Home Beer Brewing Spawns New Club, Friendships

Dana and Mark Buster are shown with the four-tap kegerator Mark built out of a chest freezer for use with his home brewed beer. Hanging on the nearby post are medals and ribbons he collected for placing first and second in some beer brewing competitions in Colorado. Mark Buster brews beer in his garage. He’s shown with his brewing kettle and the paddle he uses to stir in various ingredients before fermentation begins. Mark Buster shows a handful of barley, which he purchases in bulk from a locally owned homebrew shop. Barley comes in many conditions and flavors, much like coffee beans, which makes it possible to brew beers with many different characteristics. The second step in beer brewing is to drain the water from the barley/water mixture, which leaves a sticky, sweet liquid called wort. The wort is boiled for an hour while hops and perhaps other spices are added. The first step in the brewing process is to add malted barley to water that is then heated, but not to boiling. This causes the barley to break down and release its sugars.

By Susan Thompson

Homebrewing beer has been around for centuries. The introduction of Prohibition in 1920, which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, made homebrewing even more popular. Though Prohibition was repealed in 1933, making your own beer still was illegal until 1978. That’s when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that allows adults to produce wine and beer for personal and family use. 

Since then, homebrewing has grown in popularity across the country. The new Panorama Homebrewers Club is helping introduce the hobby to Lake Panorama residents.  

Mark and Dana Buster lived in a suburb of Denver, Colorado, for five years before moving to Lake Panorama in June 2016. Mark had been brewing beer for a couple of years, and belonged to a homebrewing club. Last spring, Mark used the Nextdoor Lake Panorama online social network to gauge interest in starting a similar club.

While he only found one person actively brewing beer, fellow year-round lake resident Josh Strehle, he got responses from several people interested in learning more. The first meeting of the Panorama Homebrewers was held in May, with nearly monthly meetings since then.

“It’s been a great way for us to meet people here,” says Mark. “We usually have eight to 15 people attend. Most didn’t have any prior experience with homebrewing, but they enjoy craft beer. I’m hoping these beer enthusiasts will turn into beer brewers as well. Having Josh in the group as another experienced and active brewer really helps.”

Being a craft beer enthusiast is one reason Mark got started homebrewing. “He enjoyed researching different types of craft beers, and I thought he might like trying to brew some of his own. So I gave him a brewing kit as a gift,” Dana says.

Mark found it to be the perfect gift. “It combines a lot of the things I love,” he says. “Science, cooking, building things, different types of equipment, and the bonus is beer comes out the other end. There are dozens of varieties of ingredients and hundreds of styles of beer. As a home brewer, you can make whatever you want.”

Once Mark learned the basics of brewing beer in their Colorado home, he joined the Parker Hopaholics brewing club, which met on a regular basis at local brew pubs or homebrewing shops. “Clubs like this are a great way to meet others interested in brewing, and to learn from each other,” he says.

Mark began using more advanced techniques and entering brewing competitions. One of those was his club’s 2016 Spring Intra-Club Competition, which he won with his homemade Belgian Blonde ale. The reward was having his recipe brewed at the 105 West Brewing Company in Castle Rock, Colorado.

On April 20, 2016, 205 pounds of grain were dumped into a stainless steel vat full of hot water. The runoff, called wort, cycled through the brewing system, yeast was added to the resulting 120 gallons, and fermentation began. The Belgian Blonde ale was tapped 16 days later.

Mark stopped in on tapping day. “I thought it was very close to my original, with lots of the Belgian character I love. We brought home four 32-ounce cans of it. Fun times for me,” he says.

A month later, the Busters were settling into their new home on Lodge Cove. The winding path that brought them to Lake Panorama is an interesting story. They both grew up in the southeast Iowa area, near Burlington. While doing home theater installations, Mark created a home automation system that allowed people to use their smart phones to control various systems in their home. He and a partner started a company to market the system, and moved to Colorado to grow the business.

Five years later, the company was acquired by Leviton, a leader in the home security and automation market. Mark was hired as Leviton’s director of cloud services, which allows him to work from home on software development.

With most of their family still in Iowa, Dana started to talk about a move back to the state. “We had never heard of Lake Panorama,” she says. “But I started looking at Iowa lakes, and we liked the fact this one is private. We grew up on the Mississippi River and love boating and fishing. I thought if we could sell our Colorado house and find a spot on water, Mark would be willing to move.”

“We love it here,” Mark says. “I fish all the time, including ice fishing in the winter. We enjoy our pontoon, tying up with friends on the water, and we usually have lots of friends and family visit on the weekends. We’ve been made to feel very welcome here, and quickly made friends with some great folks on the lake.”

A bonus of the family’s move was being able to enroll daughter Kinsey in a smaller school. In Colorado, she attended a middle school that was larger than the entire Panorama Community School district. It was one of three middle schools that feed into a single high school. Now a sophomore at Panorama, Kinsey benefits from small class sizes.

Dana also found a niche in the community. She was hired in March as the Main Street Guthrie Center director. Guthrie Center is one of 52 Iowa communities in the Main Street program. Dana works with a volunteer board of directors and several committees to promote such things as economic vitality and beautification.

“We host special events, such as festivals in our downtown. We started an outdoor movie night this year, and we’ll continue that in 2018. We will be doing some special things for Small Business Saturday November 25, and on December 16 we will have a Candyland-themed holiday event. We try to do as many activities as possible throughout the year to encourage people to enjoy their hometown and shop locally,” Dana says.

The purchase and rehabilitation of the Williams Building on the east end of Guthrie Center’s main drag is a current project. The two unleased street-level commercial spaces are being renovated, and will be available to rent in early 2018. There are plans to renovate the upstairs apartments in the future.

Mark says the beer brewing process requires four main ingredients. First is water, so to ensure high quality water, the couple installed a reverse osmosis system in their home. Second is some sort of grain. Mark uses malted barley, which is the most common base grain in craft beers. “There are lots of options, from caramelized to heavily roasted to lightly malted and more. The type of grain impacts the type of beer produced,” he says. 

Hops, made from the flowers of the hop plant, were originally added to the beer brewing process as an antimicrobial preservative. This third ingredient also has an impact on bitterness, flavor and aroma, and is sold in the form of pellets or whole cones. The final ingredient is yeast, which also comes in many varieties from all over the world, each imparting unique characteristics to the finished product.

To begin, Mark adds malted barley to water in a process known as mashing. This takes about an hour, and involves getting the water hot, but not boiling. This causes the barley to break down and release its sugars. Next the water is drained from the mash. The resulting sticky, sweet liquid is called wort.

The wort is boiled for another hour while hops and perhaps other spices are added. The wort is cooled, drained and filtered, before yeast is added and fermentation begins. Depending on the recipe, the fermentation process can take from a week to a month.

Mark makes beer in five-gallon batches. When he started brewing, he bottled the beer. Later he turned a small chest freezer into a kegerator, which now allows him to have four beers on tap at a time.

So far all the Panorama Homebrewers meetings have been at the Buster home, mostly in the large garage where Mark does his brewing. Sometimes the club brews a beer and discusses the process. At the next meeting, that beer is tapped, tasted and evaluated. Club members often bring a craft beer they enjoy to share and discuss with the group.

For the club’s October meeting, everyone brought a homemade chili, and the products of eight different recipes were dumped together. “It was the best chili I’ve ever had,” Dana says. “And it’s a recipe that can never be reproduced.” Club members also enjoyed the German Oktoberfest beer brewed at the September meeting, plus a pumpkin-flavored dark fall lager Mark brewed earlier.

Club meetings generally are held on a Wednesday or Thursday the second week of each month, with club announcements shared on Nextdoor Lake Panorama. “We would love to have more people involved in homebrewing, especially the full-timers like us at the lake,” Mark says. “It’s an all-season hobby.”  

“We hope to expand the group to include folks from Panora, Guthrie Center and the surrounding area,” Mark says. “One of the best parts of a homebrew club is tasting and sharing everyone’s creations, so the more brewers, the better. That said, you don’t need to be a beer expert to participate. Just come, have fun, make friends and enjoy some homebrewed beer.”

The December meeting will be scheduled soon, and people with of all levels of beer experience are encouraged to participate. For those who aren’t Nextdoor Lake Panorama members, the Busters have started a Facebook group to make the club more accessible to those in neighboring communities. Search under Facebook groups for Panorama Homebrew Club.