Every few weeks, Sophie writes about Beer, Brewing and Bites. Her stories are witty, educational and worth a read!
Home Brewers – Fostering the Future of Craft Brewing
May 18, 2019
On April 27th, I escorted the “Salty Gals” from Saltbox Brewery as they proffered their unique take on a German Kellerbier at the inaugural Brewster Fest. Hosted by Good Robot Brewing Company in Halifax, the event showcased beers brewed solely by women in Atlantic Canada. With more than 15 breweries represented, it was a great way to celebrate women in the industry and their contribution to the craft. For those who got to sample their wares, the variety and quality of beer on offer left little doubt about the level of creativity and talent these women possess. While some representing their breweries had commercial brewing experience, many others were hobbyist homebrewers. Several were outright novices to the brewing process before collaborating to create something innovative for the Brewster Fest. Most of them are hooked on the idea of working together to share experiences and get a deeper appreciation for the art and science of brewing.
Gary Glass, President of the American Homebrewers Association, estimates that 90% of today’s professional brewers start off as homebrewers. In fact, the explosion in craft beer has been driven in no small part by homebrewers becoming so enamoured with the fruits of their labor that they invest in moving their operations from a basement to a brewhouse. The folks at AB-InBev (the world’s largest “brewer”) seem to get this. ZX Ventures – AB-InBev’s global growth and innovation group - wants to make home brewing “as popular and easy as cooking because …every beer that’s popular today began with a homebrewer”. That’s why they recently acquired Northern Brewer, the top homebrew ingredient and equipment supplier in the U.S. They see homebrewing as “a natural expansion” of the craft brewing business, including encouraging more women to take up the craft through easier access to equipment and technology.
The internet has made purchase of home brewing kits incredibly easy and opened up a broad range of supplies and ingredients from all over the world. Knowledge-sharing through online forums and brewing courses is on the rise. And “how to” books are readily available; “How to Brew”, John Palmer’s definitive guide to homebrewing first released in the 1990’s, is now in its fourth addition. This latest release was specifically updated to reflect the myriad of changes that have occurred over the last 10 years in the craft beer industry, including a renaissance in brewing equipment, which no longer requires a McGyver-like talent to re-purpose common kitchen items into something brew-worthy. All of this access to quality supplies and information has allowed many home brewers to create products that are equal to, if not better than, some of the commercial products you’ll find on store shelves.
With the increased interest in homebrewing there is an equal desire by hobbyists to have more direct access to experienced brewers. Brew Clubs offer one way to tap into the larger brewing community. These clubs usually have good relationships with local breweries and often some professional brewers are present or past members. Moreover some of these clubs have structured activities that allow you to rub elbows with other professionals like beer judges, brewery owners, and certified cicerones.
And then of course there’s the “home brewing within a brewery” model that is being offered by the King Street Beer Company in Bridgewater, NS. They are inviting local homebrewers to produce their favourite beer recipe on the brewery’s 50L pilot system. Homebrewers can review and refine their selection of ingredients and brewing techniques on-site with a professional brewer. When the beer is finished, King Street hosts a launch party showcasing the beer and its homebrewer under it’s umbrella LaHave River Beer brand – locally brewed beers by local home brewers.
Are we arming local homebrewers to become the competition of the future? Absolutely! But isn’t that how you keep a local craft alive? This is the small-batch, locally made, quality over quantity, craft beer industry - a group that prides itself on its transparency and collaborative nature. And let’s face it, working cohesively as a group, sharing stories and learning experiences, fosters innovation, diversity and options - things the craft beer drinker is constantly on the lookout for.
As local beer lovers, the most we can do to promote the homebrewers’ desire to learn from experience and take a crack at creating their own twist on beer styles, is to drink their beer. So the next time you find yourself in Bridgewater, come by the King Street Beer Company and check out what the local homebrewers and professionals have on offer.