Deep in the dog days of summer, a frosty beer on the patio can really hit the spot.
But instead of heading to the liquor store to stock up, a new generation of homebrewer is traipsing down to a basement beer fridge and choosing a bottle of homemade ale.
If homebrewing reminds you of your dad’s smelly experiment fermenting away in the basement, think again.
The beer kit your dad might have tried likely contained too much sugar and not enough malt (barley grains), says Dan Smalls, owner of Dan’s Home-brewing Supplies in Vancouver.
The bad-tasting brews that resulted gave homebrewing a bad name.
“When I first opened the store, there weren’t that many homebrewers,” said Smalls.
“It was tough convincing people that they could make good beer at home.”
Although the novice beer maker might be tempted to start with a pack-aged kit, it’s not necessary.
“You have to be really afraid of the kitchen not to be able to pull this off,” said Smalls, who sells different types of malt and hops, as well as beer-making equipment.
Smalls and his staff also provide advice and recipes.
Dave Shea, a 32-year-old software designer who lives in Vancouver, started making his own beer two years ago.
With the blessing of a wife who “lets me get away with more than I should,” Shea has carved out storage spots in his apartment for his beer equipment and turns his tiny home office into a fermentation nook when he has a batch on the go.
“I had an interest in beer for quite a while and I would seek out interesting microbrews and craft brews,” said Shea.
“I just wanted the interesting-tasting stuff, and I wanted a wide variety.”
Shea’s first attempt, a fancy double-hopped IPA, was a disappointment.
“I tend to be a pretty harsh critic of any beer, including stuff that I make, so when I tasted it I thought there’s a lot of flaws here,” said Shea.
“The yeast just took off and went insane,” said Shea.
“I came home after a day at work, less than 24 hours after it started, and the airlock was just hissing and there was yeast caught in it.
“I started feeling like if I didn’t do something about it, it was probably going to blow up.”
After a panicked Internet search, Shea found some tips on how to release the pressure and managed to avert a sticky disaster.
Since then, he has brewed dozens of batches in many styles, from pale ales to IPAs to stouts and Belgian beers.
The most unusual homebrew Smalls has come across is a Belgian ale made with purple Hawaiian potatoes.
“It was actually quite good.” “People can take off in all kinds of directions,” said Smalls.
“There are people who discover Belgian ales and that’s all they make. . . . That’s the beauty of homebrewing.”
For more information about home-brewing, visit beermaking.ca.
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