Brewmaster opens his doors
DILLON – The brewery floor smells of what I can only guess is barley or yeast. The fermenting tanks tower above me and create a narrow walkway with a damp floor. Brewmaster Matt Luhr wears nearly knee-high rubber boots – at least I didn’t wear my sandals. On Saturday, a handful of home-brewers and hopefuls will brew in this environment for Fantasy Brew Day.”They’ll get a little dirty,” Luhr said. “It’s going to be real hands on. They’ll do transfers, analysis, dilution – the whole process.”Starting about 9 a.m., the whole process takes about eight hours beginning with grain and malted barley crushing. Most participants should be somewhat familiar with the process, but not on this scale. “Most home-brewers are in the 5-gallon range,” Luhr said. “Here they’ll be dealing with a 16-barrel system.”A barrel equals 31 gallons, and the Dillon Dam Brewery produces approximately 62,000 gallons of beer a year, according to it’s Dam Tour pamphlet.
Through Fantasy Day, Luhr hopes not only to pique brewers’ interest in larger scale production, but also just to show them a good time. Participant Larry Gilliland, the county treasurer, hopes simply to be motivated to make his own beer.”I’ve got all the equipment, but I haven’t produced a drop of my own,” Gilliland said. Gilliland’s son, who works for New Belgium beer based out of Fort Collins, set up all the equipment for him, but he hasn’t yet found the time to experiment. The Fantasy Brew Day comes as an early Father’s Day gift. “I’m really looking forward to it,” Gilliland said. “Matt’s an award-winning brewer. He does a good job.”Just last weekend, the Dillon Dam Brewery won three medals at the North American Brewers festival. According to its pamphlet, the Dam, which was founded in 1997, has won an award each year since 2000. Luhr, who has worked for the establishment for seven years, comes up with or finds most of the recipes.
“I do a lot of research with some old brewing books I’ve got, and surprisingly enough, you can find some recipes at liquor stores,” Luhr said. “I haven’t ventured onto the Internet yet, but we might get there.”Luhr will fiddle around with a certain recipe for a time before he gets it right, and he knows what he’s looking for; he’s a certified beer judge.”I’m an inactive judge, but still a judge,” he said. “It takes a fairly sophisticated vocabulary and a lot of knowledge to be a judge, it’s helped out a lot here at the Dam.”Along with beers like Raspberry Porter and Wildernest Wheat, one of the Dam’s most interesting brews is the Dam Chili Beer. Luhr discovered the concept at a brewpub in Arizona, where a chili pepper was actually in the bottle.”It was so hot I couldn’t drink one of them,” Luhr said. “I’ve toned down my version of the beer. It’s garnered quite a following actually, especially on Cinco de Mayo.”Those participating will get a glimpse of how these recipes are developed and get hands-on experience with the other research involved in brewing, such as yeast and barley analysis. Additionally, the participants can bring in their own yeast to be analyzed under a microscope.
As Luhr puts it, “The yeast does all the work, and I just work for the yeast.”Luhr explains that he became interested in home brewing in college when he developed a taste for the finer beers he couldn’t afford. Anyone who has run into the same problem or just wants to brew their own can get started easily and cheaply.”You can get in fairly inexpensively, if you have an understanding spouse,” Gilliland said, adding with a laugh, ” I don’t. I’m forced downstairs.”A google search of ‘home brewing kits’ yields a plethora of Web sites with prices ranging from $40 to $50, and ingredient prices from $26 to $42 per 5-gallon batch, depending on the type of beer. In most cases stout’s cost more to produce than lights or pilsners according to most of the Web sites.”Home brewing and micro brewing is the freshest, purest you can get,” Luhr said. “Bigger-name companies have to use things like rice and preservatives for taste consistency and head stability. Personally I prefer the smaller scale.”
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