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Pa. men find the ticket with home brewing

August 08, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Eyes closed, smacking his lips, a grin spreads across the face of Stuart Sipes after sampling his friends' latest brew.

"Man, I'm telling you, you guys are good," said Sipes, of St. Thomas, Pa., in between sips of a home-brewed American wheat ale.

A centuries-old process starting in what historians believe was the early Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, home-brewed beer has gained a new-found popularity internationally and has found its way to Chambersburg through friends Steve Leidig and Tom Albrecht.


"I haven't brewed a bad one yet," said Leidig, 30, a nurse who started his home-brewing hobby last October.

Albrecht, 32, a production supervisor at Grove Worldwide, teamed up with Leidig in January with the reasoning that two people can make more beer than one.

"We're almost to the point to start making our own labels," Albrecht said.

For now, initials written in black marker on the bottle caps identifies the batches of beer bottled in an assortment of donated returnables.

"The slowest and most boring part of the process is cleaning the bottles," Albrecht said, plunging a brush into a bottle filled with a chlorine and boiling water mixture.

The two transform Leidig's kitchen into a makeshift brewery for the process.

The floor is lined with five-gallon plastic buckets, pots and pans take up each stove burner, clear plastic tubing is in the sink, and bottles take up nearly every inch of counter space.

From the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards comes a variety of uniquely packaged ingredients with unusual looks and smells - hops, brewer's yeast, dried malt extract, Irish moss and priming sugar.

Their latest brew, named Felix the Cat's Dark Cherry Lager, calls for four pounds of cherries.

Leidig pulled the recipe from a collection he keeps in a folder after printing them out from a home-brewers website on the Internet.

The two have only repeated a couple of their favorite recipes. They like to brew something different each time and have tried a number of varieties including Canadian ales, Irish stouts and lagers.

"I like the reaction you get from people. They take a drink, get a smile on their face and say, `you made this?' " Albrecht said.

With several batches under their belts, the brewing process only takes them about an hour.

Though their brewers "bible" is always close by, the two rely mostly on memory as they go through the process and they don't get bogged down with technicalities.

"We don't get scientific. We just brew it and if it tastes good, we drink it," Leidig said.

Once the beer is brewed, it has to ferment for a week before it's bottled. Then it's stored for another month before it's ready to drink.

"I love that sound. Full beer bottles," Leidig said, after bottling, capping, labelling and packing the 51 beers from a batch they brewed last week.

The results of their toil and trouble over home-brewing has earned Leidig and Albrecht a new respect from friends, relatives and co-workers and they've managed to spoil themselves.

"I won't drink the cheap beers now unless that's all there is," Albrecht said.

"It's nice to come home after a hard day and crack open a home-brew," Leidig added.

The two said they'd eventually like to open a combination micro-brewery and restaurant.

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