Home Brewer Profile: Thom Fleckenstein
Some men lead lives of quiet desperation. Others, more benignly, become couch potatoes or couch potatoes in waiting, never really wishing to achieve much other than personal safety and their own form of contentment. There’s nothing wrong with that—a lifetime of hard work and raising a family is its own reward. But occasionally you encounter those who are not easily contented, who are filled with curiosity and are a walking invitation to challenges of all sorts. The word retirement is not in their vocabulary.
One such person is Thom Fleckenstein of Ransomville, a fifty-seven-year-old businessman whose interests are a mile wide and a mile deep. For example, in addition to home brewing, Fleckenstein makes a killer barbecue sauce, often featured at weekly family gatherings. On land in the town of Porter he shares with his wife Judy, he raises a herd of fallow deer for personal venison consumption. He also consults on the design of conveyor systems for metal detectors used in the food processing industry, and can often be found white water rafting in Tennessee or North Carolina with his twin twenty-something daughters and others.
Fleckenstein spent a good part of the last decade setting up steel forging and fabrication facilities in India and China that supply parts to the US and Canadian rail car industry. He then came home to explore domestic opportunities in the renewable energy field and is now president of Niagara Wind & Solar, Inc.
We asked Fleckenstein about how home brewing became a part of this whirlwind of activity.
How did you come to begin making beer and why?
I have traveled extensively around the world and have experienced many types of beer including IPAs in India, rice beers in Japan, German beers in China, and ales and lagers throughout Europe and the U.K. My wife, Judy, and I have been to Oktoberfest in Munich—the pinnacle of beer partying! I love beer and I wanted to make some of the various beers I have tasted and enjoyed. Plus you get the satisfaction of drinking something pure and made by your own hands.
How often do you brew?
Well, I do drink a lot of beer—a run will last about twenty-five days, so approximately once a month.
Do you have a special place in your home designated for beer making?
I nudge Judy out of her kitchen and then I proceed to make a mess. She just rolls her eyes and goes back to her quilting.
How many types of beer do you make?
I started my first brew batch by making a clone beer of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The full-body beers are my favorite so that’s what I made first. Currently I am trying an India Pale Ale. This is a heavily hopped beer with very distinct flavors and aroma.
What name-brand beer do you try to replicate?
Let me tell you what I don’t try to make—any beer brewed by the three U.S. majors. They have brainwashed the American public into believing that their brands of beer are real beer. Other than in Japan, you don’t make quality beers when your main ingredient is rice. If you read the history of beers and brewing in America, starting from when the German immigrants started brewing here, you find that the descendent companies’ products would be unrecognizable to the pioneers that started the businesses.
What dishes do you make that go well with your beer?
Just about everything Judy and I cook is great with beer. On the farm we cook and eat a variety of food recipes and cuisines from all parts of the globe. Summertime brings a lot of fresh items from the garden there to the table, such as tomatoes and onions, potatoes, salads, and corn, in addition to fresh northern Canadian walleye from our annual fishing trip. In the fall we have venison from our herd we raise, soups that Judy makes, and the fall vegetables that are harvested. Of course we grill year-round, but that’s another story.
Any special tips/hints for the home-brewer?
At first you feel intimidated. I went to a seminar put on by the Niagara Association of Home-brewers. Then I went to Niagara Traditions Home Brew Store on Sheridan Drive to see what the equipment was all about. A lot of dropped hints later and Christmas morning I was opening my first home brew kit (given to me from my daughters). There are a lot of people out there who will help you get started. A tremendous amount of information is available online also. Two key components of home brewing that need to be carefully watched are cleanliness of all the equipment and making sure your glass is always full. Ein Prosit!