By Melody Guyton Butts
DURHAM – It was four or five years ago that Chris Creech and four of his buddies – “broke college kids,” he says – each chipped in $20 to purchase some rudimentary beer-brewing supplies. One of those friends had mentioned that beer-brewing was on his bucket list, and it seemed an easy enough item for the UNC students to cross off.
So they did, and everyone else moved on to other things after graduation. But Creech kept brewing, taken by the magic of turning simple ingredients – grain, hops, yeast, water and occasionally something unexpected – into something special. On Saturday, he shared two of his latest creations – a peanut butter sour ale and a cask-conditioned English bitter – with hundreds of beer enthusiasts at the BrewDurham homebrewers festival.
Thirty homebrewers offered tastes of close to 80 ales, ciders and lagers to a crowd of more than 300 split between two sessions.
“It’s getting to create something that’s yours,” Creech said in explaining why he brews. “There are so many people whose job is to sit behind a computer, and that is work – but there’s not a real product at the end. That’s why there’s this whole DIY (do-it-yourself) movement, and homebrewing is a part of that.”
Saturday was the second round of BrewDurham, a fundraiser for the Scrap Exchange that was first held in October. The first event raised about $5,500 for the nonprofit, but with all 300 tickets sold out, Saturday’s event was expected to raise about $9,000. That money means a lot to the creative reuse center, which is still settling into its new digs in the Cordoba building after a partial roof collapse at Liberty Warehouse.
“This location is absolutely fabulous, but it’s twice as big as our other location, and our monthly rent is three times as much as it was before,” explained Ruth Warren, the Scrap Exchange’s marketing and events coordinator. “Our operating costs have increased so significantly across the board that fundraisers like this are helping us fill the gap.”
The event was coordinated by Keil Jansen. To fellow homebrewers, he said, opportunities like BrewDurham are “everything.”
“Nothing could make people want to do this unless they want to themselves,” he said. “We don’t pay anybody. We are having a little competition, and there are some prizes, but I could charge homebrewers 10 bucks a pop, and they’d still come – because people love to share their beer. They love to talk to people about it.”
Quin Melvin, a Scrap Exchange employee, said he was enjoying the variety and creativity presented by the homebrewers.
“It’s fun seeing (the homebrewers’) faces light up when you take that first sip,” he said. “I’m an artist, and I know the feeling of when you show someone your work.”
Soaking in the late-afternoon sunshine with Melvin was his friend Jen Kelley, who couldn’t help but rave about Creech’s peanut butter sour ale. She’d had his peanut butter porter at the Homebrew for Hunger festival in Chapel Hill last fall, but she thought the latest incarnation – created by aging five gallons of that porter for several months and mixing in some wild yeast and bacteria – was even better.
“The peanut butter hits you at the end. It’s amazing,” she said. “You’re tasting this beer, and all of a sudden, the peanut butter comes in and says, ‘Hello, I’m the peanut butter!’ ”
By the end of 2012, Creech hopes to open a brewery somewhere in the Triangle. He already has a name: Fortnight Brewing Company, in reference to the two weeks that it takes for beer to ferment. His plan is to create easy-drinking, approachable English-inspired ales.
While he has plans to go pro, many of the brewers seemed content to keep their operation at home.
Bahama resident Bob Allegretti began brewing about five years ago, mostly serving his creations at family gatherings. With a focus on simple, high-quality beers, he usually brews in bulk, so BrewDurham’s 10-gallon requirement wasn’t a problem. On Saturday, he served up two-ounce samples of his English northern brown ale.
Allegretti, who also participated in BrewDurham last fall, said it’s a great way to meet new people and – of course – talk about beer.
“Everybody’s interested and wants to learn. According to them, I’m pretty smart,” he said with a chuckle.
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