Learning to Homebrew: A Q&A with John Marra, 2014 Employee LongShot Winner

2014 Samuel Adams Longshot American Home Brew ContestIn early November, homebrewers across the country celebrated National Learn to Homebrew Day. We thought this was a great excuse to catch up with our colleague John Marra, a member of the Samuel Adams team in Brooklyn, NY, who was recently named the employee winner of our LongShot American Homebrew Competition!

The contest began in 1996 as a way for us to recognize and honor American homebrewers who continue to push the boundaries of what beer can be, just as Jim Koch did 30 years ago in his kitchen as he homebrewed the first batches of Boston Lager. We recently announced this year’s winners at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO.

Here’s what John had to say about being named the employee winner and the challenges he’s faced as someone who is fairly new to homebrewing:

Q: How long have you been a homebrewer? How did you get into it?

A: I have only just begun to homebrew.  In fact, it wasn’t until April of last year that I got started when I began my career at Samuel Adams.   The Longshot Competition was definitely an eye opening experience as to how intricate and detail-oriented you need to be during the brewing and bottling process.

Q: What inspired you to brew a Dunkelweiss for your LongShot entry?

A: I brewed with my teammates Rachel McGown and Roxanne Diaz. We wanted to brew a style of beer style that wasn’t common to find in bars in our neighborhood.  We also knew that we wanted a recipe that was a simple, straightforward representation of that particular style.  After discussing my options with some other homebrewers that  I know and various homebrew shops, we chose a Dunkleweiss recipe.

Q: What was your reaction to being one of the winners of the LongShot competition?

A: I was completely blown away!  I couldn’t believe that the beer made it in the 2015 LongShot six-pack. That beer was truly a “long shot” to win the competition considering we were competing against plenty of people that homebrew regularly.

Q: What do you think the most common mistake homebrewers make is?

A: To be honest, I can’t speak on that level about the mistakes other homebrewers make because that would mean I view myself as being on a higher level than other homebrewers, which I’m not!  That being said, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to focus on keeping everything clean.  Bacteria are the easiest way to destroy a homebrewed beer, so going through the proper steps to sanitize everything that touches the beer after the boil is a must.

Q: Do you have any advice for homebrewers who are just starting out?

A: It’s ok to fail and fail often.  I had brewed beers that were undrinkable before and each time I would go through the brewing process I would learn something new or notice something I had done (or not done) the previous time that helped me get to that drinkable beer.

Another valuable piece of advice I received was to focus on keeping everything as simple as possible when you’re starting out. Going for big, bold beers is a complicated process, and that can be frustrating and discouraging if it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to since the process can take 4-6 weeks from start to finish.  I focused on brewing a beer that was simple enough to brew while not overcomplicating the process. I have learned that there are a lot of things that can go wrong while homebrewing, so trying to keep the process as simple as possible helps!

Looking for some more homebrewing tips and tricks? Check out our Homebrewing Pinterest board.