Brewing hobby is burgeoning
BY K. SCOTT KREIDER, Correspondent
As the popularity of craft beer continues to swell, more fans are turning to a fun and cost-effective way to quench their thirst: brewing it themselves.
There are a lot of reasons to home-brew, says Brad Weaver. It's simple, you can save money, you can experiment and tweak beer recipes to your own tastes and it can be a fun social activity.
Weaver is a home-brewer who recently partnered with The Beer Place, a beer distributor at 2104 Spring Valley Road, to handle sales of the recently added home-brewing supplies in the store. They sell everything from specialty grains and hops to winemaking kits to brewing equipment. They also plan to have home-brew classes once a month for beginners.
"Beer-making and winemaking have been on the upswing over the past 10 years," Matt McAlpine, president of The Beer Place, says. "I don't know what is going to happen in Harrisburg with beer and liquor laws. We'll have to change and adapt, and I think having a home-brew section is being a little more proactive."
Nationwide, the home-brew industry is growing by 30 percent each year, according to Ian McHarg, eastern territory sales manager for Brewcraft USA. McHarg deals with all states east of the Mississippi. "(Pennsylvania) is one of our highest growth states right now," McHarg says. "It's a hobby industry that is just exploding."
"In (Pennsylvania), laws have stymied an industry that has grown fairly quickly elsewhere," McHarg says, and now that some laws are changing, the home-brew trend in Pennsylvania is catching up.
Karen Hollman, activities coordinator for the Lancaster County Brewers Club and home-brewer of eight years, says she not only sees growth in membership, but also in the quality of beer being brewed. Home-brewers are communicating more via social media and the Internet to improve their craft.
"The quality of beer that home-brewers are putting out now rivals any commercial beer," Hollman says.
"It's just like music, it's constantly evolving," she says, "and the experimental side of home-brewing is wide open."
It was experimentation that first drew Hollman to home-brewing, she says. She hasn't brewed the same beer twice.
"There is a lot of creativity, there are a lot of people who do crazy stuff," Hollman says. Beer with vegetables, beer brewed without hops, maple porter and homegrown honeysuckle beer --Hollman says club members have come up with some truly unique beverages.
The brewers' club meets in the basement of Lancaster Brewing Company on the last Wednesday of every month. At February's meeting, about 20 members gathered to talk and share beer. Lively conversation and laughter filled the room as they passed their home-brews around.
Colin McCall recently joined the club after he began home-brewing a year ago. He says he enjoys sharing recipes, sharing beer and participating in communal days when members get together to brew.
For those who are just looking to get their feet wet, Lancaster Homebrew owner Mark Garber says it's a lot easier to do than it may seem.
"The actual brewing process is very forgiving. There is a lot of room for error," Garber says. "I've made mistakes, putting in hops too late and so on, but the beer can still turn out fine."
Weaver says beginners can start with a beer kit that comes with a recipe and all of the malts, hops, grains and yeast needed in premeasured packages. After boiling the malts, grains and hops for a set amount of time, it's simply a matter of cooling the mixture, adding yeast, sealing it in a carboy (a cylindrical container for brewing) and letting fermentation do its work. After two weeks, you're ready to bottle, Weaver says, and two weeks after that, it's ready to drink.
"The general process of brewing is pretty much the same for every beer, it's just that there is such an array of ingredients to use," Garber says. "It's easy to make a good beer."
Garber says you can save money, but as with any hobby, it can escalate. "There are different levels of brewing," Garber adds. "It's just a matter of where you want to be. As long as you're having fun, that's what's important."
"The actual brewing process is very forgiving. There is a lot of room for error."