmont Artisanal Brewing Competition.
Everyone (including children) is welcome at the event, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia Ave. (although only those who are "age-appropriate" will be able to sample the beers). The competition will be outdoors, on the lawn, with Dixieland music to drink by and grilled sausages from Top Dog available to accompany the brews. Admission is $10 per person.
Among the samples: ale produced by Nancy Lehrkind, a Realtor and PCA board member; coconut porter and strawberry blonde from Trevor Fleshman, a 2009 graduate of Piedmont High School who's now studying fermentation science at UC Davis; and "hacker beer" by Trevor's stepdad, Carter Dunlap.
"It's a Pro/Am event," Dunlap said of the event. "Nancy and Trevor are pros; most of us are a bunch of hackers." Still, Dunlap is an enthusiastic amateur brewer. He will offer samples of beer recently made and bottled by him and his wife, Patty.
The Dunlap/Fleshman beer nexus got its start with the purchase of a beer-making kit at Christmastime four years ago. The four males at home — Dunlap, his son, Fleshman and a Swedish exchange student — dove in to create their first batch.
Trevor Fleshman was enthuasiastic enough to add fermentation science classes on top of requirements for his major at UC Davis, where he expects to receive a bachelor's degree in international economics in the spring. He admits to brewing some batches in his dorm room ("under the supervision of my professor").
"Beer-making can be done on a kitchen table," Fleshman says. "It can be very simple — and very complicated."
And, perhaps surpringly, brewing beer is more scientific than making wine, he says. Beer uses just four main ingredients — water, malt, yeast and hops — and the conditions can be carefully controlled, so that different batches taste the same. With wine, vintages can vary tremendously from year to year, even using the same grape varieties from the same vineyard.
While classic German brewmeisters stick to the four basic ingredients, Fleshman said, artisanal brewers have experimented with adding other flavors in recent decades. For his own coconut porter, Fleshman took his basic porter recipe and added coconut flakes ("like the kind on a German chocolate cake"), then strained them out before bottling.
It was a bottle of Fleshman's beer that led Nancy Lehrkind into home brewing.
"Trevor was in my son's class at PHS," she said. "And there was his beer in our refrigerator."
She's now on her 25th batch of home-brewed ale. A recent batch was bottled as Lehrkind-Kunkel Wedding Bier for her daughter's wedding.
"I only make ale," Lehrkind said. "It's like cooking bread to me. Lager is more complicated. It requires temperature control and a longer fermentation period."
Along with lagers, ales and porters, the Friday event will include samples of non-alcoholic beer and ginger beer, Lehrkind said.
To sample a variety of beers after Friday night, Trevor Fleshman recommends the selections at Cato's Ale House Piedmont Ave., and Beer Revolution, 464 Third St., Oakland, at Jack London Square. He also recommends a visit to the taproom at Linden Street Brewery, 95 Linden St., Oakland.
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