The beer masters

Jacob Manske, graduate student in mathematics, member of the Ames Brewers League. The league has about 30 members. Photo Illustration: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily


Jacob Manske, graduate student in mathematics, member of the Ames Brewers League. The league has about 30 members. Photo Illustration: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Alissa Atkinson

The first proven beer brewing took place about 6,000 years ago. Today, the Ames Brewery League is doing their part to maintain a genuine interest and perfect their skills in the art of brewing.

Forty members comprise the ABL, which was established in 1999 by Rob Moline, professional brewer and American Home Brewer’s Association advisor.

While sitting in Olde Main Brewing Co., 316 Main St., last spring, Jeff Nurre noticed flyers promoting the ABL. He had recently been looking online at supplies for beer brewing and decided the ABL would be interesting to try. A member since April, Nurre, junior in construction engineering, has enjoyed his time with the ABL.

“My favorite part about the ABL is the large variety of beer,” Nurre said. “It’s not your average Keystone Light, but rather good, quality beer you want to savor.”

Eric Armstrong, member of the ABL since the fall of 1999, just months after it was established, joined because he was struggling with brewing beer.

“I joined and learned a lot about brewing beer,” Armstrong said. “I was making beer that tasted like it was purchased after a very short time.”

Operated just as any other club, the ABL holds meetings twice a month. The first meeting is slightly formal, held the second Tuesday of the month at Wallaby’s, 3720 Lincoln Way. Old and new club business is discussed. The second meeting is held the fourth Tuesday of the month at Olde Main, where brewing is discussed in a much more laid-back manner.

“We basically just talk beer at this meeting,” Armstrong said. “We talk about brewing gadgets, recipe formulation, and we sample each others’ home-brewed beer. At this meeting, we also have a competition for who brewed the best beer for the style of the month.”

Last spring, Nurre brought beer he brewed at home and received third place out of nine entries.

Each month, between five and 15 new recipes of beer come from the club. Since April, Nurre has brewed 20 different kinds of beer.

“American pale ale and wheat beers are the most popular amongst our members,” Armstrong said. “Lagers aren’t as popular because they take a lot more time. They have to sit at 34 degrees for essentially three months before they are ready to drink.”

Nurre spends an hour or two a week brewing beer and brews about a batch a month.

“Last semester I brewed about a batch a week and it took me about six hours every Saturday,” he said. “My favorite beers to brew and drink are the pale ales we’ve made.”

According to ABL’s Web site, one of the benefits of the organization is the educational component. Members learn extensive amounts about brewing beer and enjoy doing it.

“One of my favorite things about the ABL is when I’ve finished brewing beer and can sit back and enjoy it. It’s great to have the satisfaction of being able to say, ‘I made this’.” Armstrong said although brewing beer takes a little more thought and work than purchasing a 12 pack off of a shelf at a grocery store, the results are worthwhile.

“The best beer I’ve ever had was home brew,” Armstrong said. “You can’t purchase anything like it.”

“In the past, individuals have chosen to join the club and then quit because they realize we aren’t a drinking club. We critique beer. We do this for the sport of it. I mean, we’re not beer nerds, but we’re not sitting on the back of the tailgate knocking them back either. [The members of the club] are some of the most responsible people I know.”

Members often spend time together outside of club meetings. They travel to beer festivals together, judge beer at contests together and sometimes barbecue as a group, Armstrong said.

“We know one another well enough to know each other’s limits and know when to start to substitute water or soda,” Armstrong said.

Regional or national, ABL members consistently win competitions for their beer.

“Mark Simpson won 2005 Iowa Home Brewer of the Year and 2006 National Home Brewer of the Year,” Armstrong said.

ABL members received first place at the Kona Brewers Festival in Hawaii and Reserve Best of Show Beer in at the Las Vegas Winterfest Home Brew Contest within the past year.

But the ABL does not only consist of men. Rebecca Abraham and Colette Simpson are two women involved with the ABL. “Abraham will be entering the Queen of Beer Competition this year,” Armstrong said. The ABL also has a strong appreciation for the international students who join. “It’s nice to get their fresh take on the recipes.”

Beyond the competitions and bi-weekly meetings, the information members learn through the ABL can be put to use far after graduation. Nurre, who plans to continue brewing his own beer after graduation, said there’s no greater quality of beer than that of home brewed beer and hopes to join another brewery league later in life.

“Brewing beer really isn’t too difficult,” Nurre said. “You’ll learn different methods and recipes at the meetings, and there are instruction kits you can purchase online that tell you how to do brew beer.”

No experience with brewing is necessary to join the club and attend meetings.

“We have two original members. Other than that everyone is fairly new. New members have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes so they won’t make them,” Armstrong said. “Everyone is very energetic and enthusiastic about the club.”

“If you’re just out to get drunk, well, I don’t know. But if you’re one of those kids that goes to Hy-Vee and creates your own six pack and appreciates different types of quality beer,” Nurre said, “then the ABL would be great [for you].”

Interested in joining?

Fees: The club suggests a $15 fee to pay for speakers and special events.

Age requirement: Appreciators of beer of any age can join, but Armstrong said “by law you cannot consume alcohol [if you are under the age of 21].”

Other members from Iowa State: Greg Vetterick, graduate student in materials science and engineering, Robert Elbert, media production specialist for university relations, Eric Armstrong, program coordinator with environmental health and safety, Todd Abraham, post-doctoral resident associate for the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research, and Brian Hill, assistant scientist in agronomy.

For more information check out the Ames Brewer’s League’s Web site, at