We camped out for the afternoon for a brew day with Stiggs and their homebrew club to make another batch of Camping With Uncle Charlie.
Brew Day With Stiggs
Last year in January, we had our first brewing experience thanks to Mike Castiglione at Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen in Boyne City. We brewed up a delicious stout called Camping With Uncle Charlie which Stiggs shared at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer fest in Grand Rapids. It was brutally cold brewing outside last year and so much fun it probably should be criminal.
Mike sent a text in September saying he was brewing another batch of our beer for the Detroit Fall Beer Fest with the Stiggs Homebrew club. He also wanted to see if we wanted to brew another batch of Camping With Uncle Charlie for the 2023 Winter Beer fest. We, of course, said hell yes and made plans for a brew day with Stiggs in the dead of winter.
Thankfully the weather wasn’t too bad. While it was overcast with a few raindrops, the temperature was almost balmy. Ok, balmy may be a stretch, but it felt more like late spring as opposed to winter.
Stiggs Home Brew Club
This year, we had the joy of sharing the brewing experience with the Stiggs Homebrew club. The club members on hand include Gabby, Bob, Steve, Lisa, Barbara, Mike, and Matt. We had the pleasure of meeting Gabby last year as she braved the cold with us.
Talking to Bob, I asked when the homebrew club got started. He thought for a minute, “How many years has Stiggs been here?” Gabby replied, “Five years.” Bob continued, “So we’ve been doing this probably, I betcha, at least four years. Me, Mike, and Alexa started this, and we were doing it probably for a good six, eight months, and then Steve came and just kind of expanded it.”
I immediately wished we lived closer to Stiggs. Having a homebrew club in your town where the local brewery encourages your passion for beer is fantastic. I wonder how many other breweries in Michigan have homebrew clubs. It sounds like something to investigate.
Tuesday Brew Days
While talking with the Stiggs Homebrew club, I learned about Tuesday Brew Days at a local farm. According to Gabby, “Every Tuesday night, we brew. I think, 15 taps out there. And at Christmas time, six of them are mine. I thought that was pretty good.” If you talk to anyone on the Stiggs Homebrew club, they will let you know when they are brewing. Being friendly and inviting people, they will surely send an invite your way. Barbara mentioned “We all bring a plate to pass- crackers, dip, you know? In the summertime, they have guitars and banjos playing outside. We also have a fire pit outside in the summertime. It’s just a lot of fun.”
The homebrew club also has competitions. Lisa, who prefers to drink beer as opposed to make it, has been one of the judges. She shared her philosophy “I’ve been a judge two years in a row in their group competition. And I really like to drink beer.” She sees it as her philosophy on scotch, or kind of spirit, wine, beer…”I don’t care how you do it; just keep on doing it. Just keep on (laughs).”
I couldn’t agree more with Lisa. I’m happy to let the artists make the beer (or spirits) and enjoy their fantastic work.
Mike chimes in, “The way we judge it is we make beer, and whichever one goes the quickest, it’s a winner. Good beers go fast. Judging of the 15 homebrew taps is typically based on how long they last.”
It sounds like we need to make plans to head up and visit the Stiggs homebrew club on a Tuesday night for brew day.
This Beer Gets a little More Ridiculous
The brewing was underway when we arrived for brew day with Stiggs. Mike placed logs in the fire pit. He had it roaring. Meanwhile, David Osterhouse collected the wort from the mash after sparging (notice all the cool brewer lingo we’ve picked up now…yep, we are nearly professionals). Mike and David haul the buckets of liquid magic into the brew kettle as we settle in for wort to boil.
This latest edition of Camping With Uncle Charlie promises to be a big beer with a lot of s’more taste. Mike and David doubled the marshmallows and added 50% more graham crackers along with the chocolate, brown sugar, lactose, and local honey from Black River Apiary in Cheboygan. The hops are also local Magnum hops from our friends at Hop Alliance.
As David mixes in the chocolate and honey, the fire smoke gets the best of him. With tears flowing down David’s face, Bob pipes in, “He’s crying, making beer. He loves it so much. He cries.”
Now it is time for the marshmallows and graham crackers. Bags of crackers are distributed for crushing and pouring into the kettle. Mike and Matt add the four bags of marshmallows. The beer looks like a gigantic mug of hot chocolate. It smells divine. As David stirs, he smiles through teary eyes, “Every time we make this beer it gets a little more ridiculous.”
With all the added ingredients (called adjuncts – even more beer terms for you), the beer goes back up to a boil. Then we haul it off the fire to cool down. David sets up a chiller in the kettle, and we wait for the beer to cool enough to pitch the yeast. Someone asks how you’ll know when the beer is cool enough. David mentions he has a thermometer handy, but he and Mike use the hand-on-the-kettle method to get a feel (no pun intended) on when to check the temperature.
Last year the brewing took us all day. We had a hell of a time getting the beer to a boil, given it was zero degrees outside. Today is a snap. Mike and David have the beer in the keg with the yeast in about 5 hours after putting everything together.
Sharing Stories and Beer
Part of the brewing experience with the homebrew club is sharing beers, talking about beers, and sharing stories. Bob opens a growler of his strawberry wheat. It is a pale hazy with hints of rosy color in our cups. The smell of strawberries is subtle and nice. The taste is delicious and balanced. Everyone raises a glass to Bob on a beer well done. Steve opens his bottle of cran-apple lambic. It has been bottle conditioning for two years. Steve’s lambic has a beautiful apple aroma and excellent dry, almost cidery finish.
As we stand around the brew kettle, enjoying beers and talking, the topic turns to beer making. We talk about mash temperatures, sanitizers, preferred malts, and yeast strains. It might sound super nerdy, but it is a fun and interesting conversation. On second thought, I may be becoming a beer nerd.
Derek Strankland drops in to get a few photos of the brew day at Stiggs adventures for their social media. In addition to photography duties, Derek handles putting together the outstanding food that Stiggs Kitchen is known for. Of course, we chat about photo gear as we stand around the fire.
Thanks, Mike and David
As Brenda and I were sitting at the bar enjoying a beer and ordering some food, Mike stopped by before heading home. He mentioned that he loves the primitive brewing aspect of these brew days at Stiggs. It reminds him of the homebrewing journey that led to him opening Stiggs Brewery & Kitchen. Being able to share the experience with great people is what it is all about.
We can’t thank Mike, David, Derek, and the fabulous staff at Stiggs enough for inviting us back to brew a batch of Camping With Uncle Charlie. We also greatly appreciated all the help from the Stiggs Homebrew Club. As fun as last year was, this year was made special by sharing the day with very kind, welcoming, and generous people.
We’ve got a few more photos from our Brew Day with Stiggs. Please take a peek and let us know what you think. Leave a comment and show some love by sharing this post.
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