by Karen Newton
Give a man a beer and he wastes an hour. Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime.
“I started because I didn’t think making great beer at home was possible, so I had to try it for myself,” says Jeremy Wirtes, brewer and co-owner of Triple Crossing Brewery. “I fell in love with the process and the endless possibilities of both ingredients and methods. I’ve been down the rabbit hole ever since.”
Hip as home brewing seems in 2015, Americans as far back as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson embraced it. What’s changed since colonial times is the culture around it, with swapping samples and competing with other brewers now a significant part of beer culture. Although you could drink your creation at home, the consensus is you’re missing out on a rewarding aspect of the beer community that way.
Got limited money and time? As with any hobby, you can spend as much as you want should brewing pique your interest, but a low initial investment makes it doable for almost anyone. Busy types take heart, too, because it can take as little as a few hours on two separate days to produce a batch of beer. And not just any beer, but beer your way.
“It’s creative expression. Think you’d like a mango beer? Try to make one,” says Anna Shore, president of James River Homebrewers. “We all want to know our food ingredients and processing, but what about our beverages? You can have control of this, too.”
Getting started requires tapping into someone else’s knowledge base. Shore suggests having a friend show you the process, but absent a savvy pal, check out a home-brewers’ club meeting or visit on a group brew day. The American Homebrewers Association sponsors two — Big Brew is the first weekend in May and Learn to Brew Day the first weekend in November — but Richmond clubs have events year-round.
Not that crafting your own beer requires justification, but keep in mind it’s educational, too. A recent Science on Tap event at the Science Museum of Virginia drew 1,200 hop heads to taste local beer, question brewing experts and learn the science behind beer.
“Huguenot Hops discussed alpha and beta levels and how essential oils impart different aromas in beers,” says Chrissy Caldwell, the museum’s manager of communications and curiosity. Repeat: It’s not just about drinking. It’s about learning.
First-timers can opt for the easiest method, a kit that includes directions, malt extract, hops and yeast. Besides ingredients, you’ll need a large metal pot measuring five or more gallons, a thermometer, a carboy or food-grade five-gallon bucket and an air lock, plus bottles, caps and a capper after fermentation. These basics are available at any of the suppliers in all-inclusive starter kits.
“Before buying any equipment, I always suggest borrowing as a great way to test the waters without the monetary investment,” Shore says. “For the first brew, start with a simple recipe and malt extract. In terms of style, I’d suggest the novice try a brown ale. It’s one of the most basic, least complicated.”
But be forewarned, home brewing isn’t all camaraderie and yeast. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of cleaning,” Shore says. “A brewer spends more time cleaning before and after brewing than the actual brewing.”
Where to Get Started
Artisans Wine and Homebrew
13829 Village Place Drive
6118 Lakeside Ave.
4205 W. Hundred Road
James River Homebrewers
Second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m.
6004 W. Broad St.
Search Facebook for James River Homebrewers
Mentoring Advanced Standards of Homebrewing
Third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.
4824 Market Square Lane
Search Facebook for MASHRVA