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Sioux City Man Committed to Craft Brewing

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) Ever heard of Dog Days Brown Porter, Skull and Crossbones Extra Pale Ale or Drunk Monk Dopplebock?

If you're scratching your head, then you've never been inside the garage-turned-beer-laboratory of Keith Hawkins.

An employment specialist by day, the Sioux Cityan is a craft beer brewer by night.

"I've always been interested in beer," Hawkins said. "It's been in the past couple of years that I've started making it myself."

It's true that Hawkins has turned his home garage into a beer lover's dream factory.

Behind every cabinet door are bags and containers filled with aromatic grains, yeasts and hops. Below them are pots and plastic containers used to ferment homemade hooch.

Sitting along the side are antiseptically clean bottles that will soon become the final destination for Hawkins' assortment of carbonated concoctions.

"It's fun," Hawkins said of his heady hobby. "Experimenting with different ingredients brings out the geek in you."

Resting inside of drawers are dog-eared copies of magazines offering at-home recipes for professional brewed beers.

"Yeah, I take inspiration from some of these magazines," Hawkins admitted. "But I also like to come up with recipes on my own."

The basic ingredients for any beer are water, malt, hops and yeast. A hopped wort (pronounced "wert," and meaning the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer) contains sugar that will need to be fermented by the brewing yeast in order to produce alcohol.

From this process, Hawkins can introduce additional ingredients to enhance or change the flavoring. For instance, the more hops you use, the more bitter the beer.

A beer aficionado, he's made his fair share of pale ales and ryes but prefers heartier stouts and porters.

"People think if a beer's dark, it's gonna be nasty-tasting," Hawkins said, shaking his head. "But a well-made stout can also produce good head retention, has an excellent mouth feel and creates a nice finish."

Yet, it has taken a good amount of time for one of his beer creations to brew.

"The fermentation process can take up to an entire month," Hawkins said. "And then, it needs to rest in bottles for another two weeks."

So, it can take a month-and-a-half for his beer to go from the drawing board to one's gullet?

According to Hawkins, it's well worth the wait.

"I usually wait an entire two months because that's when the flavor will be at its peak," he maintains.

Well, Hawkins does have enough beers to help him through the waiting period. In fact, he's storing 30-35 cases of his self-created craft beers in his basement and quite a few commercially produced niche beers in his garage mini-fridge.

If this seems like a lot of on-hand beer, it is, especially for a man who doesn't drink much.

"You would think I'd be drinking beer all the time but I don't," Hawkins admitted. "When I do drink beer, I'll take a few sips and then, throw it out."

For Hawkins, the joy comes in discovering all that can be done with a few deceptively simple ingredients.

"Years ago, beer was beer," he said. "Nowadays, people are adding all kinds of things to make their beers more flavorful."

With Oktoberfest around the corner, Hawkins is hoping to incorporate pumpkins into a festive and seasonal home brew.

If that doesn't work out, it's back to his beer-making laboratory.

Surrounded by colorful signs bearing such slogans as "Beer, just supersize it!" and "Save water, drink beer," Hawkins reflected for a moment.

"Some people think this is a crazy hobby to have but I love beer," he said with a shrug.

"When I'm in the mood for it, there's nothing better than beer," Hawkins continued. "And when I get something that I like, I'm always wondering if I can make it myself."

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