Numerous beer bottles, such as Flying Dog, Affligem, Rogue, and Fat Tire decorate Critter's large kitchen window. Two giant glass jugs sit in his closet; one of them containing fermenting cider called "Goose Juice." The other will soon house a concoction of hops, barley, yeast and water to make an imitation Anchor Steam brew that Critter plans to name The Fix, after his bike. The 21-year-old is one of many who have taken their passion for beer drinking one step further, and begun creating their own. Although homebrewing is a class B misdemeanor in Utah, the law is rarely enforced and doesn't deter folks from creating beer. People from all walks of life brew at home: doctors, lawyers, detectives and even dirty punk-rock kids like Critter, because, as Critter puts it, "corporate beer sucks."
Critter has been a beer drinker for as long as he can remember. "My dad used to feed me beer after dinner when my mom went upstairs," he says. By the time he was 19, Critter had developed a taste for microbrews, and a curiosity to create his own. Through his involvement in the punk scene, Critter met many individuals who had experimented with home brewing. Doing things yourself (D.I.Y.) and not buying into the corporate machine is the common battle cry for all punk rockers, and beer drinking is a common hobby. He created his first batch of homebrew, an amber ale, in November of 2006. Since then, he has been brewing about once a week. "I try to have at least 10-15 gallons around at all times," he says.
Photo: Kealan Shilling
Critter learned the majority of what he knows about home brewing from two books written by Charlie Papazian. Well-read copies of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and the Homebrewer's Companion sit on the kitchen counter near the sink. "I was out in the dark with all my ingredients, hoping that I didn't fuck up," Critter says. Nonetheless, His first batch was a success. "I've had nothing but positive feedback on all of my beers––even the beers that I've fucking botched."
The name of Critter's "brewing company," Black Medal Beer, was inspired by his love of black metal and one of the few cheap beers he enjoys drinking––Pabst Blue Ribbon. The majority of the beers he makes are 5-7 percent A.B.V., although he makes higher point beverages for special occasions. A few of his favorite creations have been his Sean Fightmaster Chocolate Stout, made in memory of his old friend (and S.L.C. legend) who died from a drug overdose, and Genuine Stunning, a tasty pale ale whose name was inspired by a Charles Dickens' book. Critter creates many of his own recipes, but also occasionally references Scott R. Russell's North American Clone Brews. When creating his own recipes, Critter says he follows the advice of Papazian: "I taste everything in every stage of the process. Some of it's good ... some of it's not so good."
Although his first batch turned out much better than he expected, he has had a few disasters since, including shattering a carboy (a five-gallon glass fermenting container) while cleaning it and a foul-tasting batch of beer once in a while. "I had a Belgian beer that grew mold—we drank it anyway. Which is fine because no known pathogens can survive in fermenting alcohol. But it made you really flatulent and tasted like cheese."
Critter wishes all people could enjoy the pleasures of home brewing and wants to teach everyone he knows how to make their own beer. "It's an outlet for my creativity and an excuse to keep drinking," he says with a smile.
For more information about concocting your own beer recipe, contact the fine folks at The Beer Nut 1200 S. State or drop by Critter's favorite shop, Art's Brewing Supply on 642 S. 250 W. in Salt Lake CIty.