THE PALE ALE TRAIL
After a decade, Chuck Peterson has just about got home brewing down to a science
It's a country drive to Chuck Peterson's farm in Deer Island-three-quarters of a mile up one road, three-quarters down another narrow bumpy road, and then a half-mile up his gravel drive.
For anyone who likes home brewed beer and ale, it's a drive well worth making.
Peterson has spent the last decade growing 16 varieties of hops, and brewing his own beers, ales, meads, and ciders. It's all very tasty.
The brew master is a member of the Deer Island Brew Club with 15-plus members. Peterson uses about 10 percent of the hops he grows, and sells the remainder to other brewers.
Peterson, 65, has been retired for the past 10 years. He and his wife Carolyn, and their three kids moved to the 37-acre property in 1983. The kids are now gone, and Peterson retired in 2001.
Originally, Peterson said he had, like most beer aficionados, a sketchy knowledge about brewing. He became more interested when he spent four years in Germany in the Air Force, and learned to like the taste of German beer. After a lot of study, he now has a wealth of information on brewing and the five millennia history of beer.
'I've always been interested in brewing and when I retired my wife bought me a beer making kit,' Peterson said. 'I have a brew neighbor about a quarter mile away and he gave me an initiation into brewing. I've been brewing and growing (hops) ever since.'
Each hop provides for a different style or flavor of beer. Peterson dedicates about a quarter-acre. He grows his hop vines to about 12-feet. Commercially, hops are grown 15-16 feet in the air.
Peterson is constantly brewing, about 12 gallons at a time. When finished he keeps the beer cold and pressurized, using nitrogen, rather than CO2. This year he brewed around 140-150 gallons, not quite the 200 gallons he has brewed in some years.
In his garage, Peterson keeps about 16 taps open with all his specialties, not only beer, but ales, and meads as well. Other taps have the ciders. The meads are honey sweet (basically composed of honey, water, yeast, and sweetener), and the beers and ales all reflect the specialty hops he grows. Meads are one of the oldest alcoholic drinks.
'Today, except for specialty beer, hops are in all beers. Some Belgium beers are lightly hopped or spiced up with spruce tips, but for the most part today its hops only,' he noted.
'Beer is one of my hobbies (another is woodworking) and my friends are happy to come over and help me consume it,' he chuckled. Peterson pointed out that by federal law he is not allowed to sell his products. He is thinking about getting a distilling license that would allow him to distill spirits and perhaps sell them. They are heavily taxed, however.
Peterson said he has become more proficient at brewing than he was for the first few years. 'Last year I went back, re-read the literature, and it all made much more sense than the first time. That has allowed me to experiment a little bit as well,' he said.
Overall, Peterson's small farm is about 2/3 timberland. He's next to Longview Fiber property that was last cut in the early 1980s. He raises sheep, grows a vegetable garden, and has a good supply of decorative plants.
He keeps busy in retirement. 'It seems I have more work to do,' he laughed, 'but now I'm sometimes less inclined to get to it right away.'
Getting to the brewing is another matter.