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Taste Buds

Home beer makers are turning
hobby into nationwide craze

Indiana leads demand for
brews with a personal touch

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(July 2010) – Picture visitors at a beautiful brick home with a well manicured and landscaped lawn. They walk inside and admire the elegant, artfully arranged décor and smell the rich, deep aroma of freshly brewed – beer?
For friends and family of home beer brewing enthusiasts like Cross Plains, Ind., insurance agent Bruce Murray, that scene is not all that unusual.
“It’s something I started doing for fun, and now I’m hooked,” Murray said.
In that past decade, home beer brewing has become a fast growing phenomenon pouring throughout the country. Murray is among thousands of people from all walks of life who have taken up the hobby. It’s become so popular, home beer brewing supply shops and home brewing clubs have sprung up everywhere. Seminars, conferences and even competitions have become readily available.
Home brewing for personal or family use is federally legal, thanks to a 1979 law signed by President Jimmy Carter.

Bruce Murray

Photo provided

Bruce Murray of Cross Plains, Ind.,
makes home brewed beer for
himself and his friends to enjoy.

It has been legally permitted in Indiana since 1999. In fact, Indiana is home to one of the largest competitions in the country. This year, the Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup, scheduled for July 9-10, is expecting nearly 1,000 professional and amateur entries from around the region.
“Home beer brewing is not just a trend,” said event organizer Anita Johnson, who also worked to make home brewing legal in Indiana. “It’s a lifestyle. Once people taste home brew, they don’t want to go back to regular beer. Home brew is just so tasty.”
Johnson, a home brewer herself, is also the owner of home brew supply company Great Fermentation, located in Indianapolis. She opened her shop in 1995 and said in the past decade she has seen the home beer brewing industry increase 50 percent. She has 5,000 active Indiana home brewers on her mailing list.
“It’s the flavor,” she said. She used an analogy of breads to explain. “White bread has no flavor; you eat it to put your spreads on. But other breads, like sourdough and nine grain, are rich with flavor. You eat those because they taste good.”
Johnson said there are 72 different styles of beer, and most home brewers tailor their beer to whatever flavor they prefer.
“Flavor is the marriage between hops and malt. There is an infinite array between flavor and tastes that can be had.”
Beer is actually made up of four main ingredients: hops, barley malt, yeast for fermentation and water.
She also explained the relationship between craft beers, microbreweries and home brewing. “There is a symbiotic relationship between craft and home beers, “she said. “Craft beers, such as Samuel Adams, started as home beers. Now, craft beers and microbreweries are stirring up interest in beer lovers who want to go home and create their own home brews.” Microbreweries are craft breweries that create a limited amount of beer.

Scott Koerner

Photo by Don Ward

Scott Koerner of Madison found a
“Mr. Beer” kit on the Internet and
makes his home brewed beer
right in his kitchen.

But if beers lovers don’t really understand the difference between lagers, pilsners, ales, stouts or porters, they don’t need to panic. Johnson said it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to start home brewing. “There are classes all across the state at many supply shops and clubs, and it costs less than $100 to buy a kit to get started. It’s really easier when you watch how it is done.”
She suggested people consider joining a home brew club, of which there are at least 15 in the state. “We get together, and of course, drink beer,” she said. “But we also, study and discuss methods, trade tips and have a good time. It’s a good way to get involved.”
Murray has been brewing his own beer since about 2000. “My older brother said he’d like to try it,” he said. “He ended up creating a monster. Brewing my own beer has become a borderline passion.”
Once a month, he brews about 10 gallons and stores them in mini kegs. He said it takes a few hours to mix up a batch, 10 days to ferment, 10 days to carbonate and 10 days to condition. He keeps a record of every recipe he has used so he can go back and recreate any that appear to be favorites among his friends and family, who are having fun with his hobby.
“Brewing appeals to my nerdy side,” he laughed. “I’m a real beer geek.”
Murray is certainly not alone in his love of home brewing. The American Homebrewers Association, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., has more than 21,000 home brewing members and 560 home brew suppliers, according to President Gary Glass. The AHA held its annual conference in Bloomington, Minn., in June, and had more than 1,300 home brewers attend.
“While the hobby seems to appeal greatly to professionals, we get people from all walks of life,” he said in a telephone interview.
According to AHA reports in 2009 from home brew suppliers, revenue for the hobby increased more than 16 percent. “Prior to last year, it was rising at a rapid click of about 20 percent for the past few years,” he said. “It’s a fun, yet inexpensive hobby that appeals to beer lovers.”
Nathan Blank of Corydon, Ind., owns a home beer and winemakers supply store, Cellar on the Square, located at 110 N. Elm St. He became interested in home brewing as a way to make craft beers for personal consumption more affordable and a way to become more familiar with the products he carried.
“I became fascinated with the process,” he said.
“As I tell customers, it’s like having a chemistry set for adults. After the experiment is done, you had the results to someone and say, ‘Here, try this.’ ”

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Rick Blakely cooks up a new
home beer brew as his partner,
Donnie Clapham, watches.

Blank chairs Corydon’s “Southern Indiana Uncorked Wine and Microbrew Festival,” held May 29 in Corydon. This year marked the third anniversary of the festival, which has grown in popularity each year, said Blank. Thirteen wineries and microbreweries showcased their blends this year, while more than 1,550 people attended. That is up considerable from the past two years. “This is the only local showcase that I know of for homebrewers and winemakers,” he said. “We hope it continues to grow.”
In Madison, Ind., retired postal worker Donnie Clapham and Express Jet-Continental Airlines pilot Rick Blakely have gotten hooked on brewing their own beer. The longtime friends decided to try brewing their first batch about six months ago. “We caught the bug, and it is just fun tasting and sharing our products with our friends.”
Blakely said he had long been interested in making beer but didn’t actually get started until this past year. “It is fun to brew our own beer,” he said. “It’s an enjoyable hobby that yields a delicious and well-used product. My friends and family speak highly of the flavor and seem to really enjoyed the home-brewed aspect of it, which adds character and a personal touch.”
Clapham first became interested in home brewing when his older brother tried it 20 years ago. It wasn’t until recently, however, that he decided to give it a try.
The partners say the most important part of home brewing is sanitation. “The process begins with making sure all the equipment is properly sanitized. Otherwise, the product will be compromised.”
Once they clean everything, they make a mash of malted grains and hops, add their own adjuncts, or herbs, spices and flavoring, and then add yeast to the wort, or mixture. After their beer sits for up to two weeks, they add priming sugar then bottle the brew.
“We brew our beer every two weeks, making five gallons at a time. We bottle it with 22-ounce bottles and wait for the fun to begin,” said Blakely.
Blakely and Clapham have experimented with a variety of recipes. They buy their supplies from Listermann’s in Cincinnati. Blakely said they use the shop’s kits, which include all the ingredients.
They have, however, added cinnamon, juniper berries and coriander to some of their porters, which are dark ales. Clapham said they are considering a smoked porter and a vanilla bean expresso stout, which is a darker ale than a porter. “We will get more adventurous as we become more experienced.” He admitted some of his brews haven’t turned out to be the best, and he’s ended up dumping them out, including a batch that somehow went sour.
“I’ve become something of a beer snob,” he laughed. “Now that I’ve tasted home brew, others don’t taste as good.” He likes to visit pubs and microbreweries to taste other home and craft brews.
“It certainly isn’t rocket science,” said Blakely. “Anyone can do it, but like most anything else, experience helps and creates a margin for creativity.”
The partners are working on naming their beer, but for now, they simply drink what they brew and live by their slogan “Relax. Have a home brew.”
A novice beer maker who has just completed his third batch is Madison, Ind.’s Key West Shrimp House owner Scott Koerner. “I’m already hooked on this home brewing,” he said. He became interested after visiting microbreweries and sampling their varieties.
Koerner follows a “super simple procedure” he obtained on the Internet at www.MrBeer.com. He plans on experimenting with a variety of ingredients.
“My next batch may be chocolate-covered strawberry ale,” he said. “If I don’t like it, I don’t have to drink it.”
Eventually, Koerner said he would like to be able to offer some “Shrimpy Beer,” at his restaurant. He didn’t elaborate on whether that would come with sauce on the side.

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