common / Crossroads Weekend

Good things come from “going bad”

Beth Rowland

           Fermentation, it may be said, is the art of allowing good food to go bad. But, oh, what wonderful things come from allowing food to, well, basically spoil: yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, crème fraiche—and wine and beer.

            Humans have been fermenting foods since the Neolithic Era, or New Stone Age, usually to preserve the contents. Although fermenting foods and beverages are controllable chemical processes, it does often seem like magic.

            

Denise and Karl Wagenbrenner.Denise and Karl Wagenbrenner.

Denise and Karl Wagenbrenner have staked their Berkeley Springs business on that magic. Mountain Man Wine & Brew Supply offers all the supplies, from ingredients to equipment, that a home brewer or wine-maker needs—including the know-how. Classes are taught at the store, using the store’s equipment for individuals and small groups.  Students have the benefit of learning under Karl’s watchful eye and can then reproduce the results at home. Many who were first exposed to the art through a class have turned it into a hobby and are avid wine or beer makers.

            Karl understands the pride that comes with “making your own.” It’s that passion that led him to home brewing in the first place, and now he has what he calls his dream job. “You’ve got to have a love for it,” he says.

            Students come from all walks of life, from younger folks interested in the money-saving aspects of brewing one’s own and the “eco-friendly” notion of recycling with the reusable beer and wine bottles, to retirees looking for “domestic adventure” or a hobby.  Classes are often given as gifts, Denise says, or used as bachelor or bachelorette parties. In fact, they even offer a “Custom Wedding Make Your Own Wine Package” that allows couples to make the wine served at their wedding reception or give as gifts to the bridal party. Customized bottle labels and etched glassware complete the package for these kinds of groups.

           

There's a wide range of ingredients which — used creatively — make for some interesting brews.There's a wide range of ingredients which — used creatively — make for some interesting brews.

 There’s a store-based club, “Bath Brewers,” open to those at least 21 years old, where home brewers come together to share samples of their homemade wines and beers. Aside from critiquing each other’s samples, members can also help figure out what went wrong on less-than-successful batches. When brewers use what might be called “non-standard” ingredients, they might expect some interesting things to happen!            

 

Karl Waganbrenner mixes up a batch of what will be a specialty beer in about four weeks or so. By tasting as it ages, he will know when it's time to bottle the brew.Karl Waganbrenner mixes up a batch of what will be a specialty beer in about four weeks or so. By tasting as it ages, he will know when it's time to bottle the brew.

                                                                 

For example, Karl has made an apple butter beer in honor of the Apple Butter Festival and is currently offering a “Pumpkin Spice Poster Ale” kit. Since it takes anywhere from two to six weeks to make a beer and 30 days to a year or more to make a wine (many can be made in six months, however) beer and wine-making is already taking on a holiday spirit, with a Holiday Ale kit made with orange peel, cinnamon and other spices.

            Denise and Karl live in  Fulton County, Pa., so what led them to base their business in Berkeley Springs? Denise, who in “real life” is a tax preparer, said she had many clients in the Berkeley Springs/Morgan County area. Through them, she noticed that the small business community supported each other.

           “I saw how small business people here pulled together. Instead of being competitive, it seemed like they tried to help each other.” So when the building at 801 S. Washington Street came on the market, they jumped on it and opened for business in May of 2012.

Denise Wagenbrenner's "tin can" jewelry makes recycling especially beautiful.Denise Wagenbrenner's "tin can" jewelry makes recycling especially beautiful.

            Growing out of the couple’s interest in repurposing and recycling materials, Denise has created a unique line of jewelry made from tin cans. This is in addition to the decorative items she crafts from glass bottles, which are either etched or hand-painted. “I’d see a pretty bottle, “ she said, “and put it aside and make something from it later.”  There’s also a line of tee shirts and sweatshirts aimed at beer and wine makers.

A work in progress, a Craizin Pumpkin beer, mixed in mid-September.A work in progress, a Craizin Pumpkin beer, mixed in mid-September.

            What’s the appeal of making your own beer or wine? It is economical and reusing bottles is certainly a green way to go. It’s fun and makes for an interesting hobby. And there’s the pride of making one’s own.

            However, after a taste (okay, more than just a taste) of Karl’s beer — one of his most successful experiments called “Dirty Blond” — this reporter can honestly characterize it as, without a doubt, the best beer she has ever tasted on either side of the Atlantic.

            It was simply delicious. That’s the best reason of all to “make your own.”

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