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HANDCRAFTED HOME BREWS

Sacramento’s DIY beer scene is brewing.

WRITTEN BY STEPH RODRIGUEZ
PHOTOS BY DEBBIE CUNNINGHAM

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“I like to say making beer is like making tea,” homebrewer Ellen Sherrill says from her shaded, backyard deck.

With her large orange cooler that she uses to start her recipes, Sherrill’s outdoor, home-brew setup is the epitome of DIY. Next to the cooler is a small, propane-powered stove with a five-gallon, stainless-steel, turkey-frying pot sitting on top. The pot acts as her kettle during the boiling process while the cooler acts as her mash tun, a vessel used to steep grains such as barley, oats, or rye in hot water at a consistent temperature.

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Brewing success

Sherrill first began brewing one-gallon batches of beer in her kitchen when she lived at Lake Tahoe. There, she tried to create a clone of Deschutes Brewery’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale made with cascade hops — and she did.

Over the years, Sherrill has brewed farmhouse-style ales, malty chocolate stouts, crisp pilsners, and even mead from meadowfoam and raspberry blossom honey, all in the comforts of her home.

For Sherrill, home brewing is a craft that’s both a labor of love and a test of patience, as her concoctions usually each take up to a month to finish. But, she says, when the time comes, she enjoys sharing the finished products with friends.

“With home brewing, you do it whenever you feel like it, and you see how little tweaks affect the beer, and that’s still the fun part,” Sherrill says.

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Steeped in competition

Sherrill moved to Sacramento because of its growing craft beer scene. After relocating, Sherrill enrolled in the Beer Judge Certification Program and passed the exam. Now she judges competitions every two to three weeks throughout Northern California.

She’s also the new director of the annual Queen of Beer competition — a contest started 21 years ago by the H.A.Z.E. club of Placerville, Calif., run completely by women with entries devoted to female home brewers. Last October, Sherrill judged 80 entries of beer, mead, and cider all handcrafted by women.

With a genuine love for beer and its process, Sherrill transitioned to a full-time brewer position with Track 7 Brewing Co. in July 2017. Although she brews on a much larger scale there, she still finds enjoyment in making small batches at home.

“It’s like a cool science experiment that you can drink and enjoy at the end,” Sherrill says. “It tickles the mad scientist in me, and then, if it works out, you have something delicious to share with your friends.”

Steph Rodriguez is an award-winning freelance journalist who keeps a close eye on the food and music scene in Sacramento. With more than 10 years’ experience as a writer, she crafts stories that mirror the vast and diverse culture of the region. From entertainment and lifestyle features, to profiles with a farm-to-fork interest, she aims to capture the best of Sacramento.

For details on this year’s Queen of Beer competition, visit Queenofbeer.beer

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