Homebrewing in the Military
By John Schaffer
Homebrewing in the military has grown in popularity and has become even more accessible in the last 10 years. I know a few veterans that started out as homebrewers while in the military and now own a successful brewery. Some of the reasons they started brewing is that it can reduce stress, supply access to different or unusual beer styles, and the connections and relationships you can develop through the homebrewing community that you would otherwise never form. There are unique challenges also that you will have to overcome though. A few are: having to follow many different rules, dealing with very limited brewing space and moving every few years and these challenges are only amplified if stationed overseas. There are a few tips that can make brewing in the military easier and more enjoyable such as, joining a homebrew club at your new duty station, brewing small batch sizes and packing some key ingredients prior to your move will help you overcome most of the challenges.
Current Homebrewing System
Military members can have a very stressful life not just with the work itself but also the fact that they can be stationed overseas thousands of miles away from family, friends, and anything that is familiar to them. With all these stressors it is important for you to find ways to relieve the buildup of stress and one way is homebrewing, which is an activity that requires a focus to detail that distracts one’s mind from stress. This can be done on brew day by focusing on mashing the grain at the right temperature or during the boil by adding the hops and other additions at the correct time while ensuring there is not a boil-over. This distraction from stress can be achieved at other times too such as prior to brew day with recipe development, researching new techniques or methods or after the brew day with ensuring the fermentation environment is right for your yeast and the focus required to package and conditioning the beer to ensure the final product is what you intended. This distraction from stress allows you to decompress from all that has happened in the past days, weeks, or months. Brewing can be a creative outlet for military members also because most military jobs do not allow for creativity. Expressing one’s creativity can help to reduce stress and anxiety and brewing can be very creative with recipe development, DIY builds, label art, and other ways. Perhaps the best way brewing reduces stress would be by consuming the outcome of your hard work and time; especially with friends and loved ones.
With the expansion of social media, it is easier than ever to be part of a homebrewing community. You can join a group through the many social media platforms and instantly be connected to thousands of other homebrewers with similar situations as yours and all without having to meet face to face to discuss different topics, but you can also easily coordinate and plan physical meet ups whether to swap homebrew, hold a competition, or just hang out. These homebrew communities can be associated with a location, military groups, or a general homebrew community with members all over the world. The groups associated with a location are a great way if you are new to an area to connect will local people/groups, not only will the community be able to help you with homebrewing in that location or brewing beers specific to that area but also with non-beer related activities within that area as well. In my experience most homebrewers are very friendly individuals and enjoy helping other homebrewers whether you are a beginner or a well experienced brewer. There are countless parts to homebrewing that connect people, such as, science, art, DIY, evaluating/perfecting beer styles, and many others. Take science, it can connect people together that have a shared interest of microbiology by yeast and how it can change the final beer under different conditions, perhaps you are more interested in the grains and how mash profiles affect the enzymes which will affect the beer’s mouthfeel and residual sugars, or maybe the various different oils and compounds in hops and how they determine the outcome of the beer whether the bittering or the vast array of possible flavors and aromas. There are so many different aspects to homebrewing that can connect so various different types of people together.
It seems like I am constantly learning of a beer style whether it is a new style, forgotten historic style, or just a style specific to an area and the nice thing about being able to make my own beer is I can have almost any beer style without having it commercially available in my location. Homebrewing opens the door to not only familiar styles when access is limited but also to new styles. It is nice to have a sip from a familiar beer when everything else is foreign to you, especially if it is one’s first time being stationed overseas and dealing with homesickness and culture shock. Typically, a military member will be stationed overseas for 3 years but it can be even longer, this is a long time to be away from some of your favorite beers, so it makes sense to pick up homebrewing and make those styles yourself. Also, while stationed in other countries you can come across new beer styles that you like but when you are stationed back home, you may not have access to these styles but now you can make the beer yourself. Being able to make all these different styles of beer can be even more enjoyable by sharing them with family and friends and perhaps introducing them to their new favorite beer!
German Altbier fermenting away
Tips for Brewing while in the Military!
Being in the military can make things in life more challenging but it also supplies amazing opportunities and experiences. A unique military challenge is not only do you have to follow federal and local laws, but that you must adhere to the numerous rules of the military that are referred to as orders and policies. There are different levels of the chain of command and at each level the commander may have orders and polices that you will have to follow. The orders and policies that affect homebrewing would be base orders which are specific to the base you are stationed at and would concern family housing but if you live in the barracks, it would be the barracks order that would be of your most concern. Barracks are the buildings that military members without a family live in. I have brewed beer in the barracks as well as in family housing and have not seen any order or policy that specifically prohibits homebrewing but in some cases there could be barracks orders that limit the amount of alcohol you are allowed to have so you need to be mindful of these. On top of barracks and base orders, military members need to follow the local and national laws regarding homebrewing. The biggest thing I have found is that no one cares if you are brewing in family housing but if you are in the barracks, it is best to talk to your leadership and barracks manager prior to brewing because sometimes they are not knowledgeable on the subject and educating them can alleviate issues further down the road such as them thinking you are making drugs or some other crazy concoction.
Space can also be an issue for military homebrewers whether you are in family housing or the barracks. In family housing you will have more space than in a barracks room, but it is still limited, and family houses can vary greatly even on the same base. So, what works in one location may not work at your next location and with you having to move every 3 to 4 years you will have to be creative with your brew space. You will sometimes have to create unique solutions to the limited space whether it is for storage or your equipment or the location where you do your actual brewing. This is where connecting with the local brewing community can really help you out because chances are someone else has already found solutions to your issues. Barracks life can allow you to express your intuition for coming up with some unique solution not just for storage and brewing location but also where to ferment your beer as well. Barracks rooms are like a small studio apartment that you might share with another person and share a bathroom with another room of possibly 2 people. I brewed in a barracks for 2 years and the key for me was small batches of 1-2 gallons and of course sharing my brews. It helped that I was on the ground floor and was the only one in my room but most of the time you don’t get much say in where you live in the barracks.
Maximizing space is key
Most military members will be stationed overseas at least once while they are in the military, and this is typically an amazing experience, but it can be a challenge for homebrewing. The first thing to do is check that the country you are stationed in allows you to homebrew, you would be surprised how many countries make this illegal. Once, you verify that you can legally homebrew and have checked the orders and polices you must consider the space you will be brewing in because overseas family housing and barracks are typically smaller than the ones in America so you will have to plan out the storage of equipment, ingredients, fermenters, and packaged beer. Now that you have that figured out you must solve the issue of procuring ingredients because you most likely will not be able to use your old homebrew store or online homebrew supply store because while you will have special military address that the United States Postal Service will deliver to the third-party mail services such as UPS, FedEx, or DHL will not delivery to these addresses. In my experience most overseas locations don’t have nearby homebrew stories so you most likely rely on online sources. There is a limited number of online stores that will ship to military addresses, but shipping will be a higher price and the free shipping deals will not typically be valid. I have been stationed overseas twice and from 2011 to current and I have used quite a few online retailers for shipping my brewing supplies but the only one that has been consistently a good experience over that 10+ year span is MoreBeer! They are fair with the shipping cost, you know you are getting quality products, are fast to ship products out, and their customer service is top notch. Homebrewing overseas amplifies the earlier challenges of following local laws while adhering to military rules and limited amount of space to brew but it can be one of the most rewarding and unique experiences of homebrewing in the military.
As was mentioned earlier, joining a homebrew club in the area where you will be stationed is the best thing you can do. Some good places to look are on Facebook, Instagram, Discord, or a social media platform that is popular in that country such as LINE in Asia and you can look at craft beer groups as well to get connected to fellow homebrewer because we do share the passion of delicious beer. Connecting with local brewers will make your first steps into homebrewing far easier because they will gladly give you pointers and advice that might be specific to your location as well as general homebrewing advice. Next, I would talk with local small breweries especially if you are overseas because you may not have nearby homebrew supply shops, but the brewery may be willing to sell you extra grains or hops that can be difficult and expensive to source yourself.
Small batch brewing is the best way to alleviate the challenge of brewing in a limited amount of space. I would suggest starting out with 1 gallon and no larger than 3 gallons, but your unique space will determine that. Space is limited and with small batch sizes the equipment is smaller and the space for a small fermenter is more manageable. With small batch brewing you can get away with using a smaller heat source such as a hot plate or just a stove top burner. Also, if you mess up a batch of beer you are wasting far fewer ingredients that might already be hard to source. These tips will make homebrewing in the military easier and more enjoyable. By brewing small batches, you will be able to brew more and thus gain more brewing experience quicker than if you were doing larger batches that would take longer to consume.
If you are moving overseas to a base, I would suggest packing enough ingredients in your household goods shipment to give you a couple months worth of brewing. This will give you some time to figure out how you will source your ingredients for brewing in that location. I would priorities ingredients in this order for shipping: grains, hops, yeast, other additions. As was mentioned before you may be able to source some ingredients from local breweries but when you do order online, I suggest ordering from MoreBeer! because they are one of the few online homebrew supply stores that ship to military addresses for a fair price and they have many sales that occur quite regularly that you can find ingredients for a good price.
Homebrewing in the military is a unique experience that has numerous benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety as well as connecting you to many different people that can grow into lifelong friends and relationships. You will also be able to brew beer styles you miss from home and beer styles you miss from when you were stationed overseas and you can share all these beers with family, friends, and loved ones. There are challenges though such as having to adhere to orders and policies in addition to laws, having limited space to brew, and being stationed overseas which amplifies these challenges. If you connect with the homebrew community in the local area, brew small batches, and pack ingredients before you move to your new base these challenges will not be so difficult to overcome. These challenges can also make the experience more rewarding and being stationed overseas can broaden your beer palate and give you the opportunities to brew styles you would never think of while in America. As a homebrewer in the military, you will always have a connection to individuals who share in your passion of the wonderful beverage of BEER!
Enjoy your homebrew!
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