Last month the Le Mars man won a grand champion award for his English Barley Wine, a type of beer, at the 36th Annual Schleswig Bier Contest.
The homebrew wine and beer contest included 18 wine classes and 28 beer classes plus subdivisions and was sponsored by the Schleswig Wine and Bier Club, in Crawford County.
"It's always a surprise, and it feels really good," he said of his win.
Vander Meer said his English Barley Wine is a heavy ale, which is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using warm fermentation with brewer's yeast.
"The stronger beers take longer to age," he said. "This one took about a year to age."
Along with earning the Grand Champion Bier award for his ale, Vander Meer also took home the Grand Champion Bier traveling trophy.
The trophy mimics a large walking stick with a tin beer mug hanging from it that lists names of past contest winners.
He will keep the trophy for a year and then next year's contest winner will get the pleasure of having it, Vander Meer said.
He's no stranger to winning the Schleswig Bier Contest, coming in as grand champion in 2007 for a different kind of beer, Vander Meer said.
When he started brewing beer some 50 years ago, ingredients were limited to hop-flavored extract, which was used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer.
"You took hops and added sugar and water and wheat yeast and you made beer," Vander Meer explained. "Now you can buy hundreds of ingredients from all over the world."
He also grows his own hops, commonly called seed cones, which grow from the ground on an about 20-foot-long vine every year.
"You can grow it on a high trellis or along a fence," Vander Meer said. "It actually grows wild in the countryside."
He said hops is a preservative and it contains a specific amount of acid that gives off a bitter, tangy flavor that varies -- depending on when it is added to the beer boiling process.
For example, hops may be put in after 60 minutes of boiling for bittering or at two minutes to create an aroma, Vander Meer explained.
Even though he grows his own hops, the amateur brewer said he also buys different kinds of hops depending on the beer he wants to make.
"That's why this is so fun because the sky's the limit," Vander Meer said. "There's all different ingredients and what times of the process you put them (hops) in there."
He explained his home-brew is made from malted barley and that different types are available again depending on the type of beer he wants to make.
"I like dark ale better than light," Vander Meer said. "It has more intense of a flavor to it."
But lately he's decided to try his hand at making a lighter beer such as the batch he intended to make earlier this week.
"I'm going to do a cream ale. I've not made one before," he said. "I just want to try cream ale and use my own hops to do it."
He usually turns out 10 to 15 1-gallon batches or 40-50 bottles of beer a year most of which he brews in November because he and his wife, Laura, like to travel.
"I do all bottles," Vander Meer explained. "I keep it simple."
He doesn't keg his beer as some home brewers do because it requires specialized equipment and refrigeration while ale can be created at average 60-70-degree temperatures.
In the realm of keeping it simple, Vander Meer said he makes only ale as opposed to lager, which is brewed from malted barley but is stored at low temperatures requiring refrigeration.
Vander Meer said he gives a lot of the beer he makes away and also shares it with his fellow Rascals Beer Club buddies.
He explained that Rascals stands for Rowdy Articulate Sioux City Ale and Lager Society.
"We meet once a month and we taste beers. There's about 40 members," Vander Meer said.
Club members taste both home brews and commercial beers so they can compare the two, he added.
"You're tasting beer with people, who like to brew, so it's a lot of fun," he said.
Along with brewing beer, Vander Meer said years ago he also made homemade wines.
"I have 35-year-old wine in my basement that I still drink," he said. "I like making beer better. It's fun for me because I've been in a business that was similar."
He explained that baking also uses yeasts and grains to try to arrive at a certain flavor or taste.
Vander Meer advises beginner beer brewers to start using a kit, which contains directions and all the ingredients, but not the equipment.
"If you buy a kit, it tells you every step to take," he said. "There's unlimited kits these days."
Vander Meer said he passed his beer brewing hobby onto all three of his sons and noted that his brother, in Ankeny, also brews beer.
The Le Mars man agreed that creating beer flavors and consistencies is partially a trial and error process he's learned throughout the years and continues to diversify.
"I usually end up with a beer I can drink. Some of it's not very good," Vander Meer said with a chuckle. "It's just a challenge what different flavors you can get out of it."