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Brookings home brewers have fun with their craft

Joe Portz, left, and Chris Bessler transfer wort from a brewing kettle into a 5-gallon carboy, where it will ferment at Portz's home in Brookings. In about six weeks, Portz and Bessler will be ready to sample a pint or two of their new brew. (AP photo)

BROOKINGS (AP) -- "Roll out the barrels, we'll have a barrel of fun."

OK, so Brookings home-brewing beer barons don't turn out big wooden barrels of ales and stouts; but they sure do have a barrel of fun making small batches for themselves and their beer-drinking buddies.

Carey Bretsch and Mike Lapka, engineering professionals who work together at Civil Design Inc. (CDI) in Brookings, are professionals in the world of amateur brewing for home consumption. They've been in the home-brewing business for about nine years. Lapka's won a "couple blue ribbons" for his brewing skills, but he claims no special secrets for turning out good brewskis for drinking at home.

He said, "There's books and the Internet. But it's trial and error."

However, the brewer duo did sit down for a visit recently to share some basics of homemade beer.

From start to finish to drinking, the time for turning out a good brewski can be a moving target. They may take as long as two to three months to turn out a quality batch of home brew.

"It's just a lot of waiting," they both agreed.

They brew the equivalent of about two cases (48 12-ounce bottles) per batch. Home-brew can't be sold, but CDI employees "participate in the brewing process."

Lapka explained, "If they want to brew a batch, they just basically pay for the ingredients and then we'll brew it up."

Bretsch said, with a smile, "It's our employee incentive program. It's a morale booster. It's a teambuilding exercise.

"When we built this facility (CDI) here, we set it up so that we could brew beer in the garage."

He added, "The philosophy is that it takes beer to make beer. So while we wait around for the beer to reach its next stage, we sit around and consume a beer or two from a previous batch."

Lapka said they usually start in October and November: "We might brew a batch a week for a month. That gets your system started." Bretsch added, "It gives us enough beer so that we can brew another batch."

He and Lapka are willing to brew whatever their contributors of ingredients provide.