Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Central Pa. beer lovers join growing movement toward brewing their own
They tinker in garages, basements, driveways and apartment balconies with equipment like turkey fryers, coolers and propane tanks.
Like mad scientists, they concoct recipes for hoppy India pale ales, chocolaty porters and bacon infused stouts.
Some people spend their spare time collecting antique cars, golfing or watching football. Others — and, the ranks are fermenting fast — brew beer.
Home brewing is enjoying a resurgence. It is at least the third or fourth bump in popularity since it was made legal in 1979.
The American Homebrewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo., which had 11,724 members in 2006 has more than doubled its membership this year to 27,000. The group estimates there are more than 1 million home brewers in the United States.
‘AS LOCAL AS IT GETS’
The revival is attributed to a number of factors, from the popularity of microbreweries to books, social media sites and home brew competitions. The do-it-yourself and buy-local movements have helped to boost growth.
“There is a general movement to do things locally, whether that is supporting a local farmer or business, but ultimately when it comes to beer, home brewing is as local as it gets,” said Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association in Boulder, Col.
The association has noticed a demographic shift as the ranks of brewers age 30 and under, better known as the millennial generation, swells, Glass said.
“The millennials tend to look for means of self-expression, and home brewing is certainly that,” he said.
Those are the 30-year-olds who grew up watching their fathers sip Samuel Adams, Yuengling and Appalachian Brewing Co. The popularity of craft beer has obviously fueled the home brewing trend.
“You know, it’s all the same trends along with microbrewing. It seems like craft beer and the increased number of breweries being opening has increased as well. I think the home brewing trends do follow that a little bit,” said Artie Tafoya, operations manager at Appalachian Brewing Co. in Harrisburg.
Fifteen years ago, when ABC established itself in Harrisburg, Tafoya said people were home brewing but enthusiasts were a little more scattered and a little less organized. Today, there are more home brew groups and organized contests for amateur brewers.
Appalachian hosts an annual home brew contest in May. The winner assists with brewing his or her beer at Appalachian’s brewpub in Hampden Twp.
Between 80 and 120 beers are entered representing several styles. The contest grew out of an onslaught of local home brewers approaching Appalachian to sample their beers.
“We don’t have a lot of time to taste home brews. That’s why we do our contest, to sit down and tell them what we think of their product. Plus, you have to be careful. You don’t want to offend them,” Tafoya said.
He said not everyone has a knack for brewing.
“What I have found with most people, and it falls along the lines of professional brewers, you either make good beer or you don’t,” Tafoya said.
‘IT'S STILL A HOBBY’
Home brewing looks like a complicated hobby, if only because of the vast amount of equipment and containers required to make it happen.
Beginners can invest $80 to $120 on equipment and an additional $25 to $50 on ingredients. Systems can be as basic or as elaborate as the brewer wants, but the set-up is no indication of how good the beer will turn out, said Alan Miller, a home brewer from Dauphin.
“You can go at this however you want,” he said.
Brewing beer involves a time commitment. Brewing a typical five-gallon batch can swallow up a good part of a day, and that’s in addition to the four or more weeks required to ferment the beer.
So why do these weekend warriors do this, aside from being able to sample the fruits of their hard labor?
“I think there is a variety of reasons people get into it. When we poll members, the common answer is it’s a form of artistic expression, but an equal number of people are into it due to the technical aspects,” Glass said.
This fall, Miller and Albert de Bock of Lower Paxton Twp. will take their home brewing hobby to the next level when they open a small microwbrewery, Millbock Brewing Co.
It will fill an over-sized shed on de Bock’s property and produce about 100 barrels of mostly European style beers with a twist in the first year. De Bock, who is from Holland, said he got hooked on home brewing after he didn’t want to pay the price for beer imported from the Netherlands.
He bought a simple stovetop home brew kit purchased from the Discovery Store. (The beer bombed, but then thanks to a recipe from Food Network chef Alton Brown, de Bock was set on the right path.)
He hasn’t looked back, and even though he’s moving to a larger brewing system, the premise remains the same: “It’s still a hobby at the moment.”
De Bock and Miller are members of the Regional Harrisburg Area Brewers, a midstate home brewing club that meets monthly at Scotzin Bros., beer- and wine-making supply store in Lemoyne.
The group is hosting a Home Brewers Fest Sept. 10 at the Dillsburg Tavern with demonstrations, contests and beer tastings.
“People can’t grasp you can make this and have it be drinkable and good,” Miller said.
One of the founders of ReHAB, Corey Carlisle of West Hanover Twp., said membership in the group is about 100 members, although about 15 members are active and attend the meetings. It’s a great resource for sharing information.
“All these people who have been brewing for years, they’ll answer any questions,” he said.
Carlisle started brewing about 14 years ago. At the time, making beer was a lot cheaper than purchasing it. Today, he brews two or three times a year.
“I think at this point it’s not that it’s cheaper, it’s just that you can make a good beer,” he said.
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