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If you are a homebrewer, chances are you’ve come across the name Denny Conn. Denny champions fun and approachable ways to get into making beer at home through his many endeavors, including his work on Experimental Brewing and stints as an American Homebrewers Association Governing Committee member.
We caught up with Denny to talk about his 24 years of making beer at home, as well as got our hands on the recipe he brewed in celebration.
Do you remember your first brew day?
I actually remember it well. My business partner had already started brewing and gave me the bug. My wife bought me a birthday present of a kit of ingredients and equipment at Costco. It came from Liberty Brewing Supply, at that time the oldest homebrew shop in the country. It included Randy Mosher’s book “Brewer’s Companion”. I read that book cover to cover before I brewed.
A lot of it made no sense at all, but I had enough background in hobby cooking to be able to grok part of it. The recipe was for something I now recognize as something like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It included extract, hop pellets, and crystal 60 for steeping.
Everything went smoothly when I brewed (hey, it was my first time. How would I know if I did something wrong?). I bottled a couple of weeks later and began the long wait for carbonation that comes with the first batch.
A couple weeks later, we decided to give it a try. The one thing I’ll never forget was the “pssst” when I opened that first bottle. I felt like I’d done magic. The beer was delicious, and a monster was born.
Tell us about the recipe you brewed for your 24th brewing anniversary?
For my 24th anniversary, I decided to brew my Rye IPA recipe. It was developed to my wife’s tastes for her yearly birthday party and has been brewed by countless homebrewers around the world. Not only do I love the beer, but I’m humbled that so many people enjoy it, too. It was my 588th batch of homebrew.
Wry Smile Rye IPA
What is something that changed from when you first started homebrewing?
Since I started homebrewing, the level of knowledge and sophistication in homebrewing has skyrocketed. A lot of that is good, but there’s a downside, too.
Many homebrewers seem so caught up in the minutiae that sometimes the basics get buried. I see that a lot when new homebrewers ask questions of more experienced brewers. They’re so inundated with stuff about water, oxidation, process, etc., that it sometimes surprises me that they want to brew at all. It’s not that that stuff isn’t important, but sometimes I feel like homebrewers don’t know how to prioritize and get the basics down.
What has kept you interested and engaged in homebrewing?
I love the process of homebrewing. It just comes down to that. I still feel like I’ve done magic when I put grain into hot water and a couple weeks later have beer. The people in the homebrew world keep me going, too, in spite of the fact that I sometimes curmudgeon out and yell at them!
What’s different about your homebrew setup then and now?
I started brewing extract on a stovetop, just like many other homebrewers. I was involved in the very early internet homebrewing groups like the Usenet group rec.crafts.brewing and the late lamented Homebrew Digest. I had looked at various all-grain homebrewing setups. Still, at that time, they were pretty much all 3-tier setups using converted kegs. That was more than I wanted to deal with.
George Fix had written about batch sparging in Homebrew Digest, which sounded like a viable alternative. One of the guys on rec.crafts.brewing who I respected talked about how he had gotten rid of his 3-tier setup and gone to batch sparging. Al Korzonas, in his book Homebrewing Vol. 1, spoke about the Surescreen, and that clicked. I knew I could put together a batch sparging setup using a cooler and the Surescreen.
I was dying to make an altbier since I had never used Munich malt before or even tasted the style since virtually no one was brewing them at that point. So I made a 3-gallon batch using a small cooler, fermented it in my living room, then set it outside in the winter to “lager” for a couple weeks. I was astounded by how good it tasted. So I moved on to a bigger cooler that used the braid from a water supply line. You can see that system at www.dennybrew.com.
What are you most proud of related to the time you have given as a volunteer member leader of the AHA?
I have to say that I’m most proud of haranguing the AHA to build a new website and discussion forum. I feel like the AHA’s main purpose should be the dissemination of knowledge to help homebrewers brew better beer and have more fun doing it. This is a hobby, and if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
This should be the underlying principle for all of us. Help each other make better beer and have a great time doing it.
Planning anything special for the 25th?
Hopefully just being feet down! I hope that maybe I can coordinate batch 600 with my 25th anniversary. We’ll see what happens.