Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and writes Eatocracy's beer column, "Berrong on Beer." He Tweets at @nathanberrong and logs beers at Untappd.
Today marks the 14th annual Learn to Homebrew Day, a day that is celebrated by some one million Americans who brew their own beer. Homebrewing is at the very core of the craft beer boom, with countless professional brewers having honed their chops years prior on a homebrew system. Several established breweries still try out their test recipes on systems not unlike those found in many basements across the country today.
One homebrewer who is in the process of taking the leap from amateur to professional, is Brian Purcell of Decatur, GA. Brian began homebrewing several years ago and is living out every homebrewers dream as he begins work on his own brick and mortar brewery, Three Taverns . I recently spoke with Brian about homebrewing and what it’s like to start a craft brewery.
Eatocracy: What first lead or inspired you to start home brewing?
Brian Purcell: I made a trip to Portland 12 years ago to attend an old friend’s wedding. After a day of sampling the amazing beer and pub culture of Portland, we ended the day at a party where my friend was serving his own homebrewed beer. This was my first taste of homebrew and it blew me away. I never imagined you could make such great tasting beer at home.
Back in Atlanta there was a homebrew shop around the corner from my house, and the first thing I did on return was to buy a homebrew kit. I didn’t actually make my first beer till I moved to the beer hub of Decatur two years later, but once I brewed my first batch I was hooked. I don’t think there has been a month since that I haven’t brewed at least one batch of beer. In brewers’ terms, I got the bug. I can’t imagine not brewing beer now.
Eatocracy: Did your view of beer change after you began brewing your own?
Brian Purcell: Discovering the art and uncovering the mystery of brewing has been nothing short of profound. Beer is an ancient art and, while simple at its very essence, is far from simplistic. A new beer starts with a recipe that can find inspiration from many sources and takes time and talent to formulate. And the outcome of the brewing process is complex and difficult and mostly determined by the skill and creativity of the brewer.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he writes, “When we put something in our mouth, and in that blink of an eye decide whether it tastes good or not, we are reacting not only to the evidence from our taste buds and salivary gland but also to the evidence of our eyes and memories and imaginations.” Once you understand that, you understand how an amazing beer can be enjoyed and celebrated by all our senses as a gift, a gift to which we can only be grateful.
Eatocracy: What advice would you give for someone that is considering home brewing? Any books or websites you'd recommend on the subject?
Brian Purcell: Most homebrewers could go on for hours on this topic. My experience though distills it down to this one most important thing, “brew it your way”. There are things you shouldn’t do of course, but everybody brews in a different way and brewing is really all about learning.
Your first step might be to watch a friend brew or attend a class. Or you might start with the directions in brew kit or a book like Charlie Papazian’s beloved The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, first published in 1984. Today you can even watch videos on YouTube or subscribe to Podcasts like Basic Brewing. There are even newsgroups and forums on homebrewing you can find on the internet. And every city has homebrew clubs where community is formed and information and techniques are traded and improved upon.
The mediums for learning are endless, but you need to do what is most comfortable for you depending on how far you want to take the hobby. Be your own brewer. Nothing should stop you from making your first mistake, for mistakes can lead you to new heights in making beer. In the end, the sage advice of Charlie Papazian still applies today, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”
Eatocracy: Does brewing certain beer styles present more challenges than others? Is there a particular style that is more tedious to perfect?
Brian Purcell: All styles take skill to master, but some are definitely more forgiving than others. But to me the Belgian styles, especially the big beers with dry finishes like the Tripel and the Quadrupel are some of the hardest to perfect. The alcohol on these beers typically reach as high as 9-12% with the road to perfection littered with failed attempts, many of them my own in the early years of brewing. The quality of the produced wort (unfermented beer), the health of the yeast and the management of the fermentation environment is especially difficult to master for most brewers, including many experienced commercial brewers.
To match the quality and nuances of the Belgian brewers, especially the monastic brewers, is almost impossible. It is surely impossible without the focus, the practice, the experimentation, and the “Benedictine patience” required for unearthing the mystery of making these truly divine beers.
Eatocracy: You recently lived out the dream of every homebrewer by raising just under two million dollars to start your own brewery. What were the least and most rewarding aspects of that process?
Brian Purcell: It began for me as a passionate dream and the inspiration and drive from a well developed vision was critical for the long hours of research and planning required in making it a reality. This is a capital intensive industry, and unless you are an exception and can self-fund your venture, you have the especially daunting task of raising capital from investors, an effort that requires a thorough and formally developed business plan.
Time and emotional energy was one of the most difficult challenges when trying to balance my current job as a business owner, my commitment to my family and friends, and the many hours away during my four years planning the brewery. And while often mentally and emotionally exhausting, the effort was filled with amazing rewards and surprises.
The breweries that make up the Craft Brewers Association are filled with amazing and deeply passionate people. Whether I was attending an industry conference, interviewing another brewer, talking with pub owners or raising a glass with fellow beer enthusiasts, there was always an inspiring experience of real relationship tied to a common vision for the creation and restoration of good things. Looking from the outside in year after year was a real test to my stamina and commitment, but a vision for life and vocation in this community always spurred me on. And of course there was always the escape into the soul satisfying work of brewing the next test batch of beer.
Finally after months of networking and pitching new investor prospects, we were suddenly rewarded when we raised 135% of our capital requirement in June of this year. As the brewery build-out now accelerates toward a May launch in 2013, I often have to pinch myself to make sure I’m still not dreaming. This is truly my dream come true.
If you’d like some more information about how to begin the process of making your own beer, the American Homebrewers Association"has got you covered. There you can find a listing of all the events taking place today in conjunction with Learn How to Homebrew Day, what you need to get started brewing your first batch of beer, and even how to connect with fellow homebrewers in your area.
What is your experience with homebrewing? Any good stories about a beer that was an accidental hit? Plans or special ingredients for an upcoming beer? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
BD good luck I tried it once. What a mess! I still remember the taste.
I have been homebrwing for 10-15 years and there is absolutely no comparison between a home brewed beverage and commercial beers. The major plus for commercial beers is the conveineince but that's about it. The thing is its relative easy and after the upfront equipment purchase its cheap whwn you consider the quality and tast of fresh brewed beer. I'm getting ready to brew an all grain Winter Warmer, mmmmmmm.
Just started brewing this year. 1st was from a kit, and it was just great. I'm about to open the 2nd batch which was from a recipe. any day now! And, I'm already thinking I need another brew, so I have enough bottled for the holidays (mind you, I just recently scored enough bottles for two batches). I enjoy it, but it's a bit of effort. Of course, 2nd batch I'd already learned so much more on how to make things easier- no dry sanitizer, etc., so I'm not bending over the tub washing and sanitizing 36 bottles, all clanging into each other, and making sure they are all rinsed properly afterwards... man! So, I'd encourage every one to try it- what the hell! You'll be so impressed with what you come up with.
Great job getting the word out about the joys of homebrewing. I'm really rooting for the Three Taverns to do well and sell a lot of beer! I will have to drop by sometime when I'm out that way. Support your local breweries and keep on homebrewing!
I want to brew a bock a dopplebock and a nut brown ale
My good friend brews all of his own beer, and once he learned the proper techniques, his beer beats the comercial equalavant hand s down. Small artisinal products are almost always better than mass produced ones. Because they focus on quality, not making the most for the cheapest.
I agree! My first batch didn't have as high of an alcohol content as it should have (was probably about 5 or 6%, vs. 8%), but I'd still made BEER that had flavor, and aroma!!!! Nothing else mattered!
beer is sooooooooooooooo good. it gets you sooooooooooooooo drunk like a boss. lolwut in the butt TROLL hahaha
Homebrew or homegrown what's the big difference here???
Gstlab, both are very nice, and better than mass produced product
I started homebrewing back in the 1990s after returning from The Netherlands, where I lived for 5 years while serving in the Army. My Dutch father-in-law turned me on to the Trappist beers and I wanted to learn how to brew something similar. After 20 years and about 25 batches of my Belgium Tripel, I recently decided to get back in the business of brewing beer at home, following a 5-year hiatus. As a web developer, I decided I would start this year off by recording my brewing processes with a hobby website (www.howbrewbeer.com). I have to say that my Tripel is almost there! My friend and I call it Herbert's Belgium Tripel, after my father-in-law, who taught me everything about the Trappist monasteries and their beers. I have about 10 or 12 bottles left from a batch I brewed a few months ago. They have been conditioning for about two months in the bottles. I think I'll give one a try today. If what I know about those Belgium beers is true (patience is very necessary), the longer you wait, the better they will be. I'll let you know. But, for now, if you want to learn the basics of brewing, I would be honored if you check out my site and give me some feedback. If you want to know more about brewing at home, drop me an email.
Pablo's Kolsch is interesting.
Yeah, Pablo's Kolsch turned out very interesting. After trying a "fireman's" style at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing in Asheville, NC we decided to give one a try. Not one of our favorites, but there are some who like the heat. Gave me heartburn! Drinks like a Kolsch, finishes like a spicy burrito!
Nothing Beats a good toilet wine. San Quentin and Rikers Island, I would recommend. Try last weeks vintage. If you can find a vintage from two weeks ago, I commend you.
I started home brewing about 16 months ago and have done 13 5 gallon batches in that time span. I absolutely love it. I totally agree about the sanitation issue, I have been anal about it and haven't had a bad batch yet. Prior to the first batch, I spent months reading about home brewing on the web, and it paid off as there haven't been any surprises so far. In addition to the sanitation recommendation, I would add that having a good controlled environment for fermentation is valuable. After having a near death experience with bottle conditioning on one batch, I got a refrigerator and controller and haven't had that issue since. Temperature control is as important as sanitation. Prost!!!
Southern white evangelicals prefer to drink Everclear before boinking their cousins.
you are a trash talkin Yankee fer sure. It ain't everclear Mooormon, it's MOONSHINE.
Home brewing has improved immensely over the last 15 years. The availabilty and quality of the ingredients is superior, and if you take the time and effort to control the variables of your brewing process and storage, you can get fantastic results. Consistency is always the hardest for me. In a book I read, the observation was made that while large breweries may create beers that are, compared to home and craft brews, thin and tasteless, but that thin, weak quality exposes any failures of consistency, yet this is where the big brewers excel. They are excellent at obtaining the same result over and over and over. This is not easy to do. The homebrewer that can obtain the taste he's looking for, every time, across different styles, really has to know his stuff and know what makes different inputs give the desired result. Again, not easy. Anyone can brew beer, but to do it with a master's control? No, not everyone is capable of that. I wish I could say that I'm one of those people, but I'm not there yet.
Super article!!! I'd love to read more like this. I was down in the basement last night and realized that I'm running low on a great batch of Scottish ale my kid and I brewed a few weeks ago. Looking at a batch of Chocolate oatmeal stout next. Advice for new brewers: REALLY CONCENTRATE ON SANITATION! I've ended up with some pretty funky batches because I picked up wild yeast strain. Just pure carelessness.
Homebrewing is a great hobby, and the scalability of the costs is a big plus. One can invest little and still make fantastic beer, or create a miniature brewery with pumps and everything. To Brian's point, the true fun is creating something new that is not prominent in commercial offerings...
currently assembling my own home brewery. Going to be making a basic pilsner and then an IPA, wish me luck!
No no no - please don't start with the Pils. Lagers are NOTORIOUSLY difficult without the experience of brewing ales. Start with the IPA, get that perfect after a few batches, then move on to an easier lager. I've been brewing for years, and I haven't gotten a Pils right, yet.
My best friend and I home brewed a nice Bock style beer, it was delicious. Craft brewed beer is where it's at, taste and quality is unsurpassed. It may cost a little more than that case of Bud-Light (blah!) but is infinitely better!
When will it be Homegrown Day? I have had my t shirt since 1983.
When the Fed finally realizes that Cannabis prohibition has utterly failed and wises up, comes to terms with their gross misuses of law enforcement and wastefulness of tax payer money.
You have my vote for Vice President.
Beer is liquid bread. It's a food. Like anything, too much is not good. Don't be a fool.
Booze kills! Smoke ganja!
You have my vote for president.
Colorado, here I come.
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