‘The biggest advantage that homebrewers have is the ability to dream up a new beer today, brew it today and drink it after a few weeks’ fermentation.’
Stroll through the Riverbend home of Julia Moore and Doug Thomas, and you’ll find the accoutrement for their shared hobby worked into the furnishings of almost every room. The couple, who brew beer under the name George’s Home Brewery, relegates most of their equipment to a small multipurpose room, where large plastic buckets sit along one side, a collection of kegs fills the closet floor and a tower of stackable bins rests along a wall.
New Orleans on Tap
What: A beer festival featuring more than 275 beers, including dozens of homebrews.
When: Sept. 27, 1-8 p.m. (VIP ticket-holders may enter at noon.)
Where: City Park Festival Grounds.
Details: Admission is free. Tickets for sample pours start at $1. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance at neworleansontap.org. The event is a fundraiser for the Louisiana SPCA, which puts on the fest with The Bulldog bar. Live music, games, a homebrewing competition and food, a raffle and bicycle parking are also on tap.
Their hobby, though, has crept into other parts of the home as well. A large white kegerator, fashioned from a freezer, forms a main feature in the living room. It’s used for serving brews as well as fermenting lagers, which require colder temperatures.
In the kitchen, a mason jar filled with yeast sits on the new countertops; the refrigerator holds containers of yeasts; and in the freezer, next to the sausage, is a bag of hops.
Across the city in Gentilly, Karl Hartdegen confines most of his brewing equipment to the garage, but the increasingly intricate custom-built setup dominates half of the large space, giving curious visitors plenty of gadgetry to admire.
Hartdegen is in the middle of converting his home brewing system into an electronic setup that will allow him to monitor, regulate, document and — most importantly — repeat temperatures and timings of the brewing process via laptop and smartphone.
“The digital interface allows for adjustments all the while sending data to a cloud server for real-time or post analysis,” he said.
Hartdegen’s garage now includes a range of equipment, from basic plastic jugs to a touch-screen brewing interface on the wall. For added ease, a rolling wooden entertainment center is being converted into a mobile brewing stand. A four-tap kegerator takes up a corner of the garage, near a washing machine and dryer.
Houses furnished with kegerators, accumulated buckets and brewing gadgetry are becoming more common as a growing number of locals take their interest in beer beyond just popping open a bottle or pouring a pint.
Brewstock, the home brewing supply store in New Orleans, has seen a substantial increase in business since it opened five years ago, with much of the jump coming from folks who are new to the hobby, said Kyle DuPont, Brewstock’s owner.
Three years ago, the store sold about three to four home brewing kits per week (the ones typically used by those new to brewing beer), DuPont said. Now, it averages six to eight kits a week.
Rick Doskey, president of the Crescent City Homebrewers, said the local club also has the largest membership in its history.
The surge coincides with a skyrocketing interest in craft beer, suggesting a crossover between the two popular pastimes.
As craft-beer drinkers learn more about the various styles of beer, DuPont said, they often become interested in crafting their own. “You can make it exactly the way you like it,” DuPont said.
Take Moore and Thomas’s current project: a rose lager made with rosehips and rose petals.
Or Mili Doskey’s coconut porter, which earned rave reviews from beer blogger Nora McGunnigle.
Hartdegen started home brewing about seven years ago after his siblings bought him a Mr. Beer kit for Christmas, a gift likely inspired by Hartdegen’s interest in craft beer and his work as a chemist.
Moore started brewing her own about seven years ago, but her beer-making experience stretches back to childhood when she capped bottles for her father, an avid home brewer.
Another reason home brewing’s popularity is on the rise, according to Doskey: it can be done with “as little as a three-gallon pot, a fermentation bucket and some malt extract to ferment.”
The Doskeys started by brewing in their kitchen and then moved the operation into the backyard to accommodate a slightly more complex process. The couple’s setup, which Rick Doskey describes as “pretty common,” takes up part of the garage and a junk room in the home.
“You can get as crazy as you want,” Thomas said. “But anybody can do it.”The hobby’s endless opportunities for experimentation tend to attract DIY enthusiasts, techies and others with a propensity for tinkering.
“People bring whatever skills they have to this,” said Greg Hackenberg, also a member of the Crescent City Homebrewers. His propane-fueled setup reflects his architectural and carpentry skills.
Hackenberg usually brews in his backyard with a system that uses gravity to move beer-making ingredients from container to container, which frees him from heavy lifting. A large cabinet he built places the system at the right heights to allow gravitational flow.
Hartdegen’s background in chemistry and his love for DIY projects are both put to use in home brewing.
“It’s a rabbit hole,” he said. “There are so many different avenues you can take. That was the exciting part.”
Groups of hobbyists regularly gather through the Crescent City Homebrewers and the Mystic Krewe of Brew on the North Shore, as well as numerous informal groups, Doskey said.
“The attitude of homebrewers is very collegial. Everyone wants to see a home brewer make a good beer. Help and advice are everywhere,” he said. “The biggest advantage the large brewers have over the homebrewers is repeatability. The biggest advantage that homebrewers have is the ability to dream up a new beer today, brew it today, and drink it after a few weeks’ fermentation. We also have more fun.”