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Valley Chronicle

Explosion in a Pharmacy Marked the Start of a Heady Hobby

October 03, 1994|SUE REILLY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Police have not yet stormed the home of Gunther Jensen in Pacoima, even though he's known to concoct potentially explosive liquids there.

Jensen is not a demolitions man for an international conspiracy nor a local gang banger.

He's just a guy who knows and loves his beer.

The 33-year-old teacher of Shakespeare took up beer making at the age of 17 after a family trip to visit relatives in Denmark.

"Over there home brewing is popular," says Jensen. "My dad and I brought home a kit and mixed up a batch of beer in the back of his Fullerton pharmacy so my mother wouldn't find out."

The results of that experiment were unexpected.

"I used twice the amount of sugar called for in the directions, thinking I would increase the alcohol content," remembers Jensen. Once the grossly over-carbonated beer was bottled, the pressure caused about half the bottles to blow their stacks.

Undaunted, he continued to make home brew while attending El Camino College and UC Irvine. He cooked up a batch when living with some Phi Gamma Delta fraternity buddies one summer in a cottage in Newport Beach.

The effort did not spawn a new cottage industry.

Jensen admits that what he made there was so undrinkable even frat rats wouldn't touch it. "It was so bad I couldn't give it away," he says.

"I cooked the malted barley in a big vat on the stove and then took the pot and put it on ice in the bathtub," Jensen says.

That's a cooling method that would not win the approval of most master brewers. The results were a chilling experience in how beer shouldn't taste.

What a change 10 or 12 years has made. Jensen now has a USC master's degree in drama, a wife, a 7-month-old baby and a mortgage. He teaches several drama-related courses at El Camino College and he still makes his own beer.

The difference is that he now owns about $2,000 worth of gourmet beer-making equipment, and his brews win national awards.

His Fiji fraternity buddies would be amazed.

He has competed in national and local levels of home brewing contests sponsored by the American Homebrewers Assn. His most recent win was a bronze medal in the Belgian Lambik category in the 1994 national competition held in June in Colorado. It was for his unique framboise- flavored Belgium beer, which he describes as having a tart earthiness that he sweetens with raspberries.

He also won first place at the 1993 Los Angeles County Fair in the mead category. Jensen says mead is what the Celts, Normans and Vikings used to down before they went out to loot and pillage.

Parenthetically, Jensen suffers from a heady sense of humor that he seems incapable of keeping bottled up.

For example, he told of once entering a regional contest in the pilsener category, pilsener being a light beer with a strong hops flavor originally brewed in the Lourdes of brewmeisters: Pilsen in the Czech Republic.

He says, somehow, instead of the pilsener he meant to send to the contest, he sent a novelty brew he had made that was spiked with chili peppers. He says the written opinions of the judges were most interesting.

Jensen is a member of the local home brewers' society known as the Maltose Falcons, which meets at the Home Wine, Beer and Cheese Shop in Woodland Hills.

John Daume, who owns the shop and sponsors the 25-year-old group, says it is the oldest, largest and most active group in the country, with about 350 members, most of whom live in the Valley.

He says many of the members, like Jensen, are serious home brewers and have won national and regional contests. Anyone interested in home beer-making may join.

As for the Jensens, their long-term goal is to open a bed and breakfast in Northern California with a boutique brewery bearing the Gunther Jensen label.

Their short-term goal is to observe Oktoberfest with friends and sample the wide variety of beers Jensen is now brewing in his state-of-the-art vats and bottles.

The bottles, thankfully, no longer explode.

The beer will be accompanied by Jensen's homemade sausages and downed to the singing of Danish drinking songs, including one which Jensen says is spelled Hanskalive.

Loosely translated that means either, "Long life to you and our beloved Denmark," or "Look out, dummy, the Great Dane is drinking your beer."

It Takes a Lot of Green to Turn Back the Clock to Senior Year

Hunter green is a traditional school color at Canoga Park High School, but one alumnus says until now, he never understood its significance.

It's what you spend lots of, he says, when you want your wife to accompany you to your 30th-year class reunion. If you can get her to go at all.

This particular he shall remain nameless, this in hopes of heading off a nasty divorce.

When he said he wished her to accompany him to the reunion, she absolutely lost it.

First, she announced she needed to lose 20 pounds by the date of the event, this Saturday, which seemed unlikely since the conversation was held only two weeks ago.

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