The topic of this month’s The Session is “regular beer.” I’d repeat the list of what that can mean, but to what end? I only wrote about what I wrote about. You can read the assignment at host Stan Hieronymous’ Appellation Beer, if you’d like.
Homebrew: What Was Once Regular is Regular Again
The first beer—whatever it looked like, tasted like, or was made from—was homebrew. Prior to the Industrial Revolution and huge steam jackets, magnificent piping, railroads, and refrigerators, it pretty much remained at that level. Sure, the Egyptians were producing a lot of beer, but it wasn’t really commercial in the way we understand that term today; and, it wasn’t really industrial either. And although branding entered into the conversation before industrialization, “branding” was how one distinguished one publican’s homebrew from another’s.
So today I’m writing about a batch I just finished, which is the first batch of my own beer I’ve brewed in about two years.
I bought a prepared kit from one of our local homebrew supply shops, made arrangements with a friend of mine (my co-blogger @BrewIndy) and set to work. The end product was just refrigerated and quaffed two nights ago. And it’s delicious. It’s a standard American brown ale with a medium body, rich, crystal clear brown color with little carbonation. It has the sweet smell of brown sugar and caramel in the nose; and, tastes of them both as well. It finishes with a perfectly blended vanilla and caramel combo that tastes just like sugar cookies.
The hombrew supply shop, Great Fermentations, is now in its third location since I started brewing 13 years ago this fall. They’re bigger than they used to be, smarter about beer (although they were experts par excellence when I first met them) and they still have a passion for brewing. Somewhere along the line they even spun of a nanobrewery.
At a recent beerfest here in Indy, I met a group of homebrewers just starting their own homebrew supply shop. That means Indianapolis has two homebrew supply shops. Two. Indianapolis. And the scene is just different. Making beer at home is just something that some people do now. It used to be that the hobby was so peculiar and so niche that it was just a bunch of bearded guys in fedoras spewing out Original Gravities, trading secrets about turning Gatorade coolers into mash tuns, and discussing the pros and cons of different brands of O-rings. It was intimidating, and for someone who had had his fill of subcultures, a little off-putting. But things have changed.
Whether it’s because of the rise of cooking as a hobby, as evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of Iron Chef, Rachel Ray, that douchey guy with the platinum spikey hairdo, Anthony Bourdain, Man vs. Food and the rest of them; or the rise in locavorism, Michael Pollan, Food Inc, and the rest of that scene; or if it’s just due to the rise in the popularity of craft beer, Sam Calagione, and the rest—whatever it is, homebrew is again what it used to be, regular beer, a beer that regular people drink fairly regularly.
Sure, when I tell people that I make my own beer, some people still seem intrigued; but, no one ever says, “How do you do that?” like they used to. I’m far more likely to hear something like “Oh, I did that when I was in college, before I could get into bars,” or “My brother/father/friend does that.”
I met a girl the other day in a bar, her and my Special Lady Friend really hit it off. We started talking and guess what, she brews beer. We’re brewing together in a few weeks. She’s making…I don’t remember what she said; I’m making a saison. A saison. In 1998 I’d never even heard of a saison. Now I’ve built my own recipe using a free online beer recipe-making program that calculates IBUs, abv%, OG, FG, and color.
I could do that with a rauchbier, a kolsch, a braggot, or any other beer style I wanted to. In my kitchen. By myself. With stuff I buy at specialty shops and stuff I buy from the grocery store. I use a pot. And a spoon. And I drink it from bottles. Sure, I use grolsch-style swingtops, but that just means I don’t even need a bottle capper anymore. You know what the most beer-nerd piece of equipment I own is? A bucket with a spigot on it (so I don’t need to use a racking tube). A pot, a spoon, a kitchen thermometer, a bucket, and a piece of tubing, that’s all I need to make a delicious American brown ale that tastes like sugar cookies.
How much more regular can it get?