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Homebrewing: A Re-Discovery

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

The story arc of so many of us in beer is the same: discover a world of beers outside of the macro lagers (for me, it was mostly imports first, then the mid 2000's growth of craft everywhere in all kinds of styles), then either right before that or right after, discover homebrewing. In the later part of the first decade of the 21st century, it seemed like everyone took to homebrewing, re-making their favorite beers they couldn't easily find. Making variations on beers they drank. Making a beer they loved but was a little expensive in the store or in bars. There's a few more reasons we could delve into, but that's not my point here. This arc hit a lot of people, and then a chunk of us started doing things peripheral to the industry. Writing about it. Cooking with it. Making art with caps and labels and bottles. Then came selling it. Stores sprung up to cater to us. That meant more industry-related jobs. Breweries expanded and brewing schools were filled. More jobs. Eventually those of us with hobbies peripheral to the industry found ourselves IN the beer industry.

At this point, in 2010 say, for me, homebrewing was still a regular part of participating in the growth of beer culture. But, I also knew something was starting to happen. Chicago's beer growth was catching up, and I had a lot of places to visit and events to attend (for fun, then for work and fun) and writing to do and I didn't have 5-8 hours to have a brew day. I didn't have the energy to take time to bottle (a lot of friends stuck with brewing in these years by going into kegging). Slowly a multiple times per month hobby became one beer a month, then one beer a quarter, then just a couple per year. The key thing though, wasn't just the time commitment needed for homebrewing. It was the equation about time committed to brewing versus how much beer variety existed. Trends seemed to pop up and stick around a bit, but also no single trend dominated. Without looking at data, anecdotally even the IPA was just steadily incremental growth and not an explosion that dominated shelves yet.

That's all started to change in the overall makeup of a store's craft area. In order to cater to those spending money, there seems to be a huge focus of course on IPAs, on adjunct-laden stouts, on fruited sours, and on pilsner-like lagers as a distant fourth. There's a bunch of outliers, doing interesting things with wild yeasts, classic styles, and more, but it's rarely something you can find multiple examples of in one store. Innovation is there, it's available, it's often done very well, but it is struggling to stand out on shelves. It doesn't have the marketing behind it sometimes, that a brewery's put into its IPA and stout. It certainly doesn't seem to have the phone calls, seekers, hype, and secondary market traders. BUT, it is there to find if you want it. It's also there to inspire. Which is where I get back to my point about homebrewing.

I find myself, suddenly, wanting to do it more. To put the time into it. To push the boundaries of it to make styles I don't see often enough or to do experimental versions of classics. There's a lot of ideas you can borrow from the innovation that is out there, or even from the many new versions of stouts and IPAs that get put out so regularly. Why just make IPAs with guava and mango and pineapple, if you can find ways to combine those flavors in an amber or a biere de garde.

So, the Boozy Beggar is brewing again. This is the third phase of my brewing life. First was the mid 2000s, about 2006-2010. Brewed probably 25-30 beers in those years. Then came the 2011-2018 period. Just a couple of batches a year, usually easy drinking belgian pales, saisons, blondes and then a few other beers that didn't work out well at all. Now, we're trying something new to me. Herbs. Spices. Fruits. Probably will do a few long projects with brettanomyces. Probably visit some classics I never made more than once. And, most definitely, going to play around with some higher ABV stuff. I've only done that a time or two and it did work out, but I think I'd like to approach that as a regular part of my beer game. Anyway, I can't say I expect people to care much about some random dude brewing in a world of 6500+ breweries, but I'm going to log all of the recipes and often the notes and ideas.

First beer is almost ready for sharing. gRainbow. The second beer is about to be bottled. Spellcaster. The third beer is about to start fermenting. Unnamed.

More on the setup, my brewing partner(s), and those recipes in the next post.

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