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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | TIDBITS

2 County Beer Makers Hone the Brewers' Art

Melecq Kacani of Simi Valley and Jonathan Rocks of Camarillo are among nine finalists in a national contest.

August 15, 1996|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County may be well on its way to becoming the home-brew capital of America, thanks to a couple of local do-it-yourself beer makers.

Melecq Kacani of Simi Valley and Jonathan Rocks of Camarillo are among nine finalists in the National Homebrew Contest sponsored by the Boston Beer Company, makers of the Samuel Adams line of beers.

Finalists were chosen by a panel of 60 judges, who sampled beers prepared by more than 800 contestants. Kacani entered a traditional German bock lager and Rocks showed off his Belgian strong ale.

The two brewers, the only finalists from California, will travel to Boston in September to prepare another batch of beer. Winning entries will be selected in ale, lager and specialty categories, with the three top products to be marketed by Boston Beer.

Both Kacani and Rocks said they took up home brewing in large part because of a fast-growing infatuation with hand-crafted beers. "I got into the hobby of buying quality beers, and with the resurgence of microbrew beers I was dropping way too much money," said Rocks, a member of the Clan de Stein Homebrewing Society of Camarillo. "A 12-ounce Belgian can costs $5. I had to find a way to make my own for about a buck."

Rocks was so set on making his own brew that he purchased a computer software program that provides guidelines on the mixing of hops, malt and other beer ingredients.

Though Rocks really began brewing solo just two years ago, he said his first exposure to the craft came when he was a child, helping his father brew beer. With that background, it's no surprise that Rocks has a proven method of differentiating a good beer from a bad.

"You take a sip and if you don't spit it out, it's good," said Rocks, who would not give his exact age, but said he is in his 20s. "If you love the aroma, the initial taste and the aftertaste, it's good."

When Kacani began home brewing about five years ago, it was in an attempt, like Rocks', to duplicate hand-crafted beers.

"I bought every home-brewing book. I took it seriously right off the bat," said Kacani, 23. "I found my real preference was beers from Bavaria. They have an even-handedness about their materials. They don't tend to stress one ingredient over another."

Kacani, who works for a Westlake Village insurance company, said he brews a five-gallon batch of beer once or twice a month.

"I've turned a lot of my friends into exotic beer lovers," he said. "I've turned most of them off the standard American high octane soda pop, as we call it."

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Newbury Park's Bella Luna, a new Italian restaurant in Ventura County, is holding a grand-opening celebration Monday through Sept. 1. During the period, complimentary glasses of champagne will be served with lunch or dinner, and two drawings will be held. The grand prize will be a dinner valued at up to $40.

The restaurant, owned by American Airlines pilot Tony Fiumerodo, a native of Sicily, officially opened in mid-July. The restaurant is at 579-A Ventu Park Road.

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John Ash, culinary director of Valley Oaks Food and Wine Center at Fetzer Vineyards and a host on the TV Food Network, will be guest chef Aug. 22 at Let's Get Cookin' culinary school in Westlake Village.

Ash will prepare dishes from his latest cookbook, "From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine." The evening's menu will include chilled corn, jicama and buttermilk soup; warm soft shell crab salad; couscous risotto with wild mushrooms and smoked tomato jus; and a cherry flan. Each dish will be paired with a different wine.

Class time is 6:30 p.m. Cost is $55. Call (818) 991-3940 for reservations and more information. Let's Get Cookin' is at 4643 Lakeview Canyon Road.

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