Home brewing bunch

Group likes to sample home-made beer


Rachel Segura/Cortez Journal Veteran member Chris Vest discusses glassware while Clyde Howell and Dion Hollenbeck joke around.

Eleven noses hover over drinking glasses, their senses alive as they try to piece together these amazing smells.

A long pause ensues as they swirl, and take a swig. One of the only times this group is silent is when they tip their glasses and savor the taste of beer.

This group knows beer.

The Mesa Verde Mashers is a home brewing club in Cortez. It began with eight members in 2007 and has grown to 28 beer lovers. The core group of brewers, around 10 people, rarely miss a meeting. “Beer geeks” is how they refer to themselves.

The club meets once a month at a different member’s house. They bring their latest home brews, eager for everyone to sample.

The conversation is as thick as a field of hops. And the conversation places beer at the center of the universe. Subjects like beer flavors, beer ingredients and how to make better beer — these are some pretty cool beer geeks.

Virginia Feher is the club’s president. Her husband John was one of the first founding members back in 2007.

“John is the brewer,” Virginia says. Then she provides a rather startling revelation: “I wasn’t interested in beer when I first joined. I joined to have more time with my husband.”

But when beer is the center of the conversation, beer brews a curiosity.

“Over the past couple of years, I have become very interested in beer and the brewing process. I’ve also met some of my best friends here,” she says.

The club has couples, singles, people who don’t brew and people who would want to start. Most come for the camaraderie. Randy and Kathy McKnight were some of the first members. Randy doesn’t view the club as simply a place to talk beer, but a place to unwind with others with similar tastes.

“The beauty of our group is that we are not divided by politics,” Randy says. “We come together because of a common interest and we have fun. We don’t let the other stuff get in the way.”

This large group of friends is happy to sit around, taste new beer and talk about their lives. But the conversation always returns to what’s in the glass.

These beer geeks know beer and everything connected to beer.

Chris Vest, an original member, talks about which glasses accentuate beers, their traditions and history. He picks up a fat, round, stemmed glass that tapers off at the top to form a waist-like opening.

“This glass is more ideal for drinking beer because when you pour it, the beer expands at the bottom and all the flavors come to the top so you can really get your nose in there and smell it.”

His knowledge is overwhelming. As a part of the geek squad, it should be.

The mashers meetings are mostly about home brew presentations and evaluations.

New member Joe Strunce, brought two home brews to his first meeting. A brown ale and a saison — a pale ale. Strunce, a Mancos resident, has been a home brewer for four years. He found the club because he wants to extend his brewing to include all-grain brews.

“All the members are great,” Strunce says. “They were very helpful and kept saying if you need anything we can help you. It’s more than a club. There’s a great social aspect to it.”

Beer has long been a conduit for bringing people together.

Strunce is eager to learn from the experts. He sought advice on ingredients and tips on bottling. Lucky for him, Dion Hollenbeck is the tech guy when it comes to brewing.

Hollenbeck, another original member, also belonged to a brewing club in San Diego before moving to Cortez. He has won numerous first-place awards from the American Home Brewing Association and over his 19 years of brewing, he’s collected high-tech pieces of brewing equipment and a lifetime of knowledge.

Even with all the knowledge, there’s no such thing as brewing secrets.

“This club is about sharing,” Hollenbeck says. “If I give a recipe of mine to someone else, they wouldn’t be able to duplicate it because everyone’s brewing process and equipment is different. So there is no need for secrets.”

The club thrives on helping and educating members. When Clyde Howell joined around 2008, he introduced the mystery beer, a chance for members to up their palate by guessing a beer without knowing anything about it.

Randy McKnight knows first hand about beer brewing misconceptions. Sometimes what is conceived as a mistake is actually a success.

“I had a brew that I thought came out wrong so I had Dion try it,” he explains. “And he tells me, this is a great flandering red, but it was supposed to be a porter.”

Learning from mistakes is rewarding for this group. There is nothing more tormenting than throwing out a bad batch. They take the bad with the good because they don’t like beer — they love beer.

Hollenbeck usually kegs all of his brews but at their latest meeting he presented a bottled prunella. He tells the members it was an attempt to reproduce the first prunella, which was burned during the process to create a thick, smoky flavor.

“This is the best of the best,” Howell says proudly.

They talk about the characteristics of a prunella as they fill their glasses.

The eleven noses drop to eleven glasses. Deep breaths commence and another silence falls on the room.

Time to taste.



Rachel Segura/Cortez Journal Dion Hollenbeck shows newest club member Joe Strunce the bottling mechanism he created himself that keeps the beer from losing carbonation and going flat.


Rachel Segura/Cortez Journal Club president, Virginia Feher, tastes an amber ale made by Randy McKnight.


Rachel Segura/Cortez Journal Clyde Howell presents his home brew to the club at the Mesa Verde Mashers meeting.