CINCINNATI -- A group of Cincinnati professional brewers and homebrewers is banding together to honor one of their fallen brothers with a special beer.
The Bloatarian Brewing League (BBL) announced to its members Monday that John Zeller succumbed to cancer.
BBL vice president Ray Snyder said the group brewed an IPA (India Pale Ale) at Listermann Brewing along with several local brewers who used to be homebrewers and friends of Zeller.
Snyder said he came up with the idea to do a beer in honor of Zeller about a month ago and that Listermann head brewer Kevin Moreland was excited to do what he could. Scott LaFollette of Blank Slate Brewing, Mitch Dougherty of Ei8ht Ball Brewing and Jennifer Hermann of Market Garden Brewing in Cleveland also were happy to help as they had known Zeller, as well.
Moreland said he met Zeller when he first joined the Bloatarians as a homebrewer. He said he was just getting into all-grain brewing and was starting to make an IPA (one of Zeller’s favorite styles,) when Zeller struck up a friendship with him.
“John has just been one of those guys who has been at everything. If the Bloatarians are having a meeting, a brew-out … John was always involved in trying to help people build systems better. He was really on the engineer side of things,” Moreland.
Snyder said they hope the money raised from the beer sales will pay for at least a couple months of retirement home care for Zeller’s 93-year-old mother.
The Bloatarians said Zeller was an engineer by trade and was highly active in his San Diego homebrew club before moving to Cincinnati. He had been a BBL member for more than 15 years. Zeller also served in the Vietnam War.
Snyder said Zeller was one of the first to find ways to bring professional brewer automation into the homebrew world.
“There are several types of home brewers; there are the creative/artsy kind that are good with recipes -- kinda like chefs -- and then there are the gadget-oriented kind and he was definitely the latter,” Snyder said. “He had homemade gadgetry of all kind of crazy stuff going on in his brewery. He would share that knowledge with the club so he was very well known and very well liked.”
In particular, Zeller developed a stir plate for yeast cultivation that operated off of a computer fan and a rare earth magnet.
Snyder said such a device usually costs a couple hundred dollars from a laboratory supply store but Zeller was able to make one for about $30. He said dozens of people across the city have versions of Zeller’s device.
Zeller also introduced the use of vacuum gauges for the homebrewing process locally. Those are used during the “mashing” process to tell whether the mash is compacting. (It’s a problem that homebrewers are on the lookout for because it adversely affects their beer.) The gauges actually only cost a few dollars that Snyder said “no one but John would have thought to do.”
Moreland is among the many former and current Bloatarians with one of Zeller’s stir plates.
“He’s just a guy that you won’t forget,” Moreland said. “He had that personality that when he came into a room you definitely knew he was there. He was definitely a talker. He was special.”
Zeller wasn’t just all about the gadgets, either. He won awards for his American Pilsners, German Pilsners, and was especially know for his IPA (India Pale Ale.)
Snyder said the reason Zeller was so well known for his IPA amongst the homebrewers comes from a “legendary” contest in the club.
“One of the epic smack downs of all time was between John and another member, Kevin Hardman. They were talking smack one night debating who was the better brewer and we right then and there that we would write out a contract and make them sign it. One would be declared the brewer and the other something I can’t say on TV,” Snyder said.
Zeller went on to win the competition and the story has lived on ever since.
Moreland said one of the beer styles he never got to do with Zeller was an IPA. So getting to do that as a sendoff for Zeller is especially meaningful for him.
The brewers said the beer they are making involves some of the Pilsner ingredients that Zeller would use for his award-winning beers and infused that with ingredients from an IPA recipe.
The beer uses Pilsner malt, corn and honey malt, (a particular favorite of Zeller’s,) and some rye malt. It will use German Magnum hops, (largely used in Pilsners,) and finished the beer with American Centennial and Palisade hops. It will also be dry-hopped with Amarillo and Centennial hops.
Moreland said the brew team at Rhinegeist Brewing donated several pounds of their Amarillo hops to help get the beer done. The beer will be hop-forward but will let the characteristics of some of Zeller’s favorite malts shine through.
The beer will be sold at Listermann’s, at the Christian Moerlein Lager House, private ceremonies, Bloatarian meetings and hopefully at some of Zeller’s favorite bars. Those dates and events will be announced once the beer is finished.
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