Whatta Ya Brewing?

Beer nerds unite at Xtreme Brewing

When Doug Griffith changed the name of his business from Delmarva Brewing Craft to Extreme Brewing, he got a new sign but the brewer’s supply warehouse is no easier to find. So the fact that on any given Saturday the company gets the kind of traffic other retailers would love to boast has more to do with Doug and his wife Patti, their staff, and the culture they’ve created together than location, location, location.

To be clear, brewing beer is a culture like any other. It has its own language, traditions and social norms that are no more strictly enforced but still as tightly adhered to as “Please and Thank You”.

By those lights it is no surprise that the initiates have their own familiar greeting: “Whatta ya brewing?”

DougGriffith goes through the ingredient list during a recent home brewing class at
 Extreme Brewing in Millsboro, Del. as Shawn Hager looks on.

“Whatta ya Brewing” replaces “How are you” is a very important and specific way. The asker always really wants to know and expects the answer to take some time in telling and brewers are a patient lot. The fruit of a home brewer’s efforts can’t be judged for nearly a month after its finished, owing to the fermentation process, so waiting and planning and talking about waiting and planning is one of the central parts of home brewing process. That and drinking the beer you’ve made, unless you’re Josh Horsman.

A teacher by day, Josh has taken so much more to the creative rather than the imbibing aspect of his hobby that he’s stockpiled a prodigious amount of brew. It is this, added to the fact that his wife remained in the car while he shopped, that got him a little ribbing from Shawn Hager, one of Extreme Brewing’s staffers.

Brewers often bring Doug samples of their workfor him to diagnose trouble in the
production process using only the power histaste buds and pointed questions.

The fact of the matter was that his wife was otherwise engaged with knitting but happens to be as enthusiastic as he when it comes to brewing. It was she who suggested he move from drinking craft brews other people made to making his own, and it has become one of his genuine pleasures.

“It’s a hobby that’s kind of gone wild,” he said, indicating the growing pile of extracts and supplies on the checkout counter and adding some specialty hops to the mix.

He, the 20 or so others who passed through the doors that day, and even Dogfish Head Brewing’s Sam Calagione (and later, Burley Oak’s Bryan Brushmiller) are the direct beneficiary of the fact that nearly 20 years ago Doug tired of driving to Wilmington.

A Hobby Gone Wild

As an amateur home brewer, Doug was making regular trips to the nearest brewery supply house at the time. Straight up and back the trip was nearly four hours, providing he didn’t stop to chat. But stopping to chat is the most important part of visiting a brewery supply house. There’s nothing you can buy at Extreme Brewing that can’t be purchased on the Internet. In fact, between YouTube, various books, and supply Websites there’s really no requirement to leave your house if you are a budding home brewer. There is, however, a very good reason: Beer is social.

In the long run the best home brewed beer is only mildly less expensive than its store bought counterparts, taking into consideration time and energy — kinetic and electrical — as well as supplies and living space. The social as well as the educational aspect of an afternoon at Extreme Brewing is one its primary appeals. The major appeal, of course, is Doug.

According to Bryan from Burley Oak, Doug has forgotten more about brewing than most people will ever know. If he wasn’t so friendly and accessible he could sit atop beer mountain and dispense wisdom to pilgrims. As it stands, he’s happiest in his brew kitchen giving classes and talking brewing with everyone from the expert to the novice.

And that is Doug’s particular talent. The brewing couture has its own language. It’s not jargon-filled but is rather comprised of a set of words and phrases exclusive to the craft. Doug is a kind of medium who helps brewers at every level come to terms with the practices and language of making beer. He is that teacher from high school who made a seemingly impenetrable subject easy to master by explaining it in a way you could understand.

Although he underplays the fact, Doug played an integral part in recipe development for early Dogfish Head. He advised on some of the earliest recipes and helped with electrical and other layout issues as the brewery started production.

Berlin resident Josh Horsman chats with DougGriffith while Shawn Hager rings up the
batch of brewing supplies Horsmanbought in preparation for a weekend of brewing.

Extreme Success

In fact, “Extreme Brewing” isn’t just the name of his business, he was given permission to take the name from the book he wrote with Sam from Dogfish. The Extreme Brewing book is about to be released in its second edition and there is a better than average chance that some of the recipes he’s developed will make the cut. And he’s not the only one.

Shawn — big, bald and sporting a long orange beard — developed a recipe named, appropriately, Redbeard that he has every hope will make the final cut.
Those who have already undertaken the brewing process tend to use Saturdays as a shopping day. Many spend the day shopping, learning and sharing and then go home and brew into the night, all day Sunday or both.

Those who are considering getting into the game can spend a few hours on Saturday at Doug’s weekly brewing class — once a month he does a winemaking class, so check the schedule to see which interests you most  — drinking test beers made from the kits he has available and learning just how easy the complicated process of brewing can be.

Doug Griffith signs a copy of Extreme Brewing,the store’s namesake and
title of the book he wrote with Dogfish Head founderSam Calagione.