Homebrewing requires patience and time. In an age of self-isolation and quarantine, it may be the perfect stay-at-home activity.
Since the whole world is on lockdown during this unprecedented Covid-19 quarantine, seeking creative diversion, distraction and, generally, something to do is a good thing. To that aim we point a spotlight on homebrewing. After all, today is #NationalBeerDay. How’s that for artistic fuel? Yes, indeed.
Getting started with homebrewing is quite simple. You can buy a starter kit at your local homebrewing store (#supportlocalbusiness), or, of course, online. The kits come with all the baseline essentials you’ll need to make your first batch of gargle.
Homebrewing is affordable. Kits start as low as $37.59 at Home Depot, of all places. Though you may want to initially target something in $80-$100 range for a better bang for your buck.
Typical homebrew kits include (though this list is not exhaustive):
- A large glass kettle, typically 5 gallons
- Large stirring spoon
- Recipe with instructions
- Hops, grain, yeast, sugar, malt
- Fermentation tubing
What’s great about homebrewing is that it’s simple and fun. Once your kit arrives in the mail you can be brewing in minutes and done in a couple of hours. Then it’s time to sit back, wait and be patient. Such are skills we’re all growing more accustomed to during coronavirus lockdown.
After a couple of weeks of fermentation, and then a couple more weeks of carbonation, your homebrew beer is ready to drink.
Were you to begin this week, hopefully, in a month, this lockdown will be easing up and you’ll have five gallons of homebrew beer with which to celebrate.
Alas, we can hope.
Mini History of Beer Brewing
According to my extensive wikipedia research, beer brewing dates back to the dawn of history. When humans first settled into agricultural-based economies and had plenty of extra grain lying around. Think ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.
It’s no surprise that the fun of drinking alcoholic beverages caught on fast and has stuck with us ever since. In addition, many fermented drinks, such as beer, were consumed profusely during times of plague and disease. Due largely to tainted water supplies (as if they — or we — needed an excuse).
Beer brewing historically was a local, cottage industry. It only went macro during and after industrialization. In the United States thousands of breweries existed before prohibition. However, forty years after prohibition ended, by 1970, there were only 40 breweries in the USA.
Since the 1980s craft brewing has become a big hit and there’s no town or city in America today, it seems, that doesn’t offer a plethora of local craft brewery beers on tap.
All of this is to say, given its historical significance and ease of manufacture, it’s no wonder that the homebrewing of beer is such a beloved hobby for so many.
How To Brew Beer
Ok, so how does homebrewing actually work. Again, it’s really quite simple. Some basic equipment, some basic ingredients, and some hot water is pretty much all it takes. If you can bake chocolate chip cookies you can brew beer.
The minimum basic steps to homebrewing include:
- Gathering the brewing equipment and ingredients (order a starter kit)
- Brewing the ingredients (1 day)
- Fermentation (2 weeks)
- Carbonation (2 weeks)
We reached out to the Homebrewers Association of America to get a deeper dive on what to recommend for this how-to section and they pointed us to their Easy Guide to Making Beer. In other words, watch this video:
A Community of Beer Lovers
One of the great aspects of homebrewing is the community around it. Now more than ever we need like-minded folks to connect with. A fine example of this is Brewminaries, New York’s largest homebrew club.
The group has 160 members and meets monthly to share brewing recipes, learn the art of brewing and, of course, drink lots for beer. “We are a bunch of mega beer nerds,” says Sheri Jewhurst, Brewminaries founder.
“The #1 resource to find advice, friends and tips around homebrewing is your local homebrewing store,” says Jewhurst.
Typically these retail shops will offer supplies, expertise and local networking opportunities to plug into the nearby homebrewing community.
Of course drinking beer is meant to be inherently social. In this time of coronavirus lockdown, however, getting together in person may not be realistic. So while you’re waiting for your freshly brewed mash to metamorphosize into a hoppy happy hour, kill time with some deep learning.
“I recommend reading the book Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More, written by Mary Izett, says Jewhurst. “She’s a pillar of home brewing.”
Front Lines to Homebrewing
“All you need to make good beer is some hot water and a bucket.”
So says CT-based homebrewer Jason Bloom, founder of Doc’s Hill Brew in Westport, CT.
The full-time Army Sergeant is a part-time homebrewer and knows what he’s talking about. Bloom’s German Lager took 3rd Place a National Homebrewers competition in New York last year.
“I’ve been brewing since 2016. I’ll never forget it. My first batch was started on MLK day. It was a cream ale, so I named it “I Have a Cream Ale,” he says laughingly.
As a career military man, having served two tours in Afghanistan, Bloom loves the unstructured nature of brewing beer.
“It gives me an opportunity to be creative. Sure, there’s a few basic rules to follow but also endless opportunities to innovate and improvise,” says Bloom. “What I love about brewing beer is that you’re never done. There’s always something to learn and discover.”
Bloom also recommends getting a starter kit and connecting with the local homebrew store as a beginner.
“Anybody can make a “good” beer with a homebrew kit, just by following the directions. It’s kinda like going to the supermarket and buying a cake mix. It’s hard to screw it up. Just add eggs, milk butter and throw it in the oven. It’s easy, fun and the result generally tastes good.”
However to go from newbie to maestro takes time, practice and ingenuity.
“Once you graduate from an extract (starter) kit, you can start getting into all-grain,” Bloom says. “That’s when you start designing your beer from scratch and that’s when it gets even more interesting.’
Judge Me, Maybe?
If you get into homebrewing deep enough, you may even find yourself entering an officially judged contest via the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).
“ I was really nervous when I entered my first competition,” says Bloom. “It was great though because the judges and your competitors give you feedback, share tips and knowledge, and everyone has a good time.”
Such events happen year-round as well, so there’s constantly opportunities to get your homebrew beer into the fray.
“I just brewed a bunch of batches for an upcoming competition last month that just got cancelled,” says Bloom. “Now I have 35 gallons of beer I need to drink. You want to come over?”
Now that’s the kind of homecoming we can all look forward to.
For more information of becoming a homebrewer be sure to check out the American Homebrewers Association.
More Artistic Fuel
James C. Sullivan is a guitarist, singer and long-time journalist having worked at publications including Snowboarder Magazine and USA Today. He recently returned to his roots in New England after a decade in California because cold winters and cloudy days inspire more creativity.