Home-brewed dudes share love of making beer

Carter Park neighbors form group after learning of their mutual interest

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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It takes a village to raise a child, according to an African proverb.

Carter Park resident Jerrad Isch's philosophy is that it takes a neighborhood to brew a batch of beer.

Isch's beer-brewing equipment was gathering dust in the basement for about a decade. The discovery in spring 2011 that nearly all of his neighbors were brewers, however, revived his enthusiasm for the craft.

"I thought, why not brew together?" Isch said.

Isch resumed his brewing hobby and invited his brewing neighbors — Dylan McGee, Dutch Brooks and Craig Fitzherbert — to join him in the craft at a gathering at his house.

"I am kind of an instigator," Isch said. "Dylan had been brewing beer (for eight years) on his own; I tend not to do it without 10 other people around."

The gathering marked the first meeting of the 29th Street Brewers Guild, an informal gathering of Carter Park neighbors who brew beer together and swap tips, praise and critiques.

Isch knew for some time that McGee and neighbor Brooks sometimes brewed beer together the old-fashioned way, a method known as all-grain brewing, which doesn't use extracts and takes nearly all day. But it wasn't until spring 2011 that Isch found out another neighbor on the four corners at West 29th and Daniels streets was a brewer.

Isch was outside on 29th and noticed that the tailgate was left ajar on Fitzherbert's parked SUV. Isch shut it, then called Fitzherbert to let him know. During the conversation, Fitzherbert revealed he also was a brewer.

Isch started to count. There were at least four brewers who lived in houses around the intersection.

"Jerrad decided to have a gathering," Fitzherbert said. "We were kind of doing our own thing, bringing beer to each other. Then, we decided, 'Let's get together and brew together.' It's good community-building; it brings the neighborhood together."

Since then, Isch's brewing equipment is back in working condition. He's planted hops in his backyard. He even won a third-place award in a brewing contest held by the Timbers Army, a fan club of the Portland soccer team.

Isch said the social aspect of the 29th Street Brewers Guild fueled his enthusiasm for brewing, Without it, that brewing equipment might still be in the basement.

"I love gathering people, connecting neighbors together," Isch said.

That enthusiasm was contagious. A fifth neighbor at the four corners — Gary Kokstis — recently retired from a career at Nike and decided to take up brewing. He took a brewing class in August at Vancouver's Bader Beer & Wine Supply.

He said he's also learned a lot from his neighbors. Many of the gatherings are spontaneous, and other neighbors who join in to taste the beer also get to know each other better, said neighbor Angie Russell.

"One of us will have a brew idea, and one of us will call and see if we want to get together," McGee said.

At a guild gathering Sept. 17 in Kokstis' backyard garden, Fitzherbert brought an idea for an Earl Grey IPA. Meanwhile, Isch decided to craft a traditional American pale ale with an infusion of peach blossom honey. Both Fitzherbert and Isch prefer extract brewing, which is quicker than all-grain. But they opt to bottle their beer, while McGee and Brooks store their beer in kegs.

"I've been impressed with Craig's tea infusions," Isch said.

Fitzherbert also has made a pale ale infused with Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice tea and a black IPA with Tahitian vanilla.

"It's like cooking," Fitzherbert said. "You just find something. If you want to try it, you try it. It's usually drinkable."

The brewers whipped up their concoctions on two propane grills in Kokstis's backyard garden.

"We're missing an important part; we're not drinking beer," Kokstit said, heading for some coolers.

He presented a bottle of one of Fitzherbert's brews to the brewers and some of their friends and spouses. Fitzherbert called the beer Silenus after the Greek god of drunkenness; alcohol content: a wee bit. That's a running joke among the guild.

"You can come up with something you like, which isn't always the case with things you buy," Kokstis said.

Once Kokstis brews his first batch of beer, the four corners will be a perfect square of beer brewers.

"He better make a lot; he owes you a lot of beer," quipped Kokstis' wife, Katlin Smith.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; and paris.achen@columbian.com.