People have long understood the value of fermented drinks; one of the oldest beverages produced, beer was recorded in the written history of the ancient Egyptians. And in the 19th century, beer was often the drink of choice for cowboys fresh off a cattle drive (since the water in many areas couldn’t be trusted).
Once a lost art, brewing beer at home has enjoyed a recent resurgence, and homebrewing kits are readily available on the Internet and at specialty stores. The homebrewing process has become so easy, says Gary Glass, the director of the American Homebrewers Association, that if you can heat up a can of soup, you can make your own beer.
“The biggest takeaway is, no matter what style you’re making, your equipment and surroundings should be clean and sanitary,” Glass says. “As long as you can do that, you can make good beer.”
Before sanitizing became an essential part of the brewing process, feral yeasts like Brettanomyces would contaminate the brew, producing a drink that tasted a bit like a sweaty horse blanket.
The easiest (and most inexpensive) way to get into homebrewing is by purchasing a kit; they usually include step-by-step instructions, hop grains, malt extract, and yeast. They’ll also likely include a 5-gallon bucket with an airlock, thermometer, hydrometer, bottle brush, siphon, beer bottles, and glass carboy. All you’ll need to supply is hot water, a sunless storage spot, and time—about six weeks.
There are approximately 84 styles of beer you can make at home, including stouts, pilsners, ales, and even gluten-free. American amber ales are among the easiest to brew because of their no-hassle ingredients and accommodating temperature requirements.
“One of the advantages of homebrewing is that you are naturally carbonating beer in the bottles, and that yeast buzzing actually helps preserve the beer better because it will strip some of the oxygen out,” says Glass. “If beer gets too old, it oxidizes and the flavor flattens out. Homebrewing makes it less likely to taste stale.”
Another big draw of homebrewing is the pride in being self sufficient.
“After my 25 years of living in Montana, one thing I know is that people out there try to be as self sufficient as possible,” says Ben Orr, 58, homebrewer and member of the Brewrats, a group of brew-it-yourselfers. “I had my chickens for eggs, hogs for pork, and in the fall, deer and antelope hunting was as close as I got to a grocery store. With the homebrewing, I didn’t have to go anywhere to get my beer if I wanted a cold one. I had it right there. Homebrewing is definitely handy, and its fun.”
The third edition of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (Harper Resource, 2003), by Charlie Papazian, includes a complete update of instructions, recipes, charts, and guidelines for brewing stouts, ales, lagers, pilsners, porters, specialty beers, and honey meads.
Pete Bellessis takes you through a complete homebrewing experience—from budget options to how to prime your beer for bottling—in the 40-minute instructional DVD Beginning Homebrew (New Sky Productions, 2010). Along with the video is a free companion e-workbook that provides additional information on each section. www.beginninghomebrew.com
The American Homebrewers Association provides resources, community, and support for homebrewers. They also list events and competitions. 303-447-0816, www.homebrewersassociation.org
The Deluxe Brewing Starter Kit from Northern Brewer comes highly recommended as a good introduction to homebrewing. The kit comes with just about everything you need to get started! 800-681-2739, www.northernbrewer.com