This podcast episode had a few things about homebrewers going pro, including a comment, by Brewers Association director Paul Gatza, that 90% of professional craft brewers started as homebrewers. IIRC, the same statistic was mentioned by Ken Wells, of Travels with Barley fame on the July 16, 2005 episode of The Beer Show. This statistic must be listed somewhere on the Brewers Association website.
In 1979, the American Homebrewers Association originally claimed National Homebrew Day to be the first Saturday in May. On May 7, 1988, Congress officially recognized National Homebrew Day. Homebrewers around the world use the day to celebrate beer and brewing and attract attention to their hobby.
No idea Congress had recognized it. Wasn't 1987 the year homebrewing was made legal again?
Not to wax too philosophical, but brewing can really help people
achieve what psychologists call "Flow" experience. It's the way you
feel when you're in a situation that's challenging enough without being
discouraging. Some people see brewing as "meditation" and there's part
of that for some people. Also, there's a huge social part.
Perhaps the most obvious social part is that it's quite easy to make
friends when you offer them free beer. If someone's friends like bland
beer from macrobreweries, it's still possible to help them appreciate
beer for the way it tastes. The best way to do that is to brew beer
with that goal in mind. Sure, it's a challenge. It might take a few
trials and any given batch might not be that well-appreciated by
everyone. But little by little, it's possible to make people understand
that binge-drinking on Rolling Rock isn't that enjoyable when you can
get tasty beer on the cheap.
Another social aspect is that brewers tend to do things together.
Adults of any age or "walk of life" may belong to the same brewclub
and, usually, there's a very strong sense of friendship among brewers.
I know brewers and brewing groups in a couple of places and could help
people make contacts. Even if it's just sampling each other's brews or
discussing the amount of diacetyl that's acceptable in an Extra Special
Bitter, it can be quite fun.
Now, to get someone started on brewing. Many people start with cans of extract and it's certainly a solution. A cooler method is to use "ingredient kits" (e.g. from Grape and Granary) which include malt extract, grains, hops, and fresh yeast. You steep the grains and boil that solution with the extract. It's easy enough to do and it givessome amount of control. It's not the cheapest way but it works well. The
equipment one needs for these types of brewing techniques would mainly include a large kettle, a plastic bucket, a glass carboy, and some tubing. Homebrew supply shops usually sell equipment kits like that but it's easy to get many parts through other ways…
Among homebrewers, "all-grain brewing" is often considered the advanced step. It's not that much more complex and it's usually cheaper to do (especially with bulk grain). It does require a bit more equipment and more time on brewday. The equipment needed can be as simple as two plastic buckets. One has small holes drilled in it and serves as a false-bottom while the other one has a spigot. Some very good brewers
use that kind of a system and it works quite well. What I use is the same thing except that the bottom bucket has a heater element in it so I can control temperature. Other people use an Igloo-type cooler with a manifold in it built with some copper tubing in which slits have been cut. Other people go nuts and have a semi-automatic system made of stainless or even copper with all sorts of pumps and heat exchangers.
All of these achieve the same results: quality beer.
The basic principle remains the same. If you want to brew…
You need to mash grain at a certain temperature (150F to 158F, depending on what you want to achieve) for a certain amount of time (20 minutes to an hour or so). You then need to pour hot water in that mash to get all the sugars out. That's the all-grain part and you end up with wort (sweet liquid).
You then boil the wort for an hour or so, adding hops at specific points (for bitterness, flavor, and aroma). You then chill the boiled wort, transfer to a primary fermenter (usually a plastic bucket), pitch yeast, and wait for a while.
After a week or two, you transfer from primary to secondary fermenter (usually a glass carboy). After a few weeks in secondary, the yeast should have finished its main job and you can bottle. After a week or two in bottle, the beer is ready to drink. If you have a kegging system (with those 5-gallon kegs that were used for soft drinks), you can get the beer carbonated within minutes instead of weeks.
Some beers don't need to be transfered into a secondary fermenter and might even be ready to bottle within a few days. But it's safer and usually better to do a secondary fermentation.
Palmer's book (available online) explains most of these techniques well enough. And all the brewing books you could buy will give details on every step of the process.
With all of this, sanitation is quite important, especially after the wort has been boiled. But we all do a few things that aren't completely sanitary and scrapped batches are quite rare.
Among brewers, the motto is "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew!"
Again, brewing can be a very nice "Flow" experience. It can be intensely creative and it relies on a scientific basis (enzymatic reactions, use of gravity, etc.). Plus it can be very social.
While it's easy to go overboard with equipment or ingredients, homebrewing can be quite cheap an activity. IMHO, it's quite easy to get started for less than 100USD and then get more equipment as we go on. Brewing with other people, it's often possible to cut costs by sharing equipment or doing bulk orders. Without cutting costs too much, I think I can brew a batch for 1USD/gallon, especially if I repitch
yeast (use it for several batches). On average, I'm guessing I probably spend about 7–10USD for a 5 gallon batch as I use a bunch of specialty grains, expensive yeast packages, and some spices. The larger the amount brewed, the cheaper the gallon will be, for many reasons (including the cost of bulk ingredients, the energy costs (fairly minimal anyway), and "mash efficiency" (the proportion of sugar
extracted from the grain)).
Of course, that's not counting the time spent brewing. Some people say
it should be counted but then one would need to "deduct" the experience
gained and the relaxation coming from brewing…
In my mind, it's a very enjoyable activity which has brought me a lot
of nice things in the last four years.
Been living in South Bend since August, talked to a number of people about beer and brewing. Sent long messages to some of them. Hopefully, didn’t scare them off too badly… 😉
Thing is, there’s a lot of resources for/about beer and brewing. Here’s
just a few to get people started. And once you get started, well, anything can happen.
Relevant for North Central Indiana and some other parts of the MidWest
- Legends of Notre Dame
- Mishawaka Brewing Co.
- Quality Wine and Ale Supply [Added: 24/03/08. Thanks, Andy C!]
Beer pub in Dowagiac, MI.
- Indiana Beer
- Great Lakes Brewing News
- Chicago Beer Society
- Grape and Granary
- Theta Ridge Coffee
Beer pub on Notre Dame Campus. The site has their beer menu…
Michiana’s only brewpub, at this point. They have some limited brewing supplies.
A homebrew supply shop in Elkhart, which might be the closest “LHBSS” to Mishawaka/South Bend. Looks like they have an extensive selection and decent prices.
A site about beer events in Indiana.
A beer newspaper which is distributed for free at Legends and MBC. Jim Herter, business manager for Notre Dame’s food services, writes for the Indiana section.
Group of beer lovers and homebrewers. They do cool events like “Thirst Fursday” the first Thursday of each month.
A mail order brewing supply shop which has a good selection and ships to Northcentral Indiana pretty fast. There are other homebrew supply shops, including online, but this is the one that my friends in town have been using.
Importer of green coffee beans. As other beer lovers seem to enjoy fresh coffee, I thought I’d mention this one.
In my humble opinion, the best liquor store for beer in South Bend is City Wide Liquors’ downtown location:
109 E. Jefferson Blvd.
(Across from Keybank, down the street from Century Center)
South Bend, IN 46601
General Beer Sites
Lots of information about homebrewing
- Palmer’s How to Brew
- Papazian’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing
- HomeBrew Digest
- Real Beer
A homebrewing book available online for free.
A good, inexpensive brew book for beginners and intermediate brewers.
A mailing-list for homebrewers and a “library” of brewing information.
Some of the library’s stuff is a bit old but the mailing-list is a cool place to contact brewers.
A site for different brewing associations, including the American Homebrewer Association
A general site about beer with a lot of information about brewing.
A site with lots of info about homebrewing.
Miscellaneous Beer Sites
- Beer Judge Certification Program
- Rate Beer
- Michael Jackson the Beer Hunter
- Beer Advocate
- All About Beer
- Siebel Institute
The most useful thing, IMHO, are “style guidelines” that are used for homebrew competitions. I hope people won’t get too stuck on the details as some of it is very arbitrary. But it’s a good way to get information about some styles, like “Irish Red Ale” or “Dunkelweizen”…
A site where one can rate beers they try and/or read people’s comments about beers. Some of these comments are a bit strange and those people tend to like specific types of beer, but it’s sometimes a good way to choose a beer you want to try. Hops are liked by raters and so are strong full-bodied beers but the best-rated beer is in fact a Belgian Trappist…
The best-known beer writer, not the youngest member of the Jackson 5.
I mostly use it to look for beer pubs across the US and in other places, especially when I travel. Many places have lists of brew- and beerpubs and may even do pubcrawls for beer geeks…
Another site listing beer pubs in the US and elsewhere. Actually, I was confusing PubCrawler with BeerAdvocate. They accomplish similar goals…
A brewing magazine.
A very serious institute where you can get a degree in brewing technology. Education you can actually use!
[Oh, my! I do hope I won't get too hooked to blogging! I'm scared!!! ;->]
Thinking about brewing, as I often do. Responding to a message about a post I sent to the HomeBrew Digest about beer and beliefs.
In relation to my previous post on work and debt. And compartmentalization.
"Don't quit your day job"
I have no intention of doing such a thing. I love my "day job" (insofar as I have one). I see no reason to quit it.
[Yup, blogging in my case encourages the use of first person singular pronouns, a habit I try to kill in many contexts. But if it's supposed to be self-indulgent, let's do it the self-serving way…]
Some homebrewers I've met hate their day job and see brewing as an escape. [It might be something of the same for me (doing a bit of
self-analysis here) as I may use it to procrastinate. Although, brewing needs planning. Procrastination I mostly do with thinking about brewing. Anyhoo…]
Those homebrewers who brew to "get away from it all" are oftentimes the same guys (yeah, mostly guys in homebrewing circles, nowadays) who want to "Go Pro" and open a brewpub. Now, that's not silly and it's kind of easy to expect, but it might be ill-advised.
Going Pro means a huge investment on money. Of course, we all dream of having enough money to invest in brewing. Hey, if I win the lottery, I might go nuts with brewing gear and if I win enough, I might even give the brewpub idea more of a thought. But…
Going Pro also means transforming a cool, relaxing hobby into an obligation to perform. Sure, many small brewpub and microbrewery owners do it their own way and the lottery win should imply that you don't need to turn a profit. But still, professional brewing is bound to be more of a pressure. And many aspects of brewing aren't necessarily so much fun. And these are the ones that become very important in the Pro world. Not to mention the whole business side. Some people enjoy it but
these are few and far between.
A well-known homebrew celebrity (!) who became a brewpub owner is quoted as saying that if he were to start again, he might not go pro. Nowadays, he doesn't brew anymore. And even though his pub is often packed, he still struggles to make ends meet. Not a pleasant feeling.
Then, the ideal solution should be collaboration. One "business-type" to handle the business and one crazy brewer. Well, the crazy brewer won't be so crazy when the business guy talks about minimizing risk.
A big important notion, risk. A hobby is fun because the stakes are low. You scrap a 5-gallon batch, so be it. You lost a bit of time, a bit of money. So be it. That's life. And you learned something. You scrap a batch as a commercial brewer, uh-oh!
So that's one reason even the most adventurous brewers end up making a lot of fairly uncompromising beer. Another reason is that what pleases the brewer might attract a few beer geeks but the beer geek market is incredibly small as compared to the swill drinkers. Lots of talk about that. But brewing capacity (volume) is correlated against risk.