Section: Features

Brewing behind the scenes, in dorms and in class

Brewing behind the scenes, in dorms and in class

by Julia Plottel


Some underage students will go to great lengths to obtain alcohol. Some are even brewing their own beer. One student’s resulting product, though alcoholic, is not exactly what you would call drinkable. In fact, it was so questionable that the creator dubbed it a “jank drank.”

All you need is a non-pasteurized liquid base, sugar and packaged yeast. These simple ingredients made it easy for a current Kenyon senior, who asked to remain anonymous because he began making alcohol while underage as a first year in his dorm room.

It’s been two years since the anonymous student made “jank drank.” “I wouldn’t do it now that I’m legal, but it was a fun thing to do as a freshman,” he said.

While covertly making alcohol in one’s first-year dorm is prohibited, it is legal for individuals who are of age to self-brew beer in all 50 states. Legal issues only arise once consumption is involved. Individuals need a license to sell alcohol for a profit, but if they are distributing it for free, no license is required. Helpline Manager Brandon Warga has been brewing his own beer for four years. After visiting Belgium in 2010 with his wife, he decided to act on his longstanding curiosity about the brewing process.

Warga explained that because beers in Belgium have a taste and quality unlike beers in other countries, he and his wife became interested in learning about and tasting various types of beer. When they returned home, Warga felt it was only natural that he try his hand at brewing.

Beer is made by extracting sugar from barley or other grains, adding hops and then boiling the whole mixture. Boiling the liquid causes it to isomerize, which extracts the bitterness, flavor and aroma from the hops. The longer you boil, the more you extract.

Much like baking, all measurements must be precise, otherwise the product may not come out as expected. “Yeast are very sensitive so you have to coddle them,” Warga said. “If you’re a good parent and you give them everything they want, they’ll be very faithful.”

By the end of his first year brewing, Warga was able to produce a beer cleanly — that is, without any defects or off flavors. Now that he has had some experience, he is able to work on refining his recipes, balancing the flavors and subtleties of the beer.

But Warga isn’t the only current brewer on campus. Nicky Lenard ’15 is a student in Associate Professor of Chemistry James Keller’s independent study class on brewing. Students research the processes of brewing: the malting and mashing of grains, the chemical transformation of hops additions and the biochemistry of the fermentation process.

Every week, students come in and present a new beer-related topic. Everyone brings in what he or she is interested in. Students also have the chance to brew their own beer. Much like “jank drank” creator and Warga, students had to decide what they wanted to include in the brewing process. “You have to be very aware of the ratios,” Lenard said. “It’s fun, but it’s very scientific. You can’t be messing around.”

But the real question is — how does it taste? For now, the beer is still sealed away undergoing the fermentation process, but won’t be for much longer. During Senior Week, the students in Keller’s independent study class will be able to finally taste their own beer and see if it lives up to their expectations.


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