You may not have realized it, but Prohibition didn’t entirely end in 1933: Brewing your own beer also became illegal under the constitutional ban, but the practice wasn't made legal when commercial sales of alcohol resumed. Actually, you can thank Jimmy Carter for your homebrew, and, in turn, the craft brewing industry.
Homebrewing Goes MainstreamLearning to brew while in college in 1970, a young Charlie Papazian would go on to become an icon in the brewing world. He founded Zymurgy magazine, the American Homebrewers Association, and the Great American Beer Festival, and eventually published “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” in 1984 (now in its 4th edition), often considered the bible of homebrewing.
Join the ClubFind a homebrewers’ club near you. Having support from fellow hobbyists increases the fun, and you may end up exchanging final products with new friends. In Madison, the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild actually founded one of the best and oldest craft beer festivals in North America: Great Taste of the Midwest.
The American Homebrewers Association hosts an annual Big Brew for National Homebrew Day, held on the first Saturday of May, and in 2020, the pledged 31,300 brewing gallons were triple those of the highest recorded year. Homebrewing does well in bad economic times, and being stuck at home only increased the ambitions.
The kit came with his first recipe, but he’s since purchased others, including the ingredients for a recent batch of doppelbock. “They come in two cans,” he said, referring to malt extract, a concentrated wort—just add water. “Following directions, it was pretty easy. I may invest in better equipment. I’m just happy getting something I can drink.”
The process is straightforward: Boil water, add the malt extract, move it all to the fermenter, and add the yeast. Then follow seven days in an airtight container, then conditioning in bottles for at least seven more days. “I can’t usually wait. After the minimum time, I’m drinking it,” said Danner.
“The hardest part is getting the equipment sterilized,” he added. But even that is made easier by using the included no-rinse sterilizing powder in water. So after an initial kit investment of about $90, each new batch costs $20 to $30 and produces two gallons, the equivalent of about 21 standard cans of beer.
This is stage one of the out-of-control part. You can change malt extracts for actual grain and grind your own, using a portable grain mill that sits atop a five-gallon bucket. Upgrade to a glass carboy instead of plastic; larger vessels; that turkey-fryer burner out in the backyard for the boil. After all, Larry Bell of the massively successful Bell’s Brewery started with a homebrew shop in 1983 and opened the brewery two years later.
As Long As We’re Having a Good TimeEven professional brewers, who in many cases slowed down or stopped entirely, returned to homebrewing last year, and some never quit at all. Joe Walts, a professional brewer now working in the lab and as process improvement specialist for Octopi Brewing in Waunakee, Wisconsin, says he continued with the hobby, making at least a batch for Thanksgiving each year and perhaps two or three more besides.
“For the first eight-ish years after going pro, it was because I loved creating recipes and rarely got to do it at work,” he said.
“My advice would be to focus on, one, whatever you find fun, and two, fermentation,” said Walts. Certain beers can’t be made with extracts—“anything that requires Munich malt has starch that needs to be enzymatically converted”—but that doesn’t mean you have to go beyond the basics.
“You can make equally good beer with extracts, plus steeped bags of specialty grain versus all-grain," Walts said, "but you may want to switch to all-grain at some point because it’s fun.” You can even culture your own yeast. Temperature control, another important aspect of the process, may incline you to upgrade equipment, but “a used fridge or chest freezer with a temperature controller is as good as anything.”
So, aspiring homebrewers, you have options: starting from basic stovetop boiling with malt extracts. That’s how they hook you. When you start buying stainless-steel multi-barrel tanks, you might want to think about moving out of the kitchen. Don’t say you weren’t warned.