Homebrewer: Shawn Olsson Part 2.

When Brian and I pulled up to Shawn Olsson’s home and brewery in Fullerton, Calif. we were cheerfully greeted by 2-year-old Clare Olsson, who was ever so eager to show us her sand box and bubble machine in the backyard. Not too far behind Clare was her little sister Olivia. Shawn, 44, who had always desired to have children, finally became a father after a year into his second marriage to wife Sonia. Their nice one-story home is not only a safe haven for their beautiful family, but it is also residence to Shawn’s garage brewery and wine cellar.

His setup is compactible for more efficient storage to allow room for strollers and family needs as well as Shawn’s other hobby – restoring Vespas. Just abut Shawn’s brewing equipment, sat a teal Vespa in several pieces. Shawn promised himself he would take a small break from brewing for a weekend or two in order to work on the scooter. Though it is safe to say his beer supply wouldn’t dwindle too much during his brewing break as it seems he has aplenty to go around.

Shawn currently has four beers on tap: Oak Glenn 2010 Hard Cider (which he recently brought to the Addison Homebrew Provisions meeting for tasting), Lawn Genome IPA a La Chouffe, Q! (a Belgium quad with a plum and dark chocolate scent and smooth finish), and Wit Wedding 4.0 (commemorating four years of marriage to his beautiful wife Sonia – Shawn originally brewed this witbier for their wedding).

Shawn was originally introduced to homebrew by his stepdad, who mostly brewed batches from canned kits.

“It was pretty good stuff,” Shawn said. 

Realizing homebrew had piqued Shawn’s interest his mom bought him a kit for Christmas one year. And so the brewing began. Shawn, a highly intelligent individual, continuously utilizes his intellect and thirst for knowledge to better his brewing. In the early batches of Shawn’s brewing experience, however, he was unaware of sanitation requirements and he let pride get in the way of a bad batch.

“I made really infected beer, but I was too stubborn so I drank it,” Shawn said. He went on to explain that abnormal blotches began appearing on his arms, but he continued to drink the infected beer. Finally when he stopped drinking the bad beer the blotches disappeared. The lesson was learned and Shawn made sure to pay attention to simple sanitation rules from then on.

About a year into homebrewing Shawn delved into the hobby and began brewing once a month, which went on for three years. Exploring even further, Shawn took an extension course at UCSD and learned all grain. He began reading books on brewing and even joined Crown of the Valley Brewing Society, established in 1988 out of Pasadena, Calif. Two years in, Shawn became the vice president and eventually led the group as president for seven years.

“It was a tight little group of people,” Shawn said. Over the course of time together they all learned to better their beer as they learned from one another. Eventually though, Shawn decided it was time to let the next generation take over. Furthermore when Shawn went through his divorce, he walked away from the club and brewing altogether.

Three years ago, Shawn really got back into brewing.

“I just started over – newly married, new dad, saw the new shop [Addison Homebrew Provisions] and got involved in the club. I have a new batch of good friends,” said Shawn. “It’s kind of come full circle.”

Though things in his life had changed his youthful spirit and eagerness to learn to continually better his beer is ever present. He swears by the book Brew like a Monk. “It kind of inspired me,” he said about the book. Shawn is very enthusiastic about the science behind the beer, because he knows if he can understand the scientific concept behind any part of the brewing process, he is able to apply it to get the results he wants. That is not to say he doesn’t believe there is a creative side to the process as well.

“Science is the zeroes and ones to the art,” Shawn explained. “There is definitely a creative side. There is an art to the water chemistry as well – it’s like cooking.”

Interestingly, Shawn is also a fabulous cook according to his wife. As the conversation arose, he passionately described a five-hour, six course Italian meal he made on one occasion. Here he is talking about the science behind beer and using chemistry to understand the process, and on the flip side he talks about his inspirations and his passion for brewing and cooking. This truly demonstrates what a multi-faceted person Shawn really is.

Unsurprisingly food and beer correlate. Unsurprisingly again, Shawn has a taste for both. In fact, he took the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) test. Studying for the test helped Shawn open his palette. The test required Shawn to answer essay questions that resulted in 15 handwritten pages and to sample and critique in detail numerous beers.

One woman who was taking the test alongside Shawn said the test was more difficult than earning her Master’s degree.  Shawn’s reaction was, “Really? That was fun.”

Becoming a certified beer judge has not only made Shawn into a beer expert, but it has also made him into a foodie. Shawn uses his vast knowledge to teach others as he often speaks at the Addison Homebrew Provisions meetings. Shawn also leads beer demonstrations for fellow homebrewers, though he continuously refers back to his favorite book, Brew like a Monk. According to Shawn the book expresses the importance of being creative and the writers are quite coy in how they brew. Shawn agrees with their methods.

“Don’t follow me, be creative,” Shawn said. “Put something of yourself in your beer, something new and interesting.”

Shawn strives to brew to a standard he has set for himself. He is very critical of commercial beers and prides himself in trying to outdo them. When he succeeds it is pure bliss for Shawn.

He compared himself to his daughter Clare. When she was learning to climb up steps, she was so proud when she was successful. ‘I did it!’ she would exclaim. Shawn expressed that he feels the same when he brews something great.

His beer style is very traditional and European, though it certainly does not lack creativity.

“That’s the sandbox I like to play in,” said Shawn.

We are not beer experts, simply beer fans so we asked Shawn to provide us with a description of a few of the beers he has on tap at moment. Like we said he knows his stuff…

My Lawn Genome is an attempt to clone Houblon Chouffe, which is pretty unusual because it is a 9% ABV triple that uses Columbus, Saaz to get 60 IBU and then is dry hopped with Amarillo hops. The high bitterness and dry hopping used in making Houblon Chouffe is based on an American IPA. The marriage of the two styles comes off really well. As soon as I tasted it for the first time it was my instant favorite and I started researching how to make it. I had created a recipe when I found another one from a homebrewer who’d visited the La Chouffe brewery a couple times already. Our two recipes were really pretty close, so I just borrowed his hopping schedule to complete the puzzle. Our beer had a little bit more alcohol in it and the dry hopping flavors are just now maturing to make a really great beer. I thought of Houblon Chouffe as a great marriage between the Belgian Trappist and American Craft Brewing traditions. Scott always likes to brew American style beers with American hops and I always brew traditional European beers with imported hops. The beer represented a blending of our two brewing aesthetics, so you can almost say it compelled me to ask Scott to brew it with me. The beer is made from only Pilsner malt and white sugar, bittered with Columbus hops, uses Saaz for flavoring and aroma hops and then is dry hopped with Amarillo. I used the Chouffe yeast (WLP 550) and Scott pitched the Dry English Yeast. Our Lawn Genome3 has an OG of 1.091, F.G. of 1.010 has 60 IBU and is 9.1 ABV

 The Dubble I brewed is a blend of the Chimay Red and Rochefort 6 dubbles. It uses the Rochefort malt bill, the Rochefort hops, but Chimay yeast and has about as much sugar added as Chimay does. The bitterness level (IBU) matches up to both Chimay Red and Rochefort 6 which are nearly identical (18-19 IBU). The resulting beer is much maltier than Chimay, but not as dark and malty as Rochefort 6. The beer is big and malty with plenty of fruit flavors, but the finish is relatively dry so it doesn’t just lay on your pallet…sort of compels you to take another sip. The hops just barely come through in the end almost the way spices do when you do them right. I think I’ve really blended all of the flavors from my favorite Belgian dubbles in this beer. After reading Brew Like a Monk I had a much deeper understanding of how to brew Trappist Style beers. Most of the lessons learned can be seen in this beer compared to my earlier attempts to brew a dubble. My Chimorte Dubbl8tion had an OG of 1.074, FG of 1.013 and ABV of 7.7.

 The Quadruple I brewed is my first use of Candi syrup. “Q4” is also the first Quad I’ve ever brewed. When reading Brew Like a Monk, I found out the Belgian Candi sugar sold in most homebrew shops is not what the Trappist Monks use when they brew. Instead, they use a caramelized sugar syrup that can impart tons of stone fruit flavors. I ordered some of the Amber, Dark and Dark2 online. I tried to match the malt, hops and yeast used to brew Westvleteren 12, which is considered by many to be THE best beer in the world! Not an easy target to hit. I’ve only tasted the original once because it is extremely hard to get unless you go to the brewery yourself. The monks ask you to no resell the beer you buy from them, but one look on e-bay will show you that many people ignore that request. Q4  is very rich and malty. It has flavors of dates, plumbs, cherry and dark chocolate. There is a very small addition of Chocolate malt that gives it that chocolate finish. The dark Candi syrup gives it the date and plumb flavors and the Special B malt adds the cherry flavor. The beer was fermented at up to 85 degrees and I lost 15% of the beer to blow-off because fermentation was so vigorous! The OG is 1.092, FG 1.014, 35 IBU and is 10.3 ABV

Until next time enjoy a few extras from the original shoot .


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