“Relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew!” With this oft-repeated phrase, American beer aficionado Charlie Papazian routinely reminds his readers of the “joy” conveyed by his most famous book’s title: The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. We shouldn’t think of the involved process of brewing one’s own beer as being another chore. The outcome, of course, bodes well for any familial or friendly celebrations, but the process itself can be a relaxing, enjoyable, and informative experience. Additionally, like all forms of food preparation, brewing beer can be a community activity involving loved ones, close relations, or new acquaintances. It’s the party before the party.
After the Carter administration’s repeal of archaic Prohibition legislation in 1979, guidebooks like Papazian’s Joy, microbreweries, and craft breweries began popping up all over the United States. Many people (including some of my own relatives and family friends) had brewed their own beer long before, but with the public legalization of individual home brewing, the flood gates opened. Soon after, many were creatively experimenting with fermentable concoctions and trying them out on themselves and their fellow hop heads.
Water, fermentable sugars, hops, and yeast constitute the four basic ingredients of beer. More particularly, the fermentables utilized for brewing beer traditionally come from malted barley and other grains. These grains and the fermentation process that extracts the necessary sugars from them gives beer its distinct flavors and aromas. All four components are remarkably easy to come by through various regional and national sources (like the Northern Brewer catalog–the Amazon of homebrew), but Cary Franklin of Lubbock owns and operates Sograte BBQ and Brew near the intersection of 82nd Street and Ash Avenue. There you can acquire the necessary equipment (3-4 gallon pot, 5-6.5 gallon carboy, 5-10 gallon bucket, a clear plastic hose, hose clamps, a fermentation lock, rubber stopper, funnel, thermometer, hydrometer, bottles, bottle caps, and bottle-capper) and the basic ingredients for a first successful homebrew. In addition, Lubbock’s own homebrew club the Ale-ian Society fosters a festive, helpful gathering of homebrewers whose knowledge of beer-making (as well as wines, ciders, and meads) runs the gamut from greenhorn to semi-professional.
I’d known many of the Ale-ian members for a few years before I started home brewing this past January. Most experienced or better-prepared brewers mash their own grains, which means they process the malted barley and extract the fermentable sugars from it. For those novice homebrewers who, like me, had neither the equipment, the time, nor the confidence for this step, malt extracts are available for use. With extracts, one simply needs to boil water, add the extract, and continue the boil for an hour while adding the hops and other additives or particulars before or at flame-out (when one stops boiling the “wort,” or the unfermented beer).
For example, I tend to enjoy the use of additional “sweeteners” (sources of sugar) in my homebrews. My first batch was a “Light Honey Ale”–a standard light American ale recipe with a pound of honey (from Idalou’s Apple Country Orchards) added at flame-out. The honey’s addition added a smoother finish and a light aroma to the finished product. On two separate occasions I’ve brewed an “Agave Wheat” recipe which, in addition to the use of wheat with the malted barley, makes use of raw blue agave as an additional sweetener. Both times I’ve utilized agave syrup from local growers. Other homebrew recipes might entice those interested in trying their hand at the trade. Everything from coffee, cocoa, miscellany grains and oats, fruits, and vegetables is susceptible to use in beer-making. Or, as Papazian notes, anything “that is fit for human consumption may be used in flavoring beer.”
Home brewing beer is not a highly advanced task that requires years of training at the best German or Belgian breweries. Anyone with the time, the patience, and a group of interested parties can get into brewing without issue. All of the basic necessities for picking up this hobby are available right here in Lubbock. So, to pilfer from Papazian again, “Relax, don’t worry, and have a homebrew!”