Last Saturday, Ken Schmidt took home his second win at the Stone March Madness Homebrew Competition & AHA Rally. His recipe will be brewed on Stone’s system and bottled in the upcoming months. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to learn more about this award-winning homebrewer, and enjoy the winning beer — Pillow Mint at the Ritz Chocolate Imperial Stout. Check out this Q & A with Ken Schmidt to understand the creative mind behind his tasty beers. Mmmm… beer.
You seem create a lot of Hawaiian-inspired beers. Did you grow up on the islands?
No, I actually grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The only brewery I ever visited then was Coors. Even when I was kid, I started saving money to visit Hawaii. After my 50th trip, I stopped keeping count.
How did you get started (as a homebrewer)? What was the first beer you brewed?
I made my first batch in 1966. It was just a Pale Ale. However, homebrewing was not legal until 12 years later. Because of that, there weren’t any specialty supply stores like we have now. Blue Ribbon Malt Extract with hop flavor was the only ingredient you could get at a grocery store. Overall, the ingredients were horrible, and it turned out to be such a terrible beer. I didn’t try again for several years, and it definitely got better.
What inspires you to create your brews and add unique ingredients?
My biggest inspiration are my lovely islands (Hawaii) that I visit so much. Aloha Plenty is now a series I created that represents all the things I love about the islands. The beers in the series are Pele’s Breath, Sunset Beach and Black Sand Beaches. Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire, and the beer is a hot-spicy German wheat. I am the most proud of Aloha Plenty (2009 Stone Homebrew Competition winner). It’s like the beer is alive. Any residuals left in a glass smell amazing the following day. I’m not even a coffee drinker, but Kona Coffee tasted great when I had it for the first time. That, macadamia nuts and other ingredients in the beer, brought to the senses all the things that remind me of Hawaii. Aloha Plenty did what I wanted and more.
What do you consider your “go-to beer” and “go-to brewery”?
I can’t say I have a “go-to beer”. It really depends on the mood. When I drink beer, I usually enjoy the first one pretty quick, and just take my time with the rest. The Lost Abbey would definitely be my “go-to brewery”. I like their Belgians and barrel-aged stuff. Their sour projects are great, too. Tomme and his crew put a lot of craft, creativity and uniqueness into their brewery. The best part is the smaller and more intimate environment in their tasting room.
So, about how many of those fancy Hawaiian shirts do you own?
It’s probably about 100-150 shirts. A Hawaiian shirt, short-shorts and sandals are the only things I really need to dress up.
What advice do you have for West Coaster’s readers that homebrew?
The best thing you can do is hook up with a beer club. There are so many, and I definitely encourage doing some research to find the right one. Some of the clubs are great for people that would like to learn more about the science aspect of brewing. While others are perfect for people who are just trying to party. Regardless, the right beer club will really benefit you. There is a lot of information to share, and it’s a great way to find good and inexpensive brewing equipment.
Full disclose: In addition to interning for West Coaster, I also work for Stone Brewing Co.