The only thing that stops beer brewing hobbyist, Stefan Berggren, from building a fermentation room and venturing off into the world of owning his own microbrewery or brewpub is his family. “I will start something small someday, perhaps a farmhouse brewery with Eric Schoville (brew buddy), but for now I want to be a good father and partner.”
According to Berggren, brewing is a time-consuming, addictive passion that ignited one night 12 years ago when he was drinking a poorly made macro beer. “I started researching on how beer was made and the science behind it,” said Berggren. “I have a biology and chemistry background from college and with the love of beer; I knew I was onto something.”
A couple of books, a beer brewing class, and inspiring sessions with local brewpub owners and Berggren was on his way. Berggren also garnered some of his beer-brewing knowledge from his involvement with the MHTG (Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild) who, according to Berggren, has the “best damn beer fest in the Midwest called the ‘Great Taste of the Midwest Beer Festival.’”
Berggren brews around eight times a year with friend Schoville. Normally they brew anywhere from 6 to 13 gallons of beer at a time but a new system (2 – 10 gallon systems) will allow them to brew up to 20 gallons at once. They perform all of their brewing outside as Berggren has no garage or permanent place to set up a brewery. This means that each brewing session starts with they guys hauling all of their equipment up from the basement and outside to the yard.
While Berggren says purchasing better and more expensive equipment is an easy lure to fall victim to. Currently he used three converted kegs, two centrifugal pumps (HLT and Mash Lauter) and a direct-fired system with three burners. “I use gravity to feed through a counter-flow chiller and I have just acquired a PD pump that I will eventually use to pump my wort into a conical in the basement.”
Berggren is currently at work on the conical fermentor that he made using an old mill receiver from the dairy industry. “It is 14.5 gallons of heavy duty 304 SS,” explained Berggren. “I welded a tri-clover fitting and have outfitted it with tri-clover valve and, yes, a Zwickle tasting valve!”
While his beer brewing techniques have improved steadily over the years, Berggren said that there was one mistake that he will never live down. “I once made a boysenberry wheat beer during the summer in my house (with no air conditioning),” he said. “After a couple of days, I realized that my air lock was clogged with boysenberries and, of course, I tried to free it from the carboy. The ceiling was red for days until I repainted it.”
But all in all, Berggren’s brewing has improved. “Making the leap from extract to all grain was a major stepping stone. Also figuring out my brewing system and making it work for what I wanted.” Berggren also said that adding pumps to his system was a huge help. “It has taken my beers to the next step with regards to temperature ramping and creating a clear lauter.”
Even though Berggren’s brew is mostly enjoyed at MHTG meetings, his workplace on Fridays and at family events, he has won several awards including Best of Show for the 2003 MHTG Franco Belgian Challenge and the Hairless Mouse award for the MHTG Big and Huge contest. Berggren says that he doesn’t enter events to win but to learn all he can about brewing beer. “I live and breathe beer knowledge always striving to learn more,” summed up Berggren.
Berggren lives in the historical downtown district of Madison, WI, with his wife and two children. He is employed as a Test Engineer at Trek Bicycles.