The Sacramento area has plenty of talented homebrewers. Aside from those who are brewing professionally, some are thinking about jumping into the game, and others are content to simply keep on making good beer and striving to get better.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to two top-notch homebrewers, one from each camp. Jason Ledford, a 45-year-old sergeant in a Bay Area police department, plans to work another five years, retire and launch his own brewery. Kevin Nanzer, 32, who moved to Sacramento less than a year ago, is happy to keep his day job and make beer on the side. Both love brewing and both love beer.
If you’re thinking about getting into homebrewing, you can learn plenty from these two. It’s also a good idea to join a homebrewing club, where you’ll make friends, tap into all kinds of expertise when you run into a problem, and get feedback on your brews when you pass them out at membership gatherings.
Nanzer recently captured a very big homebrewing award: He was one of three homebrewers nationwide to win the Samuel Adams 2015 Longshot American Homebrew Contest. The haul included a trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver for Nanzer and his wife, followed by a trip to Boston to brew beer at the Boston Beer Company.
Nanzer, who was new to entering contests, won with a Belgian Golden Ale. His beer will be among those featured in special 2016 Longshot six-packs. Nanzer’s beer almost didn’t make the cut. When he learned he was going to be a finalist, he realized his golden ale was hooked up to his kegerator and was running low. There wouldn’t be time to brew more. He nervously bottled up what was remaining. He needed six 12-ounce bottles for the contest – and managed to bottle seven.
Of his time brewing in Boston, Nanzer said it was “a cool experience.” But he’s not sure he wants to jump into brewing as a job.
“It’s something I’ve thought about at length. I don’t know that I’m terribly interested,” said Nanzer, who works in the payment processing field. “Right now it’s a hobby and it’s fun. What people don’t understand about brewing is it’s a factory. It would kind of take the fun out of brewing beer. But if the situation arose where I could be a consultant part-time, I might be interested.”
Ledford, on the other hand, can’t wait to make a living as a brewer – after he’s retired as a police sergeant. We first heard about Ledford when his coconut porter inspired all kinds of raves at “Beer Prom,” a Sacramento Beer Week event at the California Automobile Museum.
Ledford, who lives in Vacaville, is a member of the Greenbelt Brewers Assoication (GBA), which serves Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties. He highly recommends new homebrewers get involved in such a club. Another local option is the Gold Country Brewers Association, which meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Jackson Catering & Events, 1120 Fulton Ave., Sacramento. GBA meets on the third Tuesday each month at 7 p.m. at Sudwerk Brewing, 201 Second St., Davis. If you’re interested, just show up. Bring your homebrew to share, if you wish.
Ledford has been brewing since his wife got him a homebrew kit for Christmas in 1999. The better he got, the more determined he became about making beer part of his early retirement plan. In 2014, he took a very serious step in that direction by using the vacation time he had stockpiled to attend brewing school in England for three months. The Brewlab certificate in British Brewing Technology cost about $14,000.
“Also, a huge mentor of mine has been Chris Miller of Berryessa Brewing. He makes great beer, and I’ve learned a ton from him. I’m ramping up to go pro,” Ledford said, stating the obvious.
His coconut porter is already very pro, based on the many nods of approval at the auto museum event. Yet his hometown of Vacaville has so far missed out on the craft beer renaissance, with no craft breweries in town.
Ledford’s advice to newbies?
“Get a homebrewing kit and have at it. And join a club. You have access to really experienced homebrewers right away and everybody is really friendly and willing to help.”