Smile Politely

Hop Politely: The Art of Home Brewing

Most television beer advertisements are focused on perpetuating the many stereotypes of the beer drinker, or what makes a beer worth drinking. The macro lights, or “lites” for the illiterate company from Milwaukee, are generally concerned with the “man” crowd. Commercials often center on an unofficial rule that makes the customer seem attuned with his inner testosterone.

For the mature crowd, macro breweries like to point out how “American” or “high quality” their beer is. Budweiser goes so far as to call their beer “The Great American Lager.” German immigrants founded Anheuser Busch in 1876, bringing their unique lager process with them. While they deserve credit for being one of the few breweries to survive prohibition, they are certainly not based in American anything. Anheuser Busch eventually dropped the high quality German lager process of the founders in favor of a cheaper, lighter, crappier taste that created a stereotype American brewers have spent the last few decades shaking off.

Lately there has been one brand putting out ads both Americans and really all beer drinkers can appreciate. The Boston Beer Company was founded by Jim Koch in 1984. Jim is the really happy guy in all of the Samuel Adams commercials – I’m betting he probably spent the day of shooting drinking his Boston Lager. Since 1984, Samuel Adams has become the most popular craft brewery in America. You can buy it almost anywhere, much like the macro brews. What many people don’t know is that before the launch of his company, Jim was a Home Brewer. The Boston Lager recipe is based on a five-generation-old Koch family beer. Jim is very concerned with restoring respect to American beer, so much so that he makes every one of his 350 employees home brew their own beer at least once! No wonder Sam Adams is considered one of the top companies to work for.

Besides being a truly American beer (named for a Patriot and avid home brewer himself), Samuel Adams is an example, albeit an extreme one, of the good that can come from creating your own home brew. Even if you don’t have any entrepreneurial aspirations, home brewing can be a fun and surprisingly relaxing experience.

Champaign-Urbana is an ideal location for dabbling in the art. Several local businesses supply all of the necessary equipment, and as many of the ingredients as they can stock due to the worldwide hop shortage. Being a part of local sustainability is very important to a large number of citizens of C-U as well as the farmers. When you wish to get creative by adding some quirky accents in your beer, farmer’s markets (like the one every Saturday at Lincoln Square) offer a huge amount of natural ingredients.

If you feel like experiencing the joy and complete satisfaction that come from crafting a home brew I encourage you to keep up with Hop Politely as I offer directions and tips for every part of the process. This week we will center on the basic supplies you need to get started.

Now some of you may already be having delusions of grandeur and overly ambitious plans. Please, please, please – start simple. There are several companies that offer complete kits that will provide supplies and guide you through the process. I highly recommend buying one of these before you blow up your kitchen doing it yourself.

The best kit for beginners is made by Brewers Best. It has everything you need except for a large stainless steel pot (Note: do not buy aluminum unless you want to go insane). The supply kit is available locally at two different hobby and beer related stores—Friar Tuck and Leisure Time.

Once you have purchased the equipment kit, I suggest also purchasing one or two boxed ingredient kits. They are labeled by beer type and include most of what is necessary for a very simple beer. This can be a significant investment for a student or lower-income individual. Home brewing is best when done with friends! Grab a buddy or two and split the cost.

While these kits are great ways to begin brewing, it is important that your own creativity and personal taste have a say in how your beer turns out. Try experimenting with different methods, ingredients, and styles once you have a general grasp of the process.

Next time I will cover the basics of beer and home brewing:

Ales vs. Lagers

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