By Mary Bigham
Choice words to never say to a homebrewer: “This is actually really good!”
Why? Because, well, why wouldn’t it be? So asks Mike, the owner of Artisan Homebrew. It makes sense; I mean, it’s the kind of backhanded compliment you would never say to a passionate home chef if they made you dinner, so why would you say it about a passionate homebrewer’s beer?
Through my appreciation for homebrewing and my resultant curiosity to learn more about how to make a beer that’s actually tasty, I discovered it seems to be a male-dominated hobby, a fraternity of sorts. So, I approached fellow CC writer (who proudly “has no qualms walking into a room full of dudes and talking beer”) Kate Brennan with my latest venture. We decided that we brewettes would embark on the world of homebrewing and give it a go. I decided to start with a visit to someone local that has it together, so off we were to Artisan Homebrew in Downingtown for some schooling.
We started with beer…why not have a drink to figure out what kind of beer you want to make and learn what it is you like about the beer? When asked how he got interested in such a craft, Mike said just that – growing a fondness for the beer was his first step. “Then I moved on to homebrewing, which has made me more aware of what I’m tasting. I can tell what I’m drinking.”
That insight sounded great to us, so, of course, Mike suggested that we head to a place like Station Tap Room (located just down the road in Downingtown) to find a beer that we love, because “You really have to love a beer to want to make it.” So, potential homebrewers and brewettes…you should make sure you love it to make it.
What did we come up with? Well, I love Franziskaner Hefeweizen, because it’s tasty, perfect for summer and has hints of bananas foster. Plus, how could I not love a beer that secretly has flavors of one of my favorite desserts hidden within? So my brew of choice would be a Hefeweizen (a wheat beer). Kate, being a Hops fan (and determined to name a beer “Hop Commodity”) chose to brew an India Pale Ale (IPA).
During the tour at Artisan I saw bottles of fruit-flavor extracts and wondered if I’d need the banana flavor for my beer recipe. Mike informed me that the yeast creates a taste like bananas and there would be no need to do that. Kate stocked up on hops from the fridge with so many hop varieties it seemed to belong in an Amsterdam “coffeeshop.” As Kate made her final selections Mike offered, “That’s gonna be a big beer, taste-wise. Big hops in that.” She seemed pleased. He also noted that although most people that walk in want to try something simple that may be attainable using a kit, if there are specific ideas for the beer he can guide people through determining the recipe.
Where do the recipes come from, you might ask? Tastybrew.com allows you to formulate recipes for beer if you want to do your homework at home. If not, Mike will guide you through the process and even print out the recipe and help you select the ingredients you need to make your beer of choice. Luckily, our chosen brew recipes were simple, which was a relief because who wants to get their feet wet in the world of homebrewing starting with a complicated recipe? I felt even more confident in Mike’s guidance and commitment to the craft after seeing the reception he awarded the many homebrewing “brothers” that came in, offering them hand shakes and advice.
“One thing I wanted [was] to have a beer community,” Mike said, as he turned to talk beer with a customer. “Did you taste smoke in that or vanilla?” Whichever it was, Mike offers his full attention to his homebrewers and encourages expanding the beer community through local groups like Brewers Unlimited Zany Zymurgists (BUZZ). BUZZ is a group of homebrewers in and around Chester County with members of varying homebrew experience that meet once a month (the third Monday of the month) at Iron Hill Brewery in West Chester with the purpose to share knowledge, guidance and experiences. Mike admits that most (if not all) of the members are men, so Kate and I look forward to showing up with our respective brews to see if us brewettes can make a beer that “is actually really good!”
And so with Mike’s guidance, we are off into the world of homebrewing equipped with buckets, tubes and thermometers, all reminiscent of high school chemistry class. As we headed home, he promised it’s not at hard as it looks, it’s “just like cooking.” For me, that statement gave me hope; for my admittingly bad in the kitchen friend Kate, she gave me a look of panic.
Keep a look out for the next article in this homebrewing series outlining the details of our experience. And wish us luck!
Artisan Home Brew
128 East Lancaster Avenue
Downingtown, PA 19335-2958