Kent: a Mecca of microbrews

Darren D’Altorio

Locals share experiences with brewing their own beer collections.

Kyle Morog is typical. He studies managerial marketing at Kent State. He has a humble, rented abode in the Eagle’s Landing apartment complex. He has a girlfriend and a guitar, and he cannot start his day without coffee.

One thing sets him apart from most college students, however. When Morog is feeling thirsty for some beer, he can reach into his fridge and grab a bottle from his homebrew collection.

Making beer has been a part of Morog’s life since childhood. Growing up, his dad brewed beer as a hobby, turning the family home into a microbrewery and subsequently exposing Morog to the art and culture of making beer.

Now, at 24, making beer is a passion for Morog. The fresh-bread smell of boiling grains and hops regularly creep under the crack of his apartment door, filling the hallway with the scent of soon-to-be beer.

This past Sunday was a brew day for Morog. Like a surgeon preparing for work, he assembled all the necessary ingredients and utensils to make a continental pilsner, a lightly colored beer with mild hop flavors and a crisp finish. The ingredients he used were mostly from a homebrew kit. To give the beer more flavor and higher alcohol content, Morog added an extra pound of dry malt to the recipe. He bought the kit at Abruzzo’s Wine and Homebrew in Brimfield for $31. It will yield 50 to 60 beers, he said.

“This is one of my favorite beers to make,” he explained while pouring two and a half gallons of distilled water into the brew kettle, a witch’s cauldron of sorts where the raw grains, malts and hops slowly simmer and boil during the brewing process. “It’s a very drinkable beer.”

A Drinkers’ Destination

Tom Bell, a Wadsworth resident, wandered into 101 Bottles Monday afternoon on a mission. It was his first time in the store. A friend told him he could find any beer he wanted there. The beer he wanted was Bell’s Brewing Company’s “Expedition Stout,” a beer brewed with dark chocolate malts that packs a 10.5 percent alcohol by volume punch.

“The taste,” he said. “Beer is all about the taste.”

Bell is also a home brewer. His quest for taste is of great importance to his creative process.

“I try to clone any beer I like at home, usually stouts and IPAs,” he said. “I want to master making one or two beers.”

Bell found what he was looking for at 101 Bottles and bought two six-packs of it. Justin Clemens, the store’s owner, cashed Bell out, told him to enjoy the beers and thanked him for his business.

“It’s our niche,” Clemens said. “We have more than 600 beers. People drive from Cleveland, Canton and Akron to buy their beer here. Some people spend hundreds of dollars stocking up, because they know they can’t find what they want around them.”

Clemens understands the struggle of finding good beer. He lives in downtown Cleveland, and he said nothing in Cleveland comes close to the beer selection that can be found in Kent.

“You wouldn’t think in a town of 25,000 people you’d find the best beer selection,” he said. “But a lot of beers find their way here.”

He said he thinks the mix of people in Kent make it a dynamic city for beer consumption. He noted the range of palates and their corresponding demographics, from the professors and graduate students who buy the “extreme brews” to the undergrads who collectively consume “hundreds of cases” of Natural Light and Keystone every weekend.

Watching people transition from typical college beer consumers to more sophisticated beer drinkers excites Clemens.

“It’s fun watching the Natty drinker become a Dogfish Head drinker,” he said. “As the undergrads get older, they migrate to more sophisticated beers.”

The Kitchen Brewery

By 8 p.m. Sunday, Morog’s kitchen was fully transformed into a brewery. The brew kettle, which appeared gargantuan on the small apartment stovetop, was now home to “wort,” the first milestone in the brewing process.

Morog explained wort as being like a tea. Distilled water is heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the crushed grains and malts are put into cheesecloth, submerged into the water and left to soak for 20 minutes. When 20 minutes is up, the grains are removed and the water is now wort.

Morog’s girlfriend Holly Miller, junior language arts major, joined the festivities by this time. They have a special bond with brewing beer.

Morog said he suggested brewing beer for one of their first dates because it was a chance for them to spend time together, talk and cooperate with one another to make the beer.

“It was memorable for me,” Miller said. “No one asked me to make beer before. The experience definitely stood out.”

“Plus, after you make the beer, it puts you in the mood to drink beer,” Morog added.

After the wort was made, the process got technical.

“You have to make sure everything is sanitary,” Morog said while he soaked a wooden spoon in a sanitary rinse in the sink. “Any foreign microbes or bacteria can taint the batch and stop the fermentation process.”

Timing is essential in this part of the brewing process. The wort is brought to a rolling boil and the hops are added. Morog said the hops give beer its bittersweet characteristics and aromas. The intensity of the flavors and scents can vary based on how many and what kinds of hops are used. The continental pilsner used three kinds of hops — bittering hops, flavoring hops and aroma hops.

The bittering hops were added first and boiled into the wort for 40 minutes. The flavoring hops were added next and boiled for five minutes, followed by the aroma hops, which were boiled for 10 minutes. When all the hops are done boiling, the mixture must cool down to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This is the part where patience is needed,” Morog said while he placed the brew kettle into the deep snow outside his apartment.

he Homebrew Way of Life

Matt Pruszynski worked as an engineer in Akron for 10 years. But about seven and a half years ago, he quit his engineering job to follow his life passion: making beer and wine at home.

Now, Pruszynski, a fifth-generation brewer and winemaker in his family, owns Abruzzo’s Wine and Homebrew Supply in Brimfield.

He said the advantages of brewing beer at home are plentiful.

“You get to meet a ton of great people,” he said. “When you teach someone how to make beer, and you see their eyes light up, you take pride in what you are doing.”

For Pruszynski, pride is what making beer is all about.

“When you are a home brewer, it’s not about drinking and getting drunk,” he said. “It becomes an educational thing, a culture thing, it’s a chance to get together with friends, brew two or three beers and have conversations.”

Abruzzo’s mission, carried out by Pruszynski, is all about educating and sharing the knowledge of crafting beer and wine with the community. The store offers free classes every Saturday for brewing beer and making wine at home. Not only can people come to Abruzzo’s and learn how to make beer and wine, they can also go to Pruszynski’s house prior to the class and sample beers he’s made.

He said the brewing culture found in Kent is making the city a destination for the industry. People come from Pennsylvania and all over Ohio to attend his classes and buy supplies for their own creations.

Pruszynski said the diversity in his customers and the joy they get from making beer keep him excited.

“I’ve seen people who are anal about brewing and getting their recipe just right,” he said. “And I’ve seen people who just want to make cheap alcohol. But either way, when you are making something you enjoy and sharing that with friends, it’s all about pride in the product.”

Sharing is Caring

Morog brought the kettle of hopped wort in from the cold. He asked Miller to grab a siphon tube from the sanitized sink water. She siphoned the wort from the kettle into the sanitized, airtight fermenting bucket. She cringed a little bit as the unfermented mixture hit her lips and started flowing freely.

After the wort is done siphoning, another two and a half gallons of distilled, room temperature water is added, making it five gallons of beer-to-be. There is one more magic ingredient to add, the pitch yeast, before it starts fermenting.

“We have to be careful with the yeast,” Morog said. “It’s temperature sensitive. If it’s too hot, the yeast will die and it won’t ferment properly.”

He double checked the temperature of the water and slowly dissolved the yeast into the wort, stirring it thoroughly. Miller grabbed the lid for the bucket and sealed the wort, using all her force and body weight to snap the lid in place, ensuring an airtight seal.

Morog prepared the fermentation indicator, which is a plastic tube filled with water that gets affixed to the top of the bucket. He said when the fermentation starts, carbon dioxide is emitted, causing the water to bubble. When the water in the indicator stops bubbling, fermentation is done. He said it takes about a full week to ferment. He slid the bucket under the kitchen table, out of the light.

“Light is bad for the beer,” he said. “That’s why beer bottles are brown. The cooler and darker it is, the better the beer will be.”

Miller and Morog moved from the kitchen to the living room, taking seats next to one another on the sofa. He grabbed his acoustic guitar and jammed on a blues riff while she sat smiling, taking in the sounds. After a few minutes, he put the guitar down and picked up a mug of beer from the coffee table. The glass mug had a metal plate on the side engraved with the words “Morog Drinking Company.” He sipped a refreshing gulp and set the mug down, turning his attention back to Miller. Beneath the kitchen table, the day’s efforts started coming alive.

Contact features reporter Darren D’Altorio at