Thus far in this freelance adventure I’ve covered and promoted breweries, restaurants, and local events, yet I haven’t forayed into arguably the most intimate side of the local craft beer scene: the home brewer. Allow me then to introduce you to a newly-minted home brewer and fellow childhood friend, Alex Ortiz. Discontent to start with the usual baby step beer styles that most individuals begin their home brewing practice with (i.e., “let me start brewing a pale or amber and see how it turns out”), Alex came out swinging. Not, however, with a Belgian-style sour or coffee-infused stout, but a hibiscus cream ale, tamarind barleywine, and currently a chocolate equivalent of a Hefeweizen. More on the third charm in a minute, but for those of us in his closest circle, these beers are a hit.
It begins at home…
I stopped by a tasting Alex was hosting at his place in Tustin, and both the beers and the conversation never stopped flowing. “I didn’t start out with a standard beer, such as a pale, amber, or brown, because I prefer experimenting right out the gates. You know, start the process and then immediately put my own spin on it as a go along, rather than meekly starting out with some standard recipe and see if I get it right. I think that can set you up for disappointment, particularly in the beginning of the learning process.
Plus I wanted to make something my wife would like, and starting out with hibiscus as a key ingredient for a cream ale was just perfect. You could say it was love that inspired me (laughs).”
Pressing further on not only his willingness to experiment, but his experience in creating new recipes, Alex cites his childhood love for baking. “The brewing process came pretty easy to me as I used to bake bread as a kid, and I had started my knack for experimenting then. I’d bake sourdough, pizza bread, you name it. And the patience that comes with baking transfers to the brewing process. And perhaps that’s why experimentation is so integral. While you're waiting for the bread to finish you start thinking of this ingredient you could add, or what kind of style you can create. Again, following the process step-by-step, having little expectations on how it will turn out, and experimenting along the way is very important.
(note: the views expressed in this interview are not necessarily the views of this column…but I’ll take ‘em)
So what you can expect?
The hibiscus cream ale drinks like a mild sour. The first time I tasted it, which was several months ago, a lovely date had accompanied me who, at the time, “couldn’t stand beer”, sipping her tequila in ecstasy with nose firmly planted in the air. Her dislike quickly subsided, however, as she cautiously tried Alex’s hibiscus cream ale. “Oh my, that’s really good.” (20 minutes later, ”do you have any more of that beer? Can I have some more?). That was me smiling in the corner, and very proud of Alex.
While at the aforementioned tasting, Alex’s tamarind barleywine also hit big, not just for this here author, but for the guests as well, and once again, the skeptical females present found themselves in ecstatic enjoyment.
If the chocolate Hefeweizen hits the same as his previous two beers, Alex will already have three styles under his belt to perfect on a more massive scale, but his plans are to have five styles good to go before he opens his brewery. He has plans, and with his patience and love for the process, as well as a willingness to embrace the unknown, I see bright stars for his future of brewing.