Craft brewing is a growing industry in the United States. If you’ve stayed up-to-date with the scene in Chicago, you may have noticed the seven new breweries that have opened up in the last two years. Half-Acre, Revolution, and Piece are just a few among the many thriving breweries that have made there homes in Chicago. Next time you take a look at your pint glass and through the malty, hoppy goodness it contains, think about the interesting and little-known subset of the craft brewing community called homebrewers. One could even make the argument that the craft brewing revolution came about by the experimentation and passion of homebrewers.
Homebrewers, or amateur brewers, are extremely social. Brew clubs, online forums, festivals, contests and local supply shops are where they gather to discuss all things beer. In the US and all over the world, virtual and local meetings are a regular occurrence. If you are a brewer from the Chicagoland area and want to shoot the shit with others in the comfort of your own home, you may want to visit the Milwaukee Area & Chicagoland Brewers Group. Non-brewers should not be discouraged from visiting though! Forums are a great learning resource for those just interested in understanding how beer is made. Another resource for beginners, especially with all the beer jargon thrown around (e.g. malt, hops, wort, ester, lacing), is The Beer Connoisseur.
A place you will undoubtedly run into brewers is the supply shop. Brew and Grow has six locations throughout Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin. At their Roselle location, a hand-full of brewers in the area informally congregate for a beer swap on Saturday evenings. This weekly meeting grew unintentionally out of customers coming into shop for supplies and getting to know the employees and other customers. Northern Brewer, with locations in St. Paul, Minnesota and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (and a great website to boot), is a huge beer and wine-making supply shop. Their website includes a forum, an online catalog, and other resources for the beer makers.
Summer time is prime festival time for beer and food lovers. Forget the cheesy carnival rides and children running around like maniacs on sugar highs: these are adults only, 21 and over festivals focused on, that’s right, beer! One of the most popular festivals in the US is the Denver Brew Fest held at the Mile High Station in Denver, Colorado on July 23rd. People from all over the country will come to partake in the craft beer made available by Stone Brewing, Del Norte (a Denver brewery specializing in Mexican beer), He’brew, Left Hand, and so many more! A far more accessible festival to Chicagoans is the the Great Lakes Brew Fest in Racine, Wisconsin. This four hour, unlimited taste-a-thon (and trust me, four hours is plenty) at about 100 different breweries is a great destination for beer aficionados and brewers alike. This festival takes a special interest in homebrewers. On a space designated “Homebrew Island,” a few brew clubs have tables set up with the best of their homebrewed beer and is where results for the Schooner Homebrew Championship can be found. One of the best parts of this festival: a performance by the Kilties Drum and Bugle Corps. Also, last year the festival fell on September 19th AKA International Talk Like a Pirate Day. This year it will take place on Saturday September 18th, but I won’t be surprised if hear some “arrrrgs!”
Homebrewing contests are held throughout the year. Crown Brewing in Indiana, Babble Homebrewers Club of Lake County, Sam Adams, and the American Homebrewers Association are just some of the organizations and companies calling for the best of brews made at home. Most contests post the results online, but some actually hold events to announce the results. Sam Adams sponsors small (non-Longshot) competitions with the help of Binny’s Beverage Depot. At these events, Sam Adams hands out gift bags for the brewers, raffles prizes, and samples beer and food. Check out the Binny’s events page on their website to see when and where they will hold their next contest.
Stay tuned for the next installment – Homebrewing: The Process.