Last month’s “underground” home brewers’ event, Brew Ho-Ho, was crammed with self-appointed beer connoisseurs (not terribly unlike myself) looking to sample every pomegranate-infused triple IPA and red-velvet-cake double porter available. With little room to explore, I camped out near Josh Garrett’s Powell Brew House booth, repeatedly sampling his various milk stout concoctions—the best was the vanilla, the strangest was the peanut butter cup.

A trading systems operation manager by day, Garrett has been home brewing from his 1,100-square-foot Bucktown condo since 2009. Having started conservatively with a kit he bought online, Garrett has since upgraded. “I’m currently doing ten-gallon batches. I do ’em in a “keggle”—a keg with a cutoff top—and put that on a turkey fryer out on the balcony. That’s how we do our boils.”

As is common with home brewing, no ingredient is out of the question. If there’s an overabundance of jalapeño peppers lying around, for instance, why not toss a few in the next brew? Garrett knows that experimenting is part of the fun: “Last summer, my friend’s mom had rhubarb in her garden. OK, so what can we do with that? We came up with a strawberry-rhubarb hefeweizen.”

Garrett champions events like Brew Ho-Ho not only because he gets to sling his beers to ladies and gentlemen who appreciate the method; he’s also able to feed off the minds of other DIY beer-making enthusiasts and dig on the setting’s communal vibe. “Brewing is a social thing for me. I enjoy working with friends and getting them interested in the beer-making process and cultivating ideas.”

And what’s Powell Brew House working on currently? “Right now I have a Belgian-style tripel going, and it’s aging on oak cubes over-soaked in Noah’s Mill bourbon—it’s a 114-proof bourbon.”

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