By Charissa Heckard
Mark and Alex Sipes are a father-son home brewing team making mead and beer in Phoenix! Alex started making mead three years ago next to his father who brews the beer. They started out when Alex’s mother gave him a five gallon carboy and they made a batch of hard apple cider and evolved from there. Alex is constantly trying to improve his original mead recipe after his first batch was very successful. They make beer brewing a family activity, brewing on Saturday mornings, the smell fills the house.
“I find it to be a very constructive activity for my family, especially since we can all taste our beer a few weeks later and enjoy our hard and careful work,” Alex said.
While Alex focuses on mead, his father brews the beer. Mark has been brewing beer for a little over a year now, and also makes the occasional batch of hard cider and turns into more of an “apple wine” than a low-ABV cider. Drawing on his Bavarian heritage, Mark brews with German recipes, taking elements from Austrian, Czech, and Scottish recipes to create his own unique brew.
“The best batches he’s produced happen to be his Vanilla Porter and his Pumpkin Porter, recipes of his own that I’m confident could win brewers’ contests,” Alex said.
Alex sticks to traditional mead-making methods; one long primary for the mead, six months to a year depending on the type, and isinglass as a fining agent before bottling. He incorporates locally harvested honey and locally grown fruits into the recipe and uses two different types of yeast during different stages of the fermentation, giving it a distinct, well-refined flavor. Alex then design and prints his own labels, and bottles the mead in 375ml mini bottles to make the packaging more distinct.
“I’ve found mead is relatively cheap to produce, and the long fermenting and aging processes play nicely with the fact that I’m very busy with school and work,” Alex said.
Alex and his father brew in the kitchen and use a small closet in the center of their house for fermenting and storing the beer and mead. They use a simple setup with the basic equipment such as a six gallon kettle for brewing up beer wort, a few buckets and carboys for fermenting, and a plethora of one gallon glass jugs for his mead.
“It would be nice to have an elaborate setup like what more serious home brewers have, but right now we’re pretty happy with what we can do with what we’ve got,” said Alex. “After all, a quality brew is all about good ingredients and processes, not how expensive your equipment is.”
Home Brewing Hiccups
Alex and his father had one hiccup with brewing beer, where they added the wrong kind of hops into the boil at the wrong time, which resulted in a hoppier beer. It tasted good so they wrote it in the logbook and laughed about it. As far as mead goes, Alex had batches simply stop fermenting before, which is difficult to notice because the fermentation is subtle. He introduced more yeast and the batch recovered in a few months.
“I remember that batch actually tasting particularly good, and sometimes it’s fun to introduce a new kind of yeast halfway through the fermentation to change the character of the final product,” Alex said.