Door County Homebrew Championships organizer Justin Minikel has been homebrewing since 2007 and judging since 2013. The Oak Creek, Wisconsin resident was disappointed when we had to pause our contest in 2015, and it’s his passion for the contest that enticed us to bring it back for 2016.
We’re thrilled to have Justin on board to help us rekindle a part of the festival that gives credit to the homebrewers who love beer and love bringing new flavors to their friends and neighbors.
Minikel grew up in Kenosha, earned his Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences (minor in Chemistry); University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and when he’s not brewing or tasting beer can be found biking, hiking, camping, bowling and disc golfing.
Get to know Justin a little more in this brief Q & A.
When did you start brewing? What got you brewing?
It all started on a snowy winter night in December 2007 (one of those typical ‘Wisconsin drop a foot of snow blizzards’). Partly on a whim, but mostly under the peer-pressure of my roommate, I bought my first beer kit. It seemed easy enough, but some of those first few batches were hardly palatable. I think my passion for brewing began after drinking a pumpkin ale from Rock Bottom Brewery—I realized what a beer could be, and I wanted to experiment with that.
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, it was an obsession?
The first indication was probably my first all-grain batch. I had brewed a handful of extract batches and even dabbled with a few partial-mashes, but I never had good control over the end product. Making the switch to all-grain was definitely a turning point, not only in the amount of space it took up, but with the quality I could produce. I’m constantly adding new equipment—besides kegs, the best investment so far has been a March pump!
What is your “white whale” beer (the beer you’d hunt to the ends of the earth for, and possibly die trying to obtain)?
When I first started brewing, I don’t think I could have answered this question, but after a chance encounter at the 2014 Milwaukee Brewfest, I had the privilege of trying Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, and I’ve never had a better beer.
What are your favorite craft breweries?
I had an opportunity a few years back to visit Beaver Brewing Company in Beaver Falls, PA – I was blown away by the level of creativity with some of the beers they were making, and this is a nano-scale operation to boot (unfortunately no distribution). As far as commercially available craft beers go, I am always on the lookout for new breweries and new beers from breweries I’ve already tried. Some of my favorites include: Karben4 Brewing, Central Waters Brewing Company, Ballast Point, Three Floyd’s, Surly Brewing Company, Founder’s Brewing Company, and Door County Brewing Company.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you’d like to share?
Sure. I brewed a strawberry-blonde ale a few years ago. It was nothing out of the ordinary, with a modest grain bill and a few pounds of fresh strawberries. As usual, I pitched the yeast, put an airlock in the lid and put it into a brewing closet to gurgle away. I was awoken overnight by what I thought was a gunshot, but being half-awake and not finding the cause of the noise I fell back to sleep. When I woke up the following morning, I realized that the noise I had heard was from the lid on my fermenting bucket blowing off. Fortunately, the batch was salvaged, but it reminded me how important blow-off tubes are!
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
I tend to favor malty beers, so porters, stouts, and brown ales are pretty typical. More recently I’ve been trying my hand at imperial strength beers, but the learning curve is a lot steeper. I’ve recently identified some areas of improvement, and since making those changes, I’m making some really good beers – of course, all good things come with patience, and these styles don’t have a quick turnaround.
What style(s) will you never brew?
Anything with Brettanomyces or Lactobacillus; they make interesting beers, but I’ll leave that to the professionals.
Are you a BJCP Judge? If so, what is your rank and how long have you been judging?
At the moment I am a Certified BJCP Beer Judge, earning my certification in October 2014. I’m currently preparing for the written exam to rank up to National status. I had an opportunity to judge in the 2013 Door County Homebrewing Competition, which really set me on a course to becoming a judge. The experience was incredible and I feel lucky to be a continued part of it.
How frequently do you brew (times per month or year)?
It depends what the weather is like; in the winter it’s not uncommon to brew every few weekends. Generally, I try to get a batch in at least once a month, but lately it’s been more like every other month.