by Jennifer Karnan/ Tap Huntress
Wes McCann is trying to kill me. “What the deuce,” I say to myself as I ride the breaks of my poor little VDub along the narrow, cliff-side, donkey-path that leads to what must be his secret hideaway. “What…the…deuce?” Fellow Tap Hunter blogger Sarah and I had met Wes for the first time a mere four days earlier at the last QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity) meeting. After some discussion about brewing and his passion for good beer, he kindly invited the two of us to his house in La Mesa to attend a home brewing demo. He failed to mention, however, that he lived on the side of a very steep mountain. “How are we supposed to get out of here,” I muttered to Sarah though my teeth. We get to the bottom of his cliff-like road to see that his house is actually perched up on an even steeper driveway. I park sketchily at the bottom and we slowly make the hike up in the beating inland sun. Jeans were a bad choice. We approach the house apprehensively wondering which way to enter, when a familiar voice floats out of the garage. “Is that Jen and Sarah? Come on in!”
Wes shows us around the house like we’re family at a housewarming party. His wife, Ann, is in the kitchen preparing apps and lunch. Their kitchen is buzzing with a little more activity than the typical household, and the smell is an experience in itself. In addition to the cooking food, they have a yeast starter going covered with tin foil, several drying pumpkin seeds on the counter, a container of their seasonal Imperial Pumpkin Ale being separated from its sediments, a batch of fermenting homemade wine, and several tasters going around. These two love to entertain. “The social aspect is a huge part of the process,” Wes says. “The people that we get to meet, talk to, swap methods and tricks with…it’s as important as it is fun.”
The McCanns are in and of the Navy. Ann is currently a Surface Warfare Officer on the U.S.S. Halsey. Wes is originally from Louisiana, Ann from Utah. They met at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD before Ann got stationed in Colorado Springs. Wes moved there shortly thereafter, and the two got into home brewing. They were volunteers at the Rocky Mountain Brewery, where they met and received some valuable pointers from Owner/Operator Duane Lujan. One of these tips is being implemented today in the brewing of their Imperial Pumpkin Ale (10%). Instead of using pumpkin, they’re putting butternut squash into this brew. “It imparts more of that cinnamon, pumpkin flavor,” Ann says. Wes says he wants this seasonal beer to taste like a slice of pumpkin pie with a flaky crust. “There are so many aspects to home brewing, and trying other beers is part of it,” explains Wes. “We find ourselves saying, ‘I like this beer, but I wish it had this.’ So then we ask, ‘What could we come up with?’ And we play.”
And play they do. The McCanns named their Belgian Golden Strong “Baby’s Golden Shower,” which, of course, sounds less innocent than it is. The two named their home brew for one of Wes’s best friends, whose wife was pregnant. This was a cheeky part of their gift for the shower. Ann and Wes have also brainstormed a list of names for a hypothetical “Geriatric Beer” line, as a way of involving the Baby Boomers in the world of craft beer.
The couple plans to start distributing their beer by the end of 2011. They plan to rent excess fermentation equipment from a large local brewery and bottle their product, then eventually open up their own brewery, to be called Devil’s Forge Brewing Company. Wes enthusiastically shows us his impressive collection of aging microbrews in the fridge, his collection of aging wines, and his own ten brews on tap in the garage. Wes and Ann have a Cyser, a Strong Scotch Ale, a Dry Sparkling Mead, an IPA, a Double Nut Brown Ale (aged 6 months), a Chai Porter (made with Ann’s favorite loose leaf chai), a BelgianGolden Strong, a Brown Ale, a Brown Sour (barrel aged 4 months), and a Heavy Sour (barrel aged 6 months), all of which we try. Repeatedly. I was impressed with the Heavy Sour, which tasted like a mouthful of Sour Patch Kids.
Wes leads us out to their garden in the back yard, where he grows his own hops. He’s also starting to grow apricots, figs and apples, all to be used for brewing. “Every brewer is a craftsman at heart,” he says. “So we tend to be ‘Jacks of all trades,’ or at least a few. I want to start making my own cheese too in the future.”
After quite a few tasters and some delicious homebrew marinated brats, I decide it’s time to finally break the seal before we hit the road. I notice a funny Murphy’s Law scroll up on the bathroom wall bearing little proverbs, one of which particularly catches my eye. It reads, “Anything good in life is either illegal, immoral or fattening.” Cheers to that. We say fond goodbyes to Wes and Ann and the other interesting folks at the brew demo and embark on our trek back up the mountain, which turns out to be a less scary than I expected. I’d like to take this opportunity to make a shout-out to the normally useless first gear of my Volkswagen.