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Home Beer Brewing

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A home beer brewing setup.

Home beer brewing is hardly a new phenomenon. Throughout recorded human history, the making and distilling of alcoholic beverages has been an important part of a region's culture. But the advent of technology and industrialization, and the government regulation that followed with it, made home brewing a lost art for much of the latter half of the 19th century, reaching into the bulk of the 20th century.

The limitations of home brewing have relaxed in the past few decades in the United States, as old laws dating back to the prohibition era have slowly been rescinded on a state-by-state basis. Home brewing has become more easily accessible to the public, and a new generation of home brewers has emerged in recent years. The majority of the new generation has directed their brewing talents toward brewing beer, as home beer brewing allows a person to make their ideal flavor of beer at a lower cost than they would spend at a liquor store or in a bar.

So how did home beer brewing get to where it is today?

History of Home Beer Brewing

The process of home brewing is one that dates back thousands of years. Its origins date back to ancient China and Mesopotamia, where the beer produced was a quite a bit different than the beers that are in production today. Homemade beer thousands of years ago was more similar to a gruel or a porridge than a beverage, as a straw was a necessary prerequisite to consume an ancient beer. Throughout the centuries beer moved into Europe and other parts of Asia, with the Europeans perfecting the art of the home brew.

Monasteries were a large producer of beer in Europe during the middle ages, as beer thrived in areas of Europe that were not conducive to making the wine that was more popular in portions of Southern Europe. The addition of hops to beer in the 13th century helped give beer more flavor and more staying power, which allowed home brewers to branch out and start distributing their products. As European countries such as England and The Netherlands started colonizing the United States, they brought their brewing customs and traditions to the New World.

The increase of yeast production, inspired by the research of Louis Pasteur, coupled with the process of industrialization caused beer production to transition from smaller home brews and breweries to larger factories capable of producing beer on a larger scale. Prohibition, which made the manufacturing, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal, further sent the industry of home brewing underground. By the time that prohibition was repealed as a federal law in 1933, the home brewing of beer had become something of a lost art. These effects were felt for another 45 years, as beer production in the United States was even more combined to the large breweries.

Making a Comeback

While the repeal of prohibition allowed the manufacturing of alcohol in the United States again, there were still laws in place which made home beer brewing a nearly impossible enterprise to get into. The distillation and production of beverages with more than a 0.5 percent alcohol content was illegal in the U.S. until 1978, when Congress passed a bill which repealed federal restrictions and excise taxes regarding the home brewing of beer and wine. President Jimmy Carter signed the bill into law in October 1978, and the culture of American beermaking and consumption has drastically changed in the decades since.

The relaxation of home brewing laws has allowed the birth of the craft beers that have dotted the American beer landscape, giving the consumers a more diverse palate of beverages to choose from and introducing different flavors and styles of beer into the marketplace. Breweries have popped up all over the nation, giving the American beer drinker more options than he or she has ever had. And many of those specialty beers that are enjoyed on a daily basis were born in the homes of consumers that were looking for a different flavor and style of beer than what was being produced by the large breweries. The larger breweries also have had to diversify their products to adjust to the growing variety in the beer drinking palate that home beer brewers and craft brewers have created.

The leader of the American home beer brewing movement was Charlie Papazian, who founded the Association of Brewers and the American Homebrewers Association shortly after the bill repealing laws against home brewing was repealed. Papazian also wrote, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, which could be regarded as the bible of American home brewing. Some of the more well-known beer-tasting competitions such as the Great American Beer Festival (anyone who has seen a Samuel Adams commercial is familiar with this one) and the World Beer Cup are the brainchild of Papazian, who has helped make home beer brewing something that the masses can relate to and execute.

Benefits of Home Brewing

Now that we are well-versed in the history of home brewing, why do people decide to home brew? While in older times home brewing was a means of providing additional income, modern-day home brewers brew their own beer in part to keep their income. With the amount of money it costs to buy beer at retail prices at the supermarket (much less the markups that come from buy alcoholic beverages at a restaurant or bar), home beer brewing has been proven to be an economically favorable for the consumer, saving customers hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.

However, pinching pennies isn't the only motivation for home brewers. Home beer brewing can allow a customer to experiment with different flavors and combinations that might not be easily available in commercial beers and allows a beer drinker to tweak flavors to fit their specific palate.

Sometimes, the combinations can lead to bigger business opportunities. A good example of this is Bell's Brewery. Based in Kalamazoo, Mich., Bell's was originally started as a home brew by Larry Bell, who was looking for a unique craft alternative to the mass-produced commercial beers. He eventually started selling his product in 1985, opened a pub attached to his brewery in 1993 – a practice that has been adopted by many microbreweries and breweries alike – and has expanded his business to two brewing facilities selling 25 different varieties of seasonal and annual brews that are available in many Midwestern and Eastern states.

But even if you don't want to be like Bell and start your own thriving beer company, home beer brewing can be a hobby that appeals to one's artistic or competitive nature. There's a reason why home brewing is often called ”craft brewing” – it allows a brewer to take artistic liberties with the ingredients, taste, alcohol strength, and color of a beer and “craft” their own masterpiece. Home beer brewing can also be a source of competitive pride for the brewer, as the United States is filled with several craft brewing competitions that result in trophies, critical acclaim, and cash. Anything that can allow someone to revel in victory is something to be cherished, and the thrill of victory and bragging rights can be a powerful motivation for many brewers.

How to Brew Your Own Beer

The easiest way to get started is to buy a home brewing kit. This usually will run a customer between $50 and $200 depending on how much beer that needs to be brewed. A home brewing kit usually comes with the basics that a customer needs to craft a malt/extract beer – ingredients, equipment to mix in the ingredients and to store the mixture in its various stages, and the bottling equipment necessary to siphon the product into before it's ready to be served. A list of instructions, or even a DVD video detailing the process, are also included in a home brewing kit. Any additional ingredients, extracts and equipment can be bought on a singular basis.

There are four essential ingredients necessary to make a basic batch of malt/extract beer – malt/extract, hops, yeast and water. The type of water is mostly irrelevant. There are two divisions of equipment needed, one for the brewing process and another for the bottling process. Equipment essential to the brewing process are a boil kettle, stirring spoons, measuring cups, a can opener, a strainer, a thermometer, a fermenter (which is usually a big plastic tub) with an airlock to allow the product to ferment without being spoiled by outside air. The essential equipment for bottling day includes priming sugar, water, a measuring cup, a small pot, a bottling bucket, a bottle filter, bottles, bottle caps and a bottle capper to seal the bottles.

The most important thing a home brewer needs to do is keep the equipment clean and sanitized. The slightest bit of dirt, remnants, grime and bacteria can spoil a batch of beer, so keeping cleaning products handy is extremely important.

The Home Beer Brewing Process

The process of brewing beer involves multiple phases and takes several weeks to execute. The first phase is the creating of the wort, which is the liquid extracted from the mashing process. To do this, a brewer needs to boil water and add the malt extract when the water is boiling, removing the water from heat during its addition. Once added, the malt extract must be stirred until dissolved, at which point the liquid must be brought to a boil again. Once that happens, the hops are added and the wort boils for another half-hour before being poured into a clean fermenter, where it is brought down in temperature (that temperature depends on the style of beer – ale, lager, etc.) you plan to make.

When the wort reaches the desired temperature a brewer adds the yeast. From there the fermenter is sealed with an air-locked top to allow the yeast to ferment the wort. After a couple minutes of shaking, the fermenter is to remained sealed for 2-4 weeks in a room-temperature setting, checking its fermentation periodically during that time.

After the wort has fermented, it must be carbonated. To do that, bring two cups of water to a boil, then add the priming sugar at a suggested rate of one ounce of sugar for every gallon of beer being bottled. Boil the sugar water for 10 minutes before removing it from heat and pouring it in the bottling bucket. Once that's done, you must transfer your fermented wort from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket, making sure to get all the liquid without bringing over the solid remnants from the wort.

Once that's transferred, you are ready to bottle. You must have durable bottles that can handle the process of fermentation – otherwise bottles will explode or shatter (see what happens to Hank Schrader in the “Breakage” episode of Breaking Bad [Season 2, Epsiode 5] for a visual example). Too much priming sugar can also cause this. Once the bottles are filled evenly from the bottling bucket and sealed up, let them rest for 2-3 weeks at room temperature so carbonation can occur. At that point, the beer is ready to be consumed and enjoyed.

Continuing the Craft

Once the first batch is made and consumed with friends, the desire to make more is natural and with practice, home beer brewing becomes a natural process. That's when many brewers decide to jazz things up. Adding fruit, syrups and spices during the brewing process is the next step for brewers, along with adding specialty hops to make IPAs and other specialty beers. Once a brewer gets good at that, the sky's is the limit – and maybe the brewer can take home a few trophies at beer-tasting competitions as well.

The current landscape of beer is as good as it has ever been, and home beer brewing is a big reason for that revolution. The beer connoisseur has more and more options than ever, and it's more affordable and efficient than ever to make your mark in the world of beer. Who knows, maybe you'll come up with the recipe for the next great beverage and develop a nice side career in the process. Anything is possible in the modern world of home beer brewing.

Hobbies | Drinks


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