Home-brewmeister Justin Greer goes over the finer points of making your own beer
It’s a tough time to be beer, what with the carbs, the (gasp!) corn syrup and the silly advertising. From a medieval fiefdom controlled by a ruthless king that cheers “Dilly! Dilly!” to the most interesting man in the world (a middle-aged guy with no career, no family, no secure relationships and just one suit), it’s easy to see why some people are turning away from mass marketed beer.
But still: what will we drink when we finish mowing the grass? Or when we sit down to eat crabs? Some Mid-Shore folks are surpassing commercial brews and crafting the good stuff in their very own homes. Justin Greer, 37, a firefighter/paramedic from Royal Oak, says home brewing isn’t hard to do.
Greer didn’t intend to become a home-brewmeister. His original plan was much sweeter — he wanted to produce wine to drink at his 2009 wedding to his wife, Lauren. He purchased fermentation equipment and ingredients for the wine, but the product “didn’t work out very well.” (However, the marriage is still going strong, and a second baby is on the way.)
Justin lamented about what to do with the wine-making equipment. A friend told him to “go buy a big pot … you can start making beer.” Justin purchased a beer-making kit from Annapolis Home Brew and cooked up his first batch in the apartment he shared with Lauren.
The beer was “much better” than the wine. His friends liked it, and Justin was hooked. The apartment became a mini-brewery, complete with industrial shelving, buckets, pots and even a full-sized, temperature-controlled refrigerator that Lauren purchased. (Justin readily admits that the first step to home-brewing is to have a supportive family.)
When the Greers moved onto their third-generation family property in Royal Oak, Justin took over the garage for brewing.
The entire brewing process takes six to eight hours, although Justin says that his brew-day is more efficient now due to years of practice. When he first started, a typical batch produced four to five gallons of beer. Now he can make up to 12 gallons in a day.He stores the beer in kegs.
Although Justin’s homebrews are consumed mainly by family and friends, he has earned national accolades for his craft. In 2013, Greer entered the National Homebrewing Competition. His Belgian Witbier flavored with apricot puree was a 1st round cut winner, and he placed in the top 12 for fruit beers.
In 2017, Greer entered the Samuel Adams Longshot Home Brewing Competition. The nationwide contest required Justin to make a two-minute video about his life as a homebrewer.
After the video submission and a Facebook competition, Justin was one of only five brewers chosen to submit a beer for the contest. Because he placed in the top three, he was invited to the Great American Beer Festival in Boulder, Colorado. Greer received “VIP treatment” at the event, as a guest of Samuel Adams Brewing. He also received a $4,000 scholarship to the Siebel Institute of Technology, where he took a professional online brewing course.
When Justin isn’t commuting to work in Montgomery County or spending time with Lauren and the family, he’s brewing up a scheme for a beer business in Talbot County. Justin dreams of opening a commercial brewery in Easton that will celebrate modern agriculture and Mid-Atlantic ingredients. He aims to give beers a “sense of terroir,” a term normally used for wine that means a character of flavor that takes on some of the environment in which it is produced.
Greer’s brewhouse would feature farm-to-table food as well, including local meats, cheeses and produce. But Justin has no plans to corner the beer market on the Eastern Shore. He believes that anyone who enjoys beer can and should try brewing at home.
The first step Greer stresses (after having a patient family) is to stay off the internet.
“Blogs and websites aren’t necessarily bad,” Justin says, “but there is a lot of conflicting and confusing information out there.”
Instead, Justin recommends interested brewers peruse “The Joy of Homebrewing” (the quintessential homebrew bible by brew guru Charlie Papazain) and “How to Brew” by John Palmer.
The next step is to visit a homebrew store. Justin says face-to-face conversations about beer are likely to increase a brewer’s chance for success. He believes that homebrew kits purchased online oversimplify the brewing process and prohibit novice brewers from enjoying the process. At homebrew stores, professionals provide instructions and offer guidance about purchasing equipment.
Justin believes that the most important aspect of homebrewing comes after the batch is made.
“The great thing about making beer,” he says, “is sharing it. So don’t be shy.”