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Upstream Homebrewers' Spring Tasting is March 30 in Bemidji

According to Charlie Parson, the history of Upstream Homebrewers goes back several years. “The club started in Grand Rapids with a rising tide of brewers, and then that tide ebbed and some laggards from Bemidji decided that they would re-do it over here, so they started one in Bemidji called the Boreal Brewers. After about 20 years, I suppose, that flagged a bit and it restarted in Grand Rapids. Then we decided two clubs are better than one, so they kept the name Boreal Brewers and we re-formed over here with some younger brewers and more energy, and called it Upstream Homebrewers.” Charlie chuckles, “Our slogan is ‘never drink downstream.’”

Meetings of the club are the second Tuesday of each month. “We start by tasting beer,” explains club member Mur Gilman. “People bring brews that they have done and they also sometimes bring some craft brews that they purchased. Then we do a little bit of business and [after that] we have an educational component. For example, a homebrewer will bring in a piece of equipment that they’ve purchased. I took in a conical fermenter one time that was brand new and showed them what I had purchased. One night we had about 10 or 12 different types of barley and we steeped them like you’d steep a tea and let them set for 15 minutes or so and then we each took a little sip of each of those barley concoctions so we’d get a sense of what those flavors tasted like. It’s called sensory tasting. We’re going to do something next month where we identify “off” flavors in beers.”

“I like hoppy beer,” Mur says. “I like IPAs, so I tend to make IPAs or pale ales…But I also do stout occasionally or a porter, and I even have tried to recreate a Bud Light.”

“If you want to be really easy you can buy a kit,” adds Charlie. “A kit is a liquid and maybe a bit of grain, a yeast, and you boil that in 5 gallons for an hour. You cool it down, you put in the yeast, you let it sit for 2, 3 weeks, and you bottle it.”

“It can be quite simple,” Mur explained. “I spent years boiling my wort on the stovetop with a kit like Charlie’s talking about, using a glass carboy and then bottling or kegging—a lot of us keg. I remember my friend Dave Carlson telling me one night that there are so many little things that you can buy. It’s endless, the amount of additions you can make to your brewing equipment. So everybody sort of steps it up as they go along. You start with a pan and a carboy and then graduate to Charlie’s set-up in his brew room.”

Charlie Parsons’ brew room is about 10’ x 15’ with a row of block all the way around the perimeter and a floor drain in case of spills.

Mur decided to become a homebrewer when she noticed how many bottles she was recycling. “I thought, 'There’s gotta be a better way I can make this more sustainable and I want to not recycle so much.' That was my motivation--or at least my excuse--for brewing beer.”

Mur and Charlie have very different approaches to the art of brewing. Mur labels everything and keeps extensive records. “Charlie brings beer to our meetings and says ‘I’m not sure what’s in this bottle.’”

Charlie chimes in: “The sad part is, when I make a really good beer I can’t do it again because I can’t remember what I used to make it, and Mur can just nail it. Those kind of brewers can improve their beer—I was off a little here and I’m going to fine tune it there—I’m just in total awe.”

In the interview below, you can learn about a 15-minute Saison, Midge Cranberry Jimmy and other exotic and experimental brews by club members, what to expect at the club’s March 30 public tasting, and more.

The Upstream Homebrewers’ annual Spring Homebrew Tasting is Saturday March 30 from 3-6 p.m. downstairs at Keg ‘n’ Cork, 310 Beltrami Avenue NW in Bemidji. The public is welcome. You must be 21 to participate. A donation of $10 covers the cost of live music and supplies, and serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit club.

See the club’s website or their Facebook page for more information.