NAPOLEON - Like a fine wine, the beer-making skills of Bob Hall have improved with age.
The retired school official began brewing beer in the early 1970s after leafing through a few beer-making books, picking the brains of locals who concocted basement brews during Prohibition, and collecting ingredients from a local grocery store.
In October, Mr. Hall carted off two gold medals for his signature dark beers at a home-brewing contest in Toledo that attracted 70 entries.
"Bob's beer was by far the best we tasted," said Joe Van Ostran, a contest judge and brewer at Maumee Bay Brewing Co. "He works hard at getting the style right, and it shows. His dopplebock was rich and malty with low-hop bitterness."
Mr. Hall has fine-tuned his brewing technique with the approach of a scientist, charting temperatures and re-engineering his beer-making equipment in his basement brewery to improve the quality.
"Modern home brewing is not about saving money - you won't," Mr. Hall said.
He said it is about the joy of creating high-quality beers found in microbreweries from Seattle to Dublin. And he said making your own beer is the best way to get a rich, flavorful drink with character.
The inspiration for Mr. Hall's dopplebock beer sprang from a visit to the Kloister Andechs brewery near Munich, Germany.
"At the first sip of their dopplebock, my wife, LeAnn, said, 'Oooo, you've got to make this,'●" Mr. Hall recalled. "Then we passed the mug back-and-forth attempting to deconstruct the flavors and aromas while making notes to take home."
Mr. Hall said he tries to avoid brewing one style or recipe over and over. Currently, he is experimenting with Belgian farmhouse ales, which can include such ingredients as orange peel, candied sugar, anise, coriander, and chamomile.
Mr. Hall likes to tour breweries and to try to pick up on the techniques of the brewers.
"I especially zero in on micro and craft brewers, as most began as home brewers and moved their passion on to another level," he said.
They shouldn't let setbacks discourage them, said Mr. Hall, who still has to flush a bad batch of beer every once in awhile.
"I brewed a 5-gallon batch, split it in half, and pitched two different strains of Belgian ale yeast. It's still fermenting, so the jury is still out," he said. "It could be great. It could have a one-way ticket to the commode."