Three Minutes on a Park Bench With Christopher Frey

Did he say Chips and Salsa ale?

Saline's Christoper Frey at the Original Gravity Brewing Company in Milan, Michigan
Saline's Christoper Frey at the Original Gravity Brewing Company in Milan, Michigan

Christopher Frey’s resume is nothing short of impressive—and that's just the beer-related part of it. 

Frey may labor at Ford by day, but he’s deeply embedded in the Michigan and national brewing world seemingly every other hour of the day. He's an elected member of the American Homebrewers Association’s Governing Committee (chairperson from 2008-2012), serves on the Brewers Associations Board of Directors, co-chairs the 2014 American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewing Conference volunteer efforts (4,000 homebrewers from around the world will meet in Grand Rapids in June) and serves as “chief anarchist and benevolent overlord for the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, the oldest (est. 1986) and largest (220 members) homebrewing club in Michigan,” where he is treasurer with his wife, Kris.

But wait there’s more—he’s also starting a craft and homebrewing consultation business this year called Fantasy Fermentation. And that brings us to perhaps the most remarkable feat of all:

“I have been homebrewing for 20 years and have brewed 400 different batches. The fact that my waistline is still 36” is a marvel of my metabolism.” (Hey, bottle that and sell it!)

We wanted to know more about this resident of Saline, Michigan, by way of New England, so we asked Chris to answer seven probing questions about his life, his brews and his passion for fermentation.

Patch: Homebrewing, to me, seems very complex. Does that ring true or is it actually pretty straightforward?

Frey: There is a popular expression in the hobby that states, “It’s not rocket science…unless you want it to be.” Anyone who can make spaghetti can brew a beer. Well, almost. Most people start by using pre-made extract kits. They add these liquid or dry malt extracts to a measured amount of water, boil for an hour while adding the desired hops at specific intervals, and then chilled to room temperature. This is then transferred into a fermentation vessel that has been sanitized, the specific yeast strain is added and 2-3 weeks later it is beer—time to bottle. The devil is in the details, but it can be as simple as that—it is how I got started.

Some move on to what is known as all-grain brewing. Instead of using the pre-made kits, brewers begin to add colors to their palette by choosing their own specific grain mixtures. This allows for more creativity and control of the final product. But unlike extract brewing, which can take 2 or 3 hours to make a five gallon (2 cases) batch, all grain can be a 6- to 7-hour endeavor. The rewards are greater, and I simply elected to create a system that allows me to make 10 gallons at a time.

P: What's something about you as a person that would surprise the people who know you best? (Don't be shy! This is only going to tens of thousands of people's inboxes and the entire World Wide Web.)

F: I hated any beer until I moved to Michigan from the East Coast when I was 36. God awful stuff, but back then I was only exposed to Budmilloors.

P: Tell us something you love about Saline.

F: Being from New England, I loved the small town feel, the friends I have made with several of our neighbors and the old Victorian home Kris and I call home. And I love our garbage men—they have never failed us in 15 years!

P: I read that there are quite a few colleagues at Ford who are involved in the brewing scene. Is there any connection between building cars and brewing beer?

F: I like to say that making your own beer is a combination of really geeky talents that provide an end result that is really cool—good tasting beer that you can say you made on your own. Ford supports about 45 different social clubs through the Ford Employee Recreation Association (FERA) and I joined the Fermental Order of Renaissance Draughtsmen (F.O.R.D.) homebrewing club shortly after I had my beer “epiphany.” I think due to the large concentration of engineers in the automotive world, they are attracted to the rocket science aspect of the hobby. Lots of tinkering and customization is the norm.

P: The art and practice of fermentation seems to be coming more and more popular. Have you tried to create things like kombucha?

F: Ah yes, Zymurgistic (look it up—it is at the end of your dictionary) pursuits has been an expanding field. While I don’t personally make kombucha, I am deep into exploring making meads, cysers, methaglins, and a number of other honey, fruit and other less well known fermentables. Additionally, I age in barrels, on fruits, spices and virtually anything that strikes my palette as appealing. Peanut butter & chocolate stout? Did that. Chips and Salsa ale—makes you thirsty for more. Berries from Makielski’s, Wasams and the Saline river with honey, water and wine yeast? Delicious. I keep threatening to ferment with the Canna bulbs we dig up every fall from our gardens like the indigenous Indians in the Andes do, but with so many other projects, I have not gotten around to it.

P: What's the biggest misconception people have about brewing or brewmasters?

F: That we are arrogant snobs that would rather die of thirst than drink mega swill. Well, no, that is pretty spot on. I guess if you consider than mankind has been brewing beer for well over 5,000 years, it truly doesn’t have to be complicated as some people think it is.

P: What's your brewing Waterloo — a recipe that you just can't seem to conquer?

F: The ever-elusive Saison. It’s is a storied style that originated in the fields during harvest throughout Europe several hundred years ago. Because these were brewed for the help to drink while they worked (daily rations were 5-6 quarts a day!), they were never the same. The spices, yeasts and grain bills can be all over the map and finding the perfect one…eludes me.

"Three Minutes on a Park Bench With..." is a feature that lets you peek inside the lives of people who share your patch of Earth, whether its your street, your town or state. They may be firefighters, moms, bagpipers or brewmasters, but they all have one thing in common—passion. They love what they do and where they do it. Actual park bench optional so if you know a great person for this space drop us a line at kathleen@patch.com.  
johnj February 12, 2014 at 04:34 PM
Bring a brewery to DTN!!! :)
Jeff Holmquist February 14, 2014 at 02:12 PM
Katie, WONDERFUL article and interview! I'm aware of who "Christopher ("Crispy") Frey is. I saw him again at the November Ann Arbor Brewer's Guild's monthly social meeting. Chris is truly a wonderful guy! As so many are, that are members of this great club. He's a man for all seasons, to be sure. The world is always so much better off with people like Chris! It restores your faith.
Katie Ryan O'Connor February 22, 2014 at 12:27 PM
Thank you Jeff. I really enjoyed getting to know Chris!


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