Homebrewer Greg Young of Roseville got his first brew kit as a Christmas gift from his wife in 2015. The very next day he bought a book about how to brew beer and about a month later his first beer was ready for tasting. Three months after that he won second place in the Amber Ale category at the Alameda County Fair.
Throughout his life Young had frequented local craft breweries like Sierra Nevada, but he never thought that one day he too would pick up the brewer’s paddle himself.
“I didn’t know this was something you can do at home until she bought me this kit,” Young said, adding literally anyone can brew beer in their kitchen. “After that (first beer) I knew I was hooked. It has been full steam ahead since that.”
However, not every homebrewer is going to rise to a level of success that includes winning 22 awards and one of craft beer’s most coveted homebrew honors in a time span of just under four years – but Young did.
Young won two gold medals at the 40th annual American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Competition last month, one for his John’s Lager in the Pale American Beer category and another for his Hayden’s Lager in the Pale European Beer category. Those two wins also earned him the Samuel Adams Ninkasi Award, which is given to the brewer with the most collective medal points, otherwise known as the “winningest brewer” at the competition.
Awards were announced at the 2018 Homebrew Con at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, where Young beat out more than 3,500 other homebrewers from across the U.S. and 18 other countries.
One of the beers that won gold at the national competition, John’s Lager, just won gold at this year’s California State Fair along with a Vienna lager that Young entered.
Coming from a competitive background, Young liked the idea of entering his beers into contests, but he also said he appreciated the concept of being able to get honest, unbiased feedback about the beers he was brewing.
Something you can’t always get from family and friends, Young said, adding that he used what the judges said about his beers as a way to improve them.
Young said he knew the beers he entered into the National Homebrew Competition were good and was hopeful of earning a medal, but winning the Ninkasi had never been on his radar.
“I was blown away,” Young said, adding that the brewers he was up against were the best of the best. “When my name got called and it was up on the screen, I was ecstatic.”
The Ninkasi award is based on a point system, Young said, with six points given for gold, four for silver and two for bronze.
Young entered two beers into the competition and won a gold medal for each, giving him 12 points.
“I was nowhere near sitting down when they called my name again,” Young said of having to jog back around the large room and stage to accept his second gold. “That was pretty funny.”
When he finally got back to his seat, Young said people around him were already saying that he had a good chance of winning the Ninkasi and as the announcement of medals in each category continued, it started to become clear that no one was going to achieve the number of points needed to beat him.
“I was just in shock,” Young said, adding that many on the list of former Ninkasi winners now own breweries and are people that he has looked up to as a homebrewer. “I didn’t think that was a possibility.”
Eventually Young’s goal is to move the homebrewing operation he runs out of one stall in his three-car garage at his home to a full-fledged community-based brewery and taproom in Roseville.
Young, who’s worked the last 10 years on the tech side of the medical field protecting patient data, grew up in Roseville. It is the town that raised him, Young said, and he wants to give back to the city and its community.
His ideal location for a future beer establishment would be on Bernon Street located in the historic part of Roseville, Young said, adding that he likes the vibe of the area and the fact that most of the businesses there are family owned, which is something that would mesh well with the type of brewery he would like to open.
Now, anyone who drinks craft beer in California knows the hop-forward IPA reigns as king, but Young specializes in milder lager styles.
Young said he likes to brew lagers because it takes a great deal of skill due to their delicate flavors and the intricacy of the process it takes to make them.
“It’s definitely a challenge to brew these styles,” Young said, adding that if something is off everyone will know because there is nothing to hide behind, such as big hop flavors or the maltiness of stouts.
Young also says these beers are a great way to bring people into the craft beer fold.
It seems like craft beer is everywhere but it only makes up about 12 percent of the beer that’s available to consumers, Young said, making it such a small piece of the overall beer market.
There are a lot of people out there who have not had craft beer or just prefer their light beers, Young said, adding that the lager styles he brews are similar to what people are used to drinking.
It shows them that there are parallel versions in the craft beer world, Young said, only with a little more flavor.
John’s Lager, one of the beers that contributed to Young winning the Ninkasi, is named after his step dad, who Young says loves Bud Light.
“That’s his drink,” Young said, adding that he wanted to create something similar to what his step dad knows but a craft beer version, which is what he did and wants to do for others. “(I’m) just hoping to introduce craft beer to people who may not be on the train but looking for flavorful beers.”
However, Young isn’t limiting his skills to brewing just one particular family of beers.
“I love all styles,” Young said, adding that he does brew IPAs, stouts and lighter-style ales and the tap handles at his future brewery will feature a varied selection. “Anyone can come in and have something that they will like from the board.”
His idea, Young said, is that if he is eventually going to open a community brewery in Roseville it will need to offer a beer selection as diverse as the beer drinkers in his community, with options for both the craft beer novice and expert alike.
He wants to show people that in craft beer there is something for everyone, he said.
But Young was also adamant that there will be at least two lager styles on tap at all times.