If you don’t know Vern, you may be wondering why they would choose to honor this one man, when Huntsville is home to so many others with the same hobby.
After speaking to Vern about his experience in the industry, I can assure you this decision is well founded.
A Love of Brewing
Vern’s love of brewing developed out of respect and admiration for his grandfather, a German born immigrant that migrated to the United States in the 1880’s.
He was a wheat farmer that settled in a homestead in North Dakota. During harvest time, it was common for the farmers in the region to give their farmhands beer at both lunch and dinner (to give them the energy they needed to harvest their large crops).
However, there were no stores to purchase this beer in these desolate regions, so each farm needed a “farm brewer”. He brewed the beer for his farm for decades, until passing on his skills and recipes to his daughter, who later passed the “family brewer” torch on to her nephew, Vern.
He took these skills a step further by reading and studying the art of brewing, so he could perfect this family tradition.
More Than a Hobby
Vern was in the Navy for many years (commissioned during Vietnam) and retired as the Executive Officer of a Command. He then worked as an Environmental Sanitarian. He was a consultant for companies like Frito Lay, Quaker Oaks, See’s Candy and basically every nut plant in North America.
In the early 1980’s, Vern stopped consulting and he and his wife, Darlene, moved to a 15-acre farm in California. After visiting the California State Fair and seeing the home brewing competition (a new exhibit, as home brewing had only recently become legal again in the United States), he picked up some information and studied the trade for two years, then attended a home brew meeting and started pursuing this new hobby.
Since he already lived on a farm, and was looking for something to do with his spare time, he decided to not only brew his own beer, but also grow his own hops and grapes (which he sold to home brew shops and wineries).
This niche market allowed Vern to make his small farm profitable and self-sufficient. He used these home grown ingredients to make his own beer, mead, and wine, which he began to enter in various national and international competitions.
Over the years, Vern has earned over 300 blue ribbons and gold medals for his wine, beer, and mead, and over 30 “Best of Shows” for the same. Some of these awards were very prestigious, for example:
- Two Golden Bear Awards at the California State Fair, for his pale ale and plum mead
- Two gold medals by the American Homebrewing Association (the biggest homebrewing competition in the world)
- Best of Show by the American Mead Association (against all commerce, commercial, and amateur competitors in the world)
- The Sierra Nevada Homebrewer of the Year award (the “holy grail” of homebrew awards)
As a testament to his skills in mead making, he was once asked to visit Bunratty Castle in Ireland, an area famous for their mead, which they have been making for 500 years.
Vern enjoyed a meal with the castle mead maker and his wife, and brought samples of his own award winning mead to share. After the meal, the mead maker’s wife asked if she could keep the rest of the mead Vern brought, much to her husband’s chagrin
Vern’s Wheat Wine
With experience brewing so many styles of beer, why did Vern chose to brew a Wheat Wine for Straight to Ale’s Right to Brew series?
When Vern first began brewing, he had a mentor, Jim Pell. According to Vern, Jim invented a style of beer known as “wheat wine”. Wheat wine is similar to a barley wine, especially when comparing the high ABV (11%) but wheat wine has less of a hop bill and is more delicate than a barley wine.
However, created with German Magnum Hops (which have a high alpha acid), wheat wine is not your everyday wheat beer.
Jim decided to enter his new beer in the “other” category of the California State Fair home brewing competition. It won a gold medal in that competition and, afterwards, many of the home brewers and breweries in the area started brewing this new beer.
Rubicon Brewing in Sacramento used Jim’s recipe to create their first wheat wine and won their first gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado. Later, Vern won gold medals in both the California State Fair and the Music City Brewoff in Nashville, for his own version of Jim’s wheat wine!
Now that this same style of beer has won at least 4 gold medals in the “other” category, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is introducing “Wheat Wine” as a style of beer in their beer judging materials, so it can become a recognized category in worldwide brewing competitions!
Meet the Man Himself
Want to learn more about Vern and Darlene’s adventures in brewing, judging competitions, and more? They have so much more to tell and you can hear it yourself at Straight to Ale on Thursday.
Come try a glass of Vern’s Wheat Wine (or 3), and ask your question to the man himself! I can’t think of a more appropriate way to spend Huntsville Beer Week than by learning about beer from a home brewing legend.
When: Thursday, September 25, 6:00 – 9:00 pm
Where: Straight to Ale Brewery (3200 Leeman Ferry Road)
What: Casual “meet and greet” event
Neon Lily food truck on site
Can’t make the event Thursday but still want to try Vern’s Wheat Wine? Vern’s is available in bombers wherever local craft beers are sold.