Homebrewer: Don Barnum

Written by: Jessica Cartie

A couple of weeks ago, Brian and I got word of a backyard brew day from Don Barnum. When he first expressed interest in being part of the project, Don thought we would be interested in his custom-built brew systems. Featured in the November 2010 issue of Brew Your Own Magazine, Don builds and sells his hand-crafted brew systems under the name Back House Brew. His tag line reads: Freedom to brew your own. Independence to do it your own way. Not only does he build his own systems, but being in construction his whole life, he built the “back house” in which he brews his own beer.

It was midmorning on a Sunday, and the backyard brew day was underway. Don setup his system beneath a shady tree and began preparing to brew a Blonde Ale. He built the all grain, three-keg brew system he was using, and it made sense to Don to build this particular two-tiered system conveniently at waist height. Generally all-grain homebrew systems are three-tiered, but Don was looking to simplify and speed up the process by using a pump rather than relying on gravity to transfer the beer in its various stages. Don also builds single keg extract brewstoves. Just last year, he started selling both the complete setups and the frames a la carte.

It has been a little over a year since Don was first introduced to home brewing by his daughter, who bought him his first brew kit. “My daughter and her husband are way into the microbrew scene in San Diego,” Don explained.

Like many home brewers, his first attempt was a disaster. “It seems when everyone gets started, they want to come up with something no one has ever tried,” Don said. So he began ignoring the recipes while experimenting with different fruits in an effort to come up with a unique brew. He attempted to use cranberries, oranges and even pomegranates in his brews.

Eventually he gave up on trying to be inventive, and now follows his favorite recipes. Don’s advice, “Just stick to a couple of beers you like and get good at it.”

So instead of getting crafty with beer, Don uses his inventiveness to make the brew process a work of art. He clearly enjoys working with his hands, and as he puts it, “coming up with a way to do it easier, more efficiently and cheaper.” For one, Don bottles his own beer, and only uses recycled bottles. Needless to say, it was important for him to come up with a way to process the bottles, and he certainly has. Not to mention, he cleverly has his friends and family convinced to bring him all the bottles he needs. If that wasn’t enough, Don also builds display cases out of old crates, and figured out a system of keeping his brews at the right temperature at all times using a refrigerator and temperature gage. Anyone would walk away from Back House Brew impressed. But that’s not all…

Don’s Back House Brew also proved to concoct some pretty tasty beers. He was nice enough to let Brian and I try a few beers when we visited his home and his back house a few days after the brew day. He even sent us home with a six pack of a few selections. Brian and I both have to agree that his Nut Brown Hemp Ale was our favorite so far, and not only rivals, but outdoes any hemp ale we have had prior. We also tried his Steam Beer, Biere De Garde and Winter Ale… all remarkably tasty! So thank you Don, your brew systems are impressive and so are your beers!

For more information on Don’s Back House Brew or if you are interested in buying one of his brew systems, visit http://backhousebrew.wordpress.com/

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