Dean Kinkoph slides me a paper with long calculations and percentages written in neat rows – surely the most mathematical recipe I have ever seen. The heading reads, Citra Cascade Imperial IPA.
“It’s about consistency,” he says, pointing to the plan for his newest concoction.
The smell of another homemade concoction (roasted chicken with some sort of cream sauce) drifts from the kitchen to the dining room table where we are sitting, sipping on a rather potent ale (also Kinkoph’s creation).
“Now, microbreweries have trouble being consistent,” says Kinkoph. “It’s hard, without all the bells and whistles, but I want to be consistent.”
Chemist by day, brewer by night
At 39, the chemistry teacher at Stow-Munroe Falls High School has been brewing in his home for the last five years.
He invites me downstairs, where I imagine him, like some bibulous chemist, hunched over bubbling beakers. But instead of a laboratory, I find an ordinary, furnished basement, with his two sons’ toys scattered on the floor and a ping-pong table smack in the center of the room.
I’m reminded of Robert Hernandez and Dale Dorn, co-owners of Akron’s Aqueduct Brewing Co. Like most professional brewers around here, they began experimenting in garages before opening their business.
It’s the type of scene that illustrates how big dreams are born in small places – in this case, amid chicken dinners, children’s toys, ping-pong balls and chemistry textbooks.
Kinkoph lugs a heavy load onto the ping-pong table – a 10-gallon plastic cooler, or “mash tun,” rigged with a nozzle or “nipple.” Next comes a large, stainless steel boiling kettle pot with a propane burner, a copper coil “wort chiller,” two 6-gallon glass jugs, and several bottles and caps.
As these materials make their appearance, I think to myself, Here’s one science experiment he won’t be trying out in the classroom.
He excitedly walks me through the brewing process, explaining the mixing of grains and water, the “sparging,” or extracting of wort from the mash, the boiling of wort, the addition of hops and flavors, the cooling and chilling, the fermenting in the glass jug, the pitching of yeast, and the bottling and capping.
It’s a remarkably complex process – one he, like so many others, has taught himself. He is no doubt driven by his scientific bent, his penchant for discovery and creation.
“I love to create,” he says. “I love to cook, to make new recipes and put things together. Before I brewed beer, I made wine for 10 years. I even used to be in an orchestra, where I met my wife and made music.”
So far, he has made several styles of beer, including stouts, wheat beers, ambers and lagers, but his favorite is the India Pale Ale, and he likes to pack a punch.
“I love intense, huge flavors,” he says, naming Lagunitas Brewing Co. and Hoppin’ Frog Brewery as special favorites.
The difference is quality – and attention to detail
Kinkoph started brewing five years ago with the aid of kits and software programs. He spent a lot of time at The Brew Kettle in Strongsville, where customers can brew their own beer with the help of professionals.
Two years ago, he began purchasing his own equipment and ingredients. Now he is going back to the basics, to the “grassroots,” he says, paying scrupulous attention to every aspect of the process – down to the most minute chemical constituents.
“Anyone can follow a recipe or a kit,” he says. “But I’m convinced good brewers have looked deeper into the beer making process and know about the chemistry of what is going on at the microscopic level.”
Those who know Kinkoph and have tried his beer commend his meticulous attention to detail.
“Dean makes some high-quality beer,” says Dan Syvanych (24), a fellow teacher at Stow-Munroe High Falls High School. “He pays an extreme amount of attention to the detail of his craft, and you can tell that brewing beer is truly his passion. I have no doubt his beer would do well on the market.”
Jeff Naugle (37), another teacher at the high school, agrees.
“When talking with Dean about his brew,” he says, “you can hear his passion for the entire process and the care he takes from start to finish.”
Keeping a tradition alive
Kinkoph is a big man, a former football player at Baldwin Wallace University, with big passions and even
bigger ambitions. But he’s careful to take small steps toward his goal of professional brewing.
“I would love to brew for a living, but I figure I need about five more years to refine my craft,” he says, adding that he wants to get more beers under his belt before he opens up shop. He worries, though, that he has “jumped on the craft beer bandwagon” too late, thinking that perhaps in five years, the fad will have faded.
But after speaking with Hernandez and others in the business, there is no sign of things slowing down anytime soon.
Akron in the late 1800s had a reputation for brewing, thanks to Burkhardt Brewing Co., Renner Brewing Co. and others. Now this resilient town, which continues to reinvent itself (from rubber to polymers and corrosion engineering) is witnessing a resurgence in beer making. Top-notch breweries such as Thirsty Dog and Hoppin’ Frog garner national, even international attention.
And with more than 100 breweries operating in Ohio, this trend seems to be continuing to grow.
As I speak with local brewers, and with Kinkoph, watching him proudly show me his collection of beers, I cannot help but think that there is something distinctly Akron about home brewing. It’s just another example of doing things “the hard way on purpose,” to borrow the title phrase from David Giffels’ newest book.
There’s a sincerity in it, a pride and purity – like the water in Akron, which all local brewers know is some of the cleanest, best water around for making beer.
“I have always enjoyed the feeling of creating something – something that is yours, and the pride you obtained from knowing that you made it,” Kinkoph shares. “But not just something – something of quality, something that took time and energy and expertise not everybody has.”
There’s something distinctly Akron, in turn, about Dean Kinkoph. Industrious, proud, passionate, turning the cogs in his own way, in the bowels of a basement – dreaming big in small places, and dirtying his hands in the things he loves.
He’s building things, as Akron always has done – whether rubber or plastic or beer.
Not enough room on the bandwagon? I think he’ll fit just fine.