SALEM – While other people are dreaming of sugar plums, Carrie and Justin Cox are dreaming of hops, grains and beer.
The Salem couple are home brewers. Their “Izvinite Babushka” dark beer not only won first place in an area craft beer festival. The Russian Imperial Stout also won Best of Show.
The win at the second annual Brew Do in Blacksburg earned them the opportunity to brew their beer this month at Bull & Bones brewery in Blacksburg. “It should be finished in time for Bull & Bones Brewhaus & Grill to release it for Valentine’s Day,” Justin said.
Translated, their beer’s name means “Excuse me, Grandmother” in Russian, they said.
“My stepmother is from Russia and his grandmother speaks Russian,” Carrie added.
Explaining the differences between types of beer, she pointed out a stout has more roasted grains. “It’s thicker, so to speak, and darker than a brown ale. Some ales you can see through, but not ours.”
The couple belong to the local club of home brewers, the Star City Brewers Guild, whose members are happy for the Coxes’ big win in the Blacksburg competition and chance to have their beer brewed for release.
Not bad for what started out as an anniversary gift.
Carrie gave her husband a kit from which he brewed an amber ale. “It had an extract, a malt syrup that you boiled and added hops,” she explained. Now they grow their own small batch of hops in their garden at their home.
They make a variety of beer for their own tasting pleasure.
“I just brewed an Irish stout. I used an Irish yeast instead of an American yeast. The stout will not be nearly as strong as our Russian one,” Justin said, explaining the Irish stout will have about 5 to 6 percent alcohol content while their Russian Imperial Stout has 9 percent alcohol.
After Justin and Carrie blend particular grains to each of their individual tastes, mash them, add malt, yeast and other ingredients, they put the mixture in giant glass water jugs called carboys underneath a table in their dining room, and let it ferment.
Later the beer is bottled and placed in a cabinet to age.
“Justin has his style of beer that he likes, and I have mine,” Carrie said. “He likes ‘hoppier’ beers that are more bitter – India pale ales, for instance.
Among her favorites are Ruby’s Deep Winter Stout, and a Christmas beer they call Decadence that has, among other ingredients, cocoa powder and vanilla beans.
The couple’s two sons – 6-1/2-year-old Shannon and 4-year-old Tristan – help out by grinding the grains for the beer, but don’t taste the finished product.
“We don’t let the kids drink beer. Tristan won’t even taste root beer, because of the name,” Carrie said.
Their dream one day is to open a brewery, and they even have a name: “Soul One Brewery.”