BOB’S BREWS: Bob Whitson shares his passion for home brew

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, November 26, 2019

If you were to enter the backyard of Bob and Beth Whitson’s home, you may be met with the distinct aromas of wheat and yeast. Although the smells may fool you, bread will not be the yield of these senses. Following this realization, your eyes are met with silver and brass pots connected by tubes, metal, and wires. In conjunction with the sights, the sounds of boiling and whirring fill your ears. What looks like a scene fit for a mad scientist is actually just the hobby of Troy local, Bob Whitson.

For Bob, beer is so much more than just a beverage choice at a restaurant. It is a craft that he has been pursuing for years. Bob’s travels and interest in the varieties of beer led him to consider making his own brew. He started by ordering a small kit, and 15 years later he has all but perfected his process. What started out as a hobby has been become a passion that has added great joy to his later years.

He discovered his passion as he traveled to European countries – particularly Germany – about 30 years ago with the National Guard. “I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s beer choices, but I found there were much more sophisticated and flavorful beers across the world than the ones we had access to in Alabama at the time.”

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At a time before the “Free the Hops” craft beer movement, Alabama’s beer laws were extremely strict. Of the small amount of beer available, the majority was mass-distributed light and ultra-light options.

“I have tried many types of kits – liquid malt, dry malt, and more recently grain. Grain allows for more control which is something you must pay attention to in the process,” he said. “Eventually, after many years, you have more money and time in home brewing than you would have ever spent on beer itself.”

This dedication is demonstrated in the carefully labeled containers stacked on tables for Bob’s use. Packed with tools, ingredients, and instruction books, the process is particular and planned. He spends his afternoons monitoring each step of the beer brewing process.

For only about $45 to $50 per batch, Bob can brew up to 17 6-packs of beer. “It’s a cheaper process, no doubt. But that’s as long as you don’t figure in your labor costs,” he laughs. “Of course, as a retired person, my labor is free.”

Some beers – such as ales – can takes less than five weeks from start to finish. But there are more time-intensive brews like lagers than can take up to four months. The time and energy are all worth-while as it culminates into a crisp and refreshing reward at the end – a tall glass of beer.

His product will eventually find its way into either kegs or individual bottles. Bottling is a much more difficult process, but it does allow for easier distribution among family and friends. Bob has many close friends that are huge fans of his hobby. “For a lot of them, it’s just a beer they didn’t have to buy,” he chuckles. “But for a majority of my friends, I have converted them into enjoying stronger and more flavorful beers.”

Of course, no one is a master without a few hiccups along the way. “I’ve baked some bad beer. But I’ve only had to throw away one batch in all 15 years. Most of the time, with a bad batch, you can always add a good beer to it and it will fix itself.” Bob described this one batch as tasting like “old sweat socks” but has learned to not neglect proper sanitation in order to avoid future mishaps.

One of the most difficult situations a home brewer can face is a rainy day of brewing. “You get completely set up only to feel that one drop of rain that could damage the entire batch.” Bob explains that the chemicals and possible contaminants in rain water could compromise the process. “I have been known to stand over each step of brewing with an umbrella, protecting my beer from Mother Nature.”

When Bob isn’t tirelessly working to perfect his craft, he loves to travel by bicycle across Europe. “My other hobby is bicycling, and this brewing hobby goes along very well with that. Of course, it’s important to remember that you don’t do them at the same time.”

Bob does take the occasional break from his cycling to stop at breweries across Europe. In fact, he has tasted the “Most Sought After Beer in the World” at a brewery located in a Belgian monastery. The Westvleteren brew is brewed by 19 Trappist monks of St Sixtus abbey. Bob denies comment on whether the beer is the best he’s ever had, electing that his beer-tasting palette may not be as advanced as beer experts.

His favorite craft beer – besides those of his own making – is made by a brewing company that has a motif of a bicycle – combining his two favorite pastimes. “I like a dark, less hoppy beer. 1554 is a black beer made by New Belgium Brewing in Colorado. It has the perfect flavor combination of malt and hops.” Bob says with a wink, “Hey maybe if I give them a shout out, they will send me a case or two.”

As for his brewing peers, there are a few fellow beer makers in Pike County. But, Bob sees potential for a community of home brewers in Troy’s future. Until then, he will have to remain satisfied by the home-brewing community online, contributing to his process by suggestions and problem-solving. He also enjoys the hobby with his brother-in-law, Bobby. They coyly refer to themselves as Two Bobs Brewing.

For anyone hoping to get into the hobby of home-brewing, Bob’s advice is simple- start small and be patient. He says that a small, home kit will allow anyone’s interests to be tested. They are relatively low-cost and allow for a glimpse into the complex process that its beer brewing. After that, keep growing and innovating. Cheers!

Story by Anna Shay Wasden

For more stories from the November/December edition of TroyLife, pick up a copy at various locations around the community or at The Messenger office.