Brew Your Own Beer: Home Is Where the Hops Are
There’s nothing quite like the perfect sip of an American Wheat from a chilled bottle. Smooth, full bodied with the sweetness of pineapple and the distinct finish of … pride?
For Matt Jacobson, a systems engineer working on Boeing 787 flight controls by day and an avid home brewer after hours, sharing his craft with friends, neighbors and fellow brewing enthusiasts is indeed rewarding.
Jacobson was introduced to the hobby when a friend bought him a basic beer kit back in 2007 and he’s been hooked ever since. Progressing through beginner kits, premade recipes and glass carboys, the days of brewing in his bathtub are long over, replacing the “essence of Suave” in his brews with hints of fruit instead. He now has a home brewing setup similar to that of Dogfish Head’s founder Sam Calagione’s initial design—three kegs with propane burners under each.
“The fun of home brewing is you can have the best of both worlds by cloning your favorites and experimenting to create your own unique combinations,” said Jacobson. With an extensive catalog—including his well-known American Wheat with pineapple—Jacobson is always open to experimentation and has worked with local honey, homegrown jalapeños, apricots and much more.
For beginners, Jacobson stresses the importance of diligent sanitation.
“It is the first thing people lax on and it is the hardest thing to correct. I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve had mold crawling on the outside of my carboys before and no one wants to throw away money and gallons of beer,” says Jacobson.
As a certified beer judge from the Arizona Society of Homebrewers (ASH), he also encourages beginners and experienced brewers to become members of the organization. ASH was established in 1995 to “promote the time-honored tradition of home brewing through information, education and practice.”
For an annual fee of $35 members are invited to participate in exclusive events and competitions like the Oktoberfest competition in September, where members and nonmembers can enter beers, ciders and meads in all style categories, and the member-only holiday/winter brews competition for old ale and Christmas/winter specialty spiced ale. Other events include classes, tastings and happy hours amongst fellow home brewing hobbyists. Members also enjoy discounts at local breweries and home brewing retailers.
A major supporter of ASH and one of the charter members is Jeffrey Haines, owner of Brewers Connection. A home brewer now for over 30 years, Haines took over the once-struggling Brewers Connection in 1999 when he recognized that the previous owners weren’t thinking of the end product but only the bottom line.
“They had a poor beginner success rate with kits that had instructions that were vague at best, leaving a lot to guesswork, with most guessing wrong,” explains Haines. His response was to introduce an introductory kit that included all the needed supplies and a workbook that not only explained how but why you brew a certain way.
“It really turned the business around. Our success rate shot up to 85% with customers going ‘I can’t believe I brewed this,’” says Haines.
A man walks into a home brewing store may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but Valley retailers like Brewers Connection are no laughing matter, providing a wide selection and a wealth of information for beginning brewers to the most advanced hobbyist.
“The art of fermentation is relatively easy,” states Haines. “If you follow the rules of sanitation and fermentation temperature you’ll make a great beer.”
As a beginner, Haines suggests trying a kit that will include everything you need to create your first batch except bottles.
Introductory kits made up with durable plastic equipment start around $120 and steadily increase in price with skill level and material grade. As for where to brew, many home brewers set up in their kitchen or garage depending on temperature controls.
“You can end up making a case of quality craft beer for the price of a couple six packs,” explains Haines on the benefits of home brewing, “plus there is an element of pride with a great batch. It’s like making an amazing home-cooked meal that everyone enjoys.”
Home brewing as a hobby could be described as “never ending.” The four basic ingredients (water, yeast, malt and hops) can yield over 40,000 types of beer. Brewers Connection has an extensive list of complimentary recipes online and in-store for home brewers to try as they brew. Haines’ motto is “fresher is better” so all recipes are assembled on the spot.
The growing craft beer movement coupled with the do-it-yourself spirit has launched the trend of home brewing exponentially. Brewers Connection is just one Valley home brewing retailer that has experienced the wave of growth and interest.
“Thirty years ago I couldn’t get a good craft beer but I never would have thought the [craft beer] movement would be as popular as it has become,” says Haines. He expects trends to continue with increased popularity of IPAs like his “Connection IPA” and the use of local ingredients.
What is his call to action?
“We need more women brewers!” says Haines. “Through history women made beer and I want to bring that back.”