Jake Laxen, firstname.lastname@example.org 10:51 p.m. CDT April 29, 2014
Home beer brewing has become a popular hobby since being legalized in 1979. There are different kits for beginners and advanced brewers. Brewing is an art and a science.
Nitro Brew and Hobby co-owner Russ Windahl talks about all-grain brewing equipment at the St. Cloud store recently. In addition to stocking equipment and materials for home brewing, Windahl also leads brewing classes.(Photo: Dave Schwarz, email@example.com)
Home brewing has taken off after being legalized in 1979 and helped create the craft brew market
There are simpler extract kits for beginners and complex all-grain kits for advanced brewers
Some brewers pay close attention to details like water hardness and additives
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It was 1979, and Joe Leuthner stumbled across a magazine with information on brewing your own beer. As a home wine maker, he was intrigued by the foreign concept.
Home beer brewing had been illegal for 60 years from Prohibition in 1920 to Feb. 1, 1979, when H.R. 1337 — signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 — went into effect.
The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, allowed home wine making but kept home beer production illegal.
“It was pretty primitive,” said Leuthner, a longtime St. Cloud resident. “There wasn’t a whole lot of information to start home brewing as a hobby. I just went forward from there.”
Home brewing has since emerged as a popular hobby. It helped develop the thriving craft brew market.
Leuthner is now part of the Cloudy Town Brewers, a St. Cloud-based home brewing social club. He’s also a certified judge in brewing competitions.
“We are certainly no longer in the dark ages of home brewing,” Leuthner said. “The information now to home brewers is amazing.”
Art and science
Baker’s HobbyTown and Nitro Brew and Hobby are St. Cloud stores that sell home brewing kits and equipment.
There are simple stovetop extract kits to more complex all-grain recipes, where the brewer controls the entire process. Beginner kits range from $70-$150.
Nitro Brew and Hobby also holds classes on home brewing.
“Home brewing is an art and a science,” Leuthner said. “On one hand, it is like cooking, and on the other hand, it is a science project. You can make it as complex or as easy as you want. But if you do it right, there’s not much difference between an amateur and a professional brewer.”
The counters at the St. Cloud home brew stores are continually being filled with younger clients.
“What amazes me are the 20-somethings coming in and making pretty sophisticated stuff,” said Nitro Brew and Hobby co-owner Kayla Windahl. “They’re not just Bud Light drinkers anymore.”
Added Jason Wester of Baker’s HobbyTown, who also makes his own home brew: “I think it goes back to the niche local market. Everyone wanting to support local businesses. And also just everyone sick of drinking the same old MGD or Coors. People wanted more flavor.”
A poster lists characteristics of beer styles at Nitro Brew and Hobby in St. Cloud.(Photo: Dave Schwarz, firstname.lastname@example.org )
Timing is everything
The science part of home brewing can be complex.
Both Baker’s HobbyTown and Nitro Brew and Hobby recommend beginners start with an extract kit.
The objective of brewing is to ferment sugars into alcohol. Extract kits come with most of the sugar already converted from grain. All-grain brewers convert the sugar themselves through a process called mashing.
“You have to be willing to throw away your first batch,” Wester said. “It is like when you bake your first cake — you are going to botch something up.”
For all-grain brewers, timing is everything,
“If you add in hops five minutes late, it’s a completely different beer,” said Russ Windahl, co-owner of Nitro Brew and Hobby who home brews on his own and also teaches classes.
Water type is important too.
Advanced brewers pay attention to water hardness and additives, like calcium chloride.
“Tweaking water serves two purposes,” said Jerry Dusich, who started home brewing in 1992 after reading a newspaper article and now brews professionally at Third Street Brewhouse.
“First is to get the right pH in the mash to get the (sugar) conversion done properly. And second, it is like cooking where you use seasoning. Certain water hardness is that something extra you can control to accentuate the malt.”
Sanitation is also key to a successful brew. Bottles and kegs need to be sanitized for each batch. Even bottle caps require sanitation.
The beer making process requires patience. Fermentation takes 4 days to several weeks, and the carbonation process adds more days for bottle users.
It all makes the moment of finally sampling the beer more sweet.
“That’s always the best part. It’s either this epic moment or real big letdown,” Wester said.
Cloudy Town Brewers
The St. Cloud-based social club meets once a month (its next meeting is May 7). Group members share their brews and discuss different brewing techniques.
• Entry is $15 a year.
• For more information, email email@example.com.
Follow Jake Laxen on Twitter @jacoblaxen.
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