Why We Homebrew

By George Hummel

Here in the 21st century of craft beer, folks often ask me why I started homebrewing, and they seem taken aback by my reply: Because it was hard to get good beer in Philly. The reality of the late ’70s/early ’80s beer market in Philly isn’t even a distant memory in the 21stcentury.

The facts are there were big brands and regional breweries augmented by a smattering of imports. When you weeded out the ones that were the same as US beers (Canada, South/Central America, and Asia) you were left with a handful of German and British beers, eventually joined by a couple of Belgians. And of course, with such off the radar beers, freshness was often an issue.

When I visited San Francisco to see the Grateful Dead close down Winterland Ballroom, I enjoyed my first taste of early West Coast craft beers. I was particularly smitten by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Upon returning home, I discovered Anchor Brewing beers were in the market, but you’d have to track them down and freshness was a gamble. The closest place for Sierra was in Washington D.C. My wife, Nancy, had a sales gig that periodically took her to DC, and she would humor me.

Well, I read somewhere that the guys from Sierra started out as homebrewers and it wasn’t long before my dulled brain said, “Hey, if these dudes could make their beer at home, why can’t I?!” So it was to slake my thirst with a steady supply of fresh Cascade-scented West Coast Pale Ale that drew me to the hobby/lifestyle.

Now, of course, walk into a beer retailer and you’ll find any number of beers that fit that description. Although I must note with such bloated shelves, freshness is again a concern. So you might ask, “Why do you continue to brew?”

There are many reasons. First of all, there’s a primal kind of Zen to the process. It slows down your connection with beer. Beer is alive and you have a relationship with it. If you’re just a consumer, that relationship is limited to open, pour, inhale the aroma, taste the beer and contemplate its finish. The process goes, impulse: me want beer! Me get beer! Me drink beer! It’s done and then you pee.

As a brewer, you craft a recipe, prepare, ferment, and condition your beer. It’s a member of your family before you even have a beer that’s ready to enjoy. Then you go through those final steps with a deeper connection and a sense of satisfaction that can come from no commercially brewed beer. “I made that!” knowing it’s the culmination of weeks of coaxing and coddling. There is no deeper understanding or appreciation than that which you establish with your own beer. It brings your sense of understanding to levels that would be difficult to achieve as a mere drinker of beer.

So have the reasons that I am drawn to the brew kettle the same as they were when I first started? No! But not having to brew every beer I drink is liberating. It frees me up to the art and the craft of it. I brew beer because I love beer, not because I need beer. And that’s a beautiful thing!

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Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Here’s an easy extract recipe you can try at home, based on my early APAs. It was inspired by, but not designed to be a clone of Sierra’s Celebration Ale. Enjoy!

 

Grain Bill:

8 oz. Toasted Malt (such as Melanoidin, Victory, Biscuit or Aromatic)

8 oz. Crystal Malt 30-40L

8 oz. Cara Pils, Cara Foam, or Cara Malt

Malt Extracts:

1 lb. Extra Light or Pils Light DME

6.6 lb., Extra Light or Pils Light LME

Kettle Sugar and Additives:

8 oz. Dextrose (corn) sugar

1 tsp Irish moss

1 tsp Yeast nutrient

1 ea. Campden tablet (if using unfiltered municipal water)

Hop Schedule:

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ 60 mins

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ 45 mins

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ 30 mins

0.5 oz. Cascade hops 4% AA @ 30 mins

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ 15 mins

0.5 oz. Cascade hops 4% AA @ 15 mins

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ end of boil

0.5 oz. Cascade hops 4% AA @ end of boil

0.5 oz. Chinook hops 14%AA @ dry hop in secondary

0.5 oz. Cascade hops 4% AA @ dry hop in secondary

Yeast:

Wyeast 1056 or Fermentis S-05

 

Brewing Procedure:

Heat 6 gallons of water to 170° F. Dissolve one Campden tablet in the water, if using unfiltered municipal water. Coarsely crack malt and suspend in a cheesecloth bag in the brew kettle. Hold for 30 minutes at 150-160 °F. Remove the grain bag and discard. Heat to a boil; dissolve the dried malt extract and the bittering hops. Add other hops as indicated. Return to a boil and boil for 45 minutes. Remove from burner. Add liquid malt extract, corn sugar, yeast nutrient and Irish moss. Return to boil. Boil 15 more minutes. Add aroma hops. Add dry hops to secondary fermenter. Prime with 5oz. dextrose or keg and force carbonate.

George Hummel is the co-proprietor of Home Sweet Homebrew, Philly’s original homebrew supplier. He is also the author of The Complete Homebrew Beer Book (Robert Rose Pub.) and numerous articles and columns on beer and brewing. George, along with his wife and partner Nancy Rigberg, received “The Governor’s Inspiration Award” for their role in creating Philly’s craft beer movement.

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