This is the best time and place for a beer lover to be alive. I mean ever. In history. We are experiencing the height of the American Craft Beer Revolution and with it a flood of flavorful libations; everything from long-lost historical styles to brews using experimental ingredients and techniques that are being developed as we speak. If there is a new and interesting flavor that can be extracted from some combination of grain, hops, yeast and spices, some enterprising brewer is giving it a shot.
So it begs the question, when there is so much amazing beer being produced by gifted professionals, dreamers and more then a few half-crazed lunatics, is there any point in brewing beer at home anymore? Is it worth the time and the money when amazing beer is so readily available?
That is a good question. But it is perhaps the wrong question. A better one would be, ‘what do the dark arts of fermentation offer the intrepid adventurer. To that, I would offer a few of many ideas:
1. Brew The Beer You Want:
Talk a walk with me through this scenario. You go to your local bottle shop and got to the coolers. After the sound of angel’s trumpets fades and you gaze on the bounty in front of you, you actually start looking for what you want to bring home. And it’s probably an amazing selection with more individual beers from more breweries than one would find even a decade ago. And yet… there is nothing that really catches your eye because among the hundreds and hundreds of labels about ninety percent of them are IPA’s. And those that aren’t just… aren’t what you are looking for. Maybe there’s nothing dark enough or light enough. Maybe your looking for a good old fashioned stout and theres none that they haven’t barrel aged or brewed with vanilla, orange and cinnimon. Maybe your in the mood for something different and there is just nothing that you’ve not seen a hundred times before. Maybe you’re thinking longingly of ESB’s, Dark Milds, Belgian Pales or some other style that has long since been forgotten by local breweries in the quest to satisfy the population’s thirst for that citrusy hop explosion.
Maybe you don’t want another damned hazy IPA!
That’s the beauty of home brewing. You want a traditional Helles lager? It can be yours. Want to see what happens when you add three pounds of Pop Rocks to a Belgian triple? There’s nobody that can stop you. You want a big-ass imperial stout during the biggest heat wave in Boise’s history?! It is a thing you can do.
It is even possible to brew beer that isn’t available in this area. Want a Bell’s Two Hearted? There’s a recipe for that.
2. Touch Your Inner Mad Scientist:
Did you know you can make an 15% alcohol beverage out of nothing but milk, yeast and Beno?
Did you know that pickles can be a perfectly acceptable ingredient in beer if used correctly?
How about that wild yeast collected under a huckleberry bush produces a funky, fruity farmhouse flavor to a beer?
Did you know you can brew a beer using a WHOLE CHICKEN?!
I know these things because I have been…. let’s call it ‘lucky’ enough to know home brewers that prefer to treat the natural world as their own playground. From strange ingredients, weird brewing techniques and wild fermentation practices, there is no limit to the experimentation one can get up to in this hobby.
At some home-brew competition or another, I remember a fellow judge mumbling into his cup, “These home-brewers. If there are two things that can be slammed together, they will.”
FYI, that chicken beer is an actual recipe in Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing (page 111 in the fourth edition if you don’t believe me) I have yet to meet the soul brave enough to attempt this beer but, should you feel adventurous, for the love of Sweet Saint Fermentator bring me a bottle!
3. Train For A New Career:
Maybe you’re young and looking for an industry that values indipentant thought, hard work and creativity. Maybe you’ve been running through the corporate rat maze for decades and you seek a change. Maybe you just want to strike out on your own and start a business. The world of craft beer still holds a lot of promise for those seeking it and learning the process by which water, grain, hops and yeast turn into the nectar of the gods is not a bad way to start. Some of the most popular brands in the country started out in someone’s kitchen or garage.
4. Become One of Us… One of Us, One of Us, One of Us…
There are probably other hobbies or occupations that attract eccentrics, dreamers, wierdos, geeks or ramblers but I doubt many of them can gather all of them in one room on a regular basis. Home-brewers are just… well… different. They are tinkerers and questioners. Amateur scientists and professional pains in the ass. You want to see respected head brewer of a well-established brewery tinkle a little in his rubber boots? Tell him that the local home-brew club is coming by for a tour and they have Questions. (With a capital Q). Even novice brewers have just enough knowledge and drive to be truly dangerous.
Sound like your type of people? Come to a meeting sometime. We have beer.
5. Appreciate Beer More Than You Ever Thought Possible:
Some people buy their first home-brew kit and, five years later, have a room of their house converted into a fully functioning lab. (The kids are fine living in the attic! They like it there!). Others brew a couple of batches, decide that it was kinda fun but not something they want to spend a lot of time doing. But what both outcomes have in common is both leave with a greater appreciation for the craft. Knowing some of the hows and whys behind the art and science makes every pint of beer that much nicer.
But where to even begin? In the coming weeks we will cover the basics of brewing beer along with the ingredients and equipment you will need to start producing spectacular beer at home.