Former Mercer student Andrew Thompson began brewing his own beer in 2007.
“I was watching the Food Network, and of all people, Alton Brown did a brewing episode and I thought, ‘I can do that.” Thompson told The VOICE in an interview.
His first brew being a “generic pale ale,” Thompson worked his way up a three-tier ladder for home brewers. The first step involves using malt syrup in the place of certain grains that are required in the brewing process. This removes a couple of steps from the brewing process.
Eventually, Thompson moved to the second tier when he started using some unprocessed grains. For the past Thompson years, he’s been at the final level, using no syrup.
“It gives you more control,” Thompson explains, “and it’s more hands-on.”
Thompson has become so engaged with his craft, he even grows his own hops, a flower used in brewing beer.
“I started growing them about 3 years ago, pretty much on a whim after reading a few articles from people that started growing them.” They were talking about how it adds another DIY level to brewing your own beer, another thing that you don’t have to buy, and how easy it can be.
Most of his other supplies are acquired from Princeton Homebrew, on Route 29, though he does fondly recall his earliest supply runs into Philadelphia.
“We would take the train down there and find food once we got in. Then since it was Philly, of course, we would have to get a few beers, then we’d make it over to the store, pick up the supplies and lug these 18-pound sacks back to the train, stopping for a few more beers along the way.”
Thompson’s operation is small, but growing due to his dedication and innovation. He built his own rig for the brewing process, and recently installed a tap on his basement wall. He hopes to grow his hobby into a brewpub someday, explaining, “Expansion is the pipe dream…we’re hoping to have something well-established within 10-15 years.”
Thompson has a few brews still bottled from batches both recent and older. One is his “Jersey Devil” stout, named for the trouble it gave him during the brewing.
Thompson explains that, following the boiling process for this beer, “We used a pot holder and a welding glove [to lift the kettle] they both caught on fire…it just did not want to be made”
The brew was worth it though. Opaque and sporting a rough 1½ inch caramel-colored head, the sweet, dark, and earthy aromas accentuated the flavor of caramel. It was simple, but very well-crafted, and the soothing bitter finish capped the experience neatly.
Thompson’s pride, though, is definitely his “Old George,” named after George Washington since it was brewed on the first President’s birthday. Thompson brewed the Old George three years ago, and still has 18 bottles left. An American-style barleywine, the George was oak-aged for four months, lending it hints of black cherry and other dark fruits, plus a resinous molasses note nestled into the ghost of sweetness that accompanies the smooth mouthfeel and sharp sting of carbonation.
Thompson says his big inspiration was his late father, whom he describes as having been “a real big beer guy.”
“He liked beer. It wasn’t a prominent obsession, like how I am, but it was an interest of his.” Thompson says. “I think he would be really excited about homebrewing and what we’re doing with it and enjoying it so much.”