As the American Homebrewers Association tells it: "In the beginning there was beer. It was good."
Well, maybe not right at the beginning, but people have been making their own beer, batch by batch, for over ten thousand years, starting in early Neolithic times.
Modern homebrew clubs and associations have been going strong since at least the 1970s - there were 800 homebrew clubs in the U.S. as of 2009.
Three Ingredients, Many Possibilites
Writer and beer columnist Rita Kohn, author of "True Brew: A Guide To Craft Beer in Indiana," says people are passionate about making their own beer because of the possibilities it allows:
"It is a craft that has three basic ingredients â water, malt, and yeast," explains Kohn. "And you can do so many different things with those to make flavors of great complexity."
And in many ways, today's home brewers are brewing in the same way those in Ancient Europe did â by adding earthy ingredients such as honey, herbs, and fruit to their concoctions.
Stout beers are perhaps the most oft-experimented on beer, with variations infused with:
- And even oysters!
David Ray is relatively new to home brewing â he's made about 6 batches. He says the appeal of home brewing comes down to getting something that's unavailable in the marketplace:
"With home brewing, you can basically do whatever you want," Ray says. "So you don't have to go to the store and say âI want this, but it tastes a little bit off.' You can just go in and craft something exactly how you want it to taste."
Networks and Clubs
But, with great freedom comes great responsibility â one misstep and that wheat ale you've been working on can come out flat, strange-tasting, or even worse â over-carbonation can cause bottles to explode!
And it's for this reason that home brewers thrive on communication with one another â whether within informal networks of friends, homebrew competitions, or official homebrew clubs.
"It's one of those things where you can do it all by yourself, but if you really want to get better, there's people who have made the mistakes you're going to make," said Ray. "So if you talk to them, you can do things differently and come up with something a little bit better."
A Different Kind of Green Beer
As we approach St. Patrick's Day, it's worth noting that for many who brew, green beer means more than just the addition of green food coloring.
Sustainable practices are increasingly a concern of many who brew beer.
Kohn says that many home brewers grow their own hops, use cans or recycled bottles for their products, and pick local berries to add to their batches.
Beer doesn't grow on trees, but for home brewers â it's a pretty short trip from backyard to bottle!
This is the first in a series on beer that will culminate with an episode of the Earth Eats Podcast dedicated to sustainable craft beers and home brewing later this spring.