Brewer Ken Proper checks out a bottle of Kolsch that he made in his Steamboat Springs home.

Photo by John F. Russell

Brewer Ken Proper checks out a bottle of Kolsch that he made in his Steamboat Springs home.

Brewing Battleground: Home brew: Part science, part hobby

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— It wouldn’t be out of line to say Ken Proper’s first love was beer.

The 63-year-old Steamboat Springs resident started brewing beer while studying microbiology at Colorado State University.

Brewing battleground

The craft brewing industry is blowing up across the country. It’s no surprise that Colorado is one of the states with a large stake in the claim. Now, two companies are coming to Steamboat Springs, looking to get a piece of an estimated $10 billion pie.

Before that, he built a still for his high school senior project in biology.

Inside his refrigerator and freezer, next to frozen ravioli and packages of bratwurst, sit packages of yeast and homegrown hops.

“I like beer,” Proper said. “It’s my main beverage. I rarely drink wine. If I have a bottle of whiskey, it will sit around for a year. I like the flavor. I like the taste.”

Proper is among the vastly growing population of home brewers in the U.S.

The American Homebrewers Association estimates more than 1 million Americans brew beer or wine at least once per year.

There are more than 37,000 members in the Homebrewers Association.

For those like Proper, the crafting of beer is part science, part hobby and all fun.

His family comes from the Rhine Valley in Germany where the family had a history of picking hops, berries and grapes.

Predictably, his favorite types of beers are German style, particularly Kolsch and Altbier.

He usually brews 10 to 12 varieties of beers and brews at least once per month.

“Sometimes, a lot more often than that,” he said.

He grows his own hops at his house in downtown Steamboat. He gets his grain from a home brew store in Gypsum or through a company in Minnesota.

He will brew 5- to 10-gallon batches and sometimes larger. He plans to brew a 20-gallon batch of his signature Kolsch beer for his son’s wedding next summer.

The process from mashing grains, fermenting, boiling and bottling takes time. After he starts brewing, he said, he will be able to drink his beer in four to five weeks.

“When you brew beer, it can be as complicated as you want it,” he said.

For those interested in getting into brewing, Proper recommended getting a starter kit at a home brew shop.

Proper said he tossed around the idea of opening a brewery in the past, even going so far as developing a business plan, but he said the economics of it didn’t fit him.

“I’m 63, and I didn’t want to risk the money,” he said. “I decided I like brewing for myself, my friends and my family.”

Throughout more than 40 years of brewing, Proper has developed several go-to recipes, but the fun thing about brewing, he said, is the constant exploration. He’s always tinkering with recipes and developing new ones.

This year, his beer was named a Reserve Grand Champion at the Routt County Fair. The previous two years, his beer was named Grand Champion.

“I didn’t get (Grand Champion) three years in a row,” he lamented.

Proper doesn’t plan to stop. Even with everything that goes into it, it’s a money-saving process, he said.

His traditional 5-gallon brew generally yields about five 12-packs. To brew that much, he generally spends about $30 or $35.

“I get imported-quality beer for less than domestic prices.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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