Sal Emma has been writing professionally since 1987, when he worked as a
radio news reporter at the New Jersey Seashore. He has been brewing his own
since early 1995.
Sal is a member of the North American Guild of Beer Writers. He was
associate editor of Cape May County Magazine. In addition to Brew Your Own,
Sal's work has appeared in the Press of Atlantic City, Cape May County
Herald, Cape May County Gazette, Ocean City Sentinel Ledger, Cape May Star
and Wave and other regional newspapers. He is a past contributor to
Monitoring Times, an internationally-distributed magazine devoted to radio
A Taste For Real Beer
Sal says he never really liked beer until visiting England in 1985. "That
trip changed everything, once I got a taste for draft English Ale," he
recalls. Unfortunately, upon his return home, he was met with frustration.
Pale, bubbly, lightly-hopped lager dominated every shelf of the liquor
stores. "There were few progressive New Jersey beer distributors back in
those days. Microbrewed beer was pretty much unheard of. I remember finding
a four-pack of Whitbread in my local bottle shop. I dug deep into my
pocket, paying more than the price of a German six-pack. I was happy with
my find until I opened the first bottle. It was stale, lifeless and boring.
"I pretty much gave up on finding anything more interesting than Bass and
didn't drink much beer until the micro revolution of a few years later. I
found a few labels I liked, but never liked the prices I had to pay for
them. But I paid, when the beer was worth it!"
Sal's Wicked Lager
In the summer of 1994, a trip to his favorite hang-out, New York City,
ended up pointing him in the direction of homebrewing -- though he didn't
know it at the time.
"We were waiting in line to pay for our stuff at Zabar's, New York's
gourmet food emporium, when I noticed they had English brewsacks hanging
from the ceiling," he says. He mentioned to his wife, Beth, that he would
like to grab one of them before they got to the register.
"Gears were turning in Beth's head. She talked me out of it, convincing me
that I did not want to schlep the thing around the city. So I did not buy
it." Her ulterior motive was to buy one for Sal for the coming Christmas
"On Christmas morning, I was opening the stuff in my stocking and unwrapped
a bottle of Pete's Wicked Lager. Beth had covered the word 'Pete's' in
adhesive tape and written 'Sal's' in its place. I was perplexed. She
explained that she tried to find a brewsack for me but was unsuccessful and
was never able to coordinate having one picked up at Zabar's. It was sort
of an I.O.U. Christmas present," he says.
He didn't think much more about it, until CompuServe Magazine appeared in
his mailbox, shortly after Christmas. Tucked in the back was a short
feature about CompuServe's homebrew forum (GO BEER, if you are interested).
"I joined the forum and started lurking. Then I told my "Sal's Wicked
Lager' story and asked the forum membership what to do next. Everyone
seemed happy that I had not bought the brewsack! They gave me the run down
on more traditional forms of equipment, ingredients and suppliers. A few
phone calls later I was on my way," Sal says.
From Kits To All-Grain To Kegs
"I have only made one kit beer, that was my first, a John Bull ale. It was
quite nice, really. My beer store advised ignoring the recipe and throwing
in three pounds of extra malt and an ounce or so of finish hops. It was
very drinkable and, hey, it was mine!" he says.
For the next year or so he brewed with extract and specialty grains, vowing
he would never bother with all the fuss and muss of all-grain brewing.
WRONG. Soon, he was doing it from scratch, but still bottling it.
He also vowed that I would never bother with all the fuss and muss of
kegging. WRONG. "Now I keg every batch I make, unless it is brewed for
gift-giving at holiday times," Sal confesses.
Some other broken promises: he vowed he would never brew a batch of Irish
stout. Guinness in draft cans is so good, why bother? That was until BYO
was gracious enough to send him to Dublin to write a feature on the
brewery. "That trip inspired me to try my hand at a batch of stout. It was
very, very tasty. But it wasn't Guinness!" he laughs.
Sal spends most of his brewing time trying to perfect his favorite style,
ESB, Extra Special Bitter. "I'm an ale man, body and soul. I brewed a few
lagers just to prove to myself that I could do it, but I'm over that phase
and devoted to warm fermentation now," he vows.
Another vow. Just like he vowed he would never mess with liquid yeast, mill
his own grain or abandon his kitchen stove for more dramatic, outdoor
wort-boiling devices. WRONG.
Hitting The Nail On The Head
"Only recently, after two years of brewing, did I really nail the ESB I was
looking for. It was malty without being sweet, hoppy without being rough.
Just as smooth and fresh as the stuff I enjoyed over there on the other
side of the pond. That was a gratifying moment, when I tasted that ale,
after so many months of experimentation, and discovered I had hit the nail
on the head. And it's on tap in my house!" he exclaims.
But, the mistakes and detours were fun to drink, too. Old ale, brown ale,
mild ale, American pilsner, mead.
"I keep telling myself that I want to make a Bavarian Weizen. I love hot
and spicy food and Weizen is a perfect accompaniment. Maybe after my
still-fermenting batch of Scotch Ale is in the keg, I'll make a Weizen my
next project," he says.
A native of Trenton, New Jersey, the brewer lives with his wife and two
kids, Gordon and Maggie, in Cape May County, on the Garden State's southern
tip. During the day he masquerades as a marketing writer for an
advertising agency. You can reach him via e-mail at
Sal's Favorite Extra Special Bitter
- 5 lbs. domestic Klages pale malt
- 1/2 lb. British crystal malt
- 1 oz. black patent malt
- 4 lbs. Alexander's Pale unhopped extract 8 oz. demerara sugar
- 1.5 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets 6.9% 3.0 oz. Fuggles pellets
- 1 tbsp. Irish moss
- Wyeast London Ale yeast
- 3/4 cup corn sugar
Step by Step:
Crush grains and dough in to five quarts 170 F water. Mash should settle to
around 155 F. Hold at 155 one hour or until iodine starch test is negative.
Sparge with two gallons water at 170 to 180° F.
Bring to boil and add malt syrup, sugar and Northern Brewer hops. Boil 45
minutes. Add 1 oz. Fuggles. Boil ten minutes more. Add Irish moss and 0.5
oz. Fuggles and boil five minutes more. Chill and pitch a starter of Wyeast
London Ale yeast.
Rack to secondary when krausen falls and add 0.5 oz. Fuggles or Kent
Goldings hop pellets, wrapped in cheesecloth, to dry hop. Bottle with corn
sugar or keg.
Once I ran out of Demerara sugar and used a cup of honey instead. This
worked out very well.