By Jack Horzempa
There is a myriad of good reasons to homebrew your own beers and below are some of them. Click each reason to learn More! and watch the video to learn how to brew beer in 6 minutes!
Some beer types can be very expensive to purchase at beer retailers. I am a fan of Belgian beer styles like Dubbel, Tripel, Quad, Saison, Belgian Pale Ale, etc. but the Belgian brewed versions (and US craft brewed too) are quite pricey. As one example, Chimay Red (a Dubbel) costs over $150.00 for a case (24 bottles) at my local Retail Beer Distributor. This price is more than I am willing to pay. A typical batch of homebrew is 5 gallons (i.e., about two cases) and I can produce a batch of Dubbel for an ingredient cost significantly less than the $300.00 it would cost me to buy two cases. Twice a year I homebrew a batch of Dubbel, and while it is not intended to specifically be a clone of Chimay Red it is a comparable beer. The ingredient costs of this batch, both for an all grain version or an extract (and specialty grains) version are:
The prices quoted above are for the case of just buying the ingredients for a given batch. I usually buy some ingredients in bulk (e.g., malt, malt extract, hops) so my costs are even lower than those indicated above.
It does not take a degree in accounting/finance to see that producing two cases of Dubbel for around 50 bucks is a significant saving from buying two cases at a beer retailer.
A number of years ago my buddy Chuck invited me and my wife to a party at his shore house in Ocean City, NJ. I brought a case of mixed homebrewed beers and one of the beers was my homebrewed Dubbel. A friend Pat enquired about the Dubbel. I asked her if she liked Chimay Red and she enthusiastically said “yes”. I told her that my homebrewed Dubbel was better than Chimay. She looked at me like I was a used car salesman. As I poured her a Dubbel into a glass I told her that if she didn’t like the beer, she could just bring it back and I would be happy to drink it. A couple of minutes later I heard through the crowd “Jack! Jack!” and I recognized her voice. She ran up to me with a big smile on her face and loudly exclaimed “It is better than Chimay!”. I now half-jokingly refer to my homebrewed Dubbel using the brand name “Better than Chimay”. 😉
In past articles I discussed how to homebrew a Quad, Saison, and an Orval type beer:
While in today’s craft beer scene there is a wealth of choices there are sometimes beers we would really like to get our hands on but they simply are not available at our local beer retailers. Below are some examples of hard-to-get beers that I homebrew due to unavailability at my local beer retailers.
I am fortunate that I live in the Philadelphia area and we do get periodic drops of kegs of Pliny the Elder but we do not get packaged (e.g., bottled) Pliny the Elder. I am a big fan of Pliny the Elder and will drink one (or two) whenever I see it on tap.
Vinnie Cilurzo very generously provided a homebrew clone recipe in a 2009 article that you can read online: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/attachments/0000/6351/doubleIPA.pdf
And for those of you who prefer the convenience of a kit beer, MoreBeer has you covered here with both an all grain and an extract (with specialty grains) kits:
From a trusted source I learned a few years ago that the Pliny the Elder recipe was augmented with Amarillo hops so I basically brewed the recipe in the 2009 article but included some Amarillo in the mix: an ounce at flameout and an ounce for dry hopping. A few years ago, my hop inventory capability was lacking and when it came time to dry hop I was out of CTZ hops. I did have some Chinook hops in the freezer so I substituted that and as it turns out that was the best version of Pliny the Elder I ever produced. Was the substitution of Chinook the ‘magic’ for that batch? Why question good fortune; I have used Chinook instead of CTZ for dry hopping ever since.
My last draft pint of Pliny the Elder was a few months ago and I suppose with the recent pandemic and associated lockdowns I had not had the commercial version in a while. I was a bit surprised by the appearance of the 2022 version of Pliny the Elder. It is now much lighter in appearance with color approaching straw yellow. But the hop aroma/flavor is as good as ever. Maybe for my next batch of Pliny the Elder I might dial back the crystal malt a little bit?
Here is a photo of my 2022 brewed Pliny the Elder:
Grodziskie is an old Polish beer style, a wheat beer brewed with 100% Smoked Wheat Malt. The last heritage Polish brewery to produce Grodziskie stopped producing this style of beer in 1994. Afterwards the only Grodziskie beers in Poland were those produced by homebrewers. Grodziskie was resurrected as a commercially brewed beer in 2015 by a Polish brewery Browar w Grodzisku.
I had the great opportunity to meet Stan Hieronymus at my first National Homebrewers Conference (now called HomebrewCon) in 2013. He very generously shared his knowledge of all matters brewing including some thoughts about the Grodziskie beer style with me. At a later date he had a great video chat with Brad Smith on this topic as well:
Between my conversation with Stan and the above video I felt fairly comfortable in taking the challenge to brew a Grodziskie. What finally motivated me was a conversation with a local craft brewer, Doug Marchakitus, who brewed a one-time batch of Grodziskie and he shared with me he used US-05 to produce his beer.
I was very happy with how my batch of Grodziskie turned out but I must confess that the many steps of step mashing were quite challenging for me. One of these days I will re-brew this batch and if I can locate a specific Grodziskie yeast strain I will use that.
My 2014 batch of Grodziskie:
IPAs which feature certain hop varieties (e.g., Ekuanot, Motueka, etc.)
There are indeed more IPA beer brands out there then I can count but finding an IPA which features a particular hop variety that I really like can be very challenging. Two hop varieties that I am a BIG fan of are Ekuanot and Motueka. I can’t go to my local beer retailers and buy those specific beers. I do not produce a SMASH (Single Malt and Single Hop) beer specifically since I will use a hop like German Magnum or Warrior for the bittering hops but I will solely hop with the selected hop (Ekuanot or Motueka) for all of the late kettle additions and dry hopping. For my palate Ekuanot provides a very complex hop aroma/flavor profile and below is how I described a past batch of Ekuanot IPA in a post within a BeerAdvocate thread:
The first thing that hits my nose is a wonderful hop aroma! There is a lot going on here:
· Some tropical fruit
· A bit of citrus
· Yup, there is some cedar there as well
· A pungent smell that I would not personally call green pepper but I could see somebody using this term
This is the most complex hop aroma I have ever experienced! If my verbal skills were better, I would be able to list a half-dozen more descriptors for hop aroma.
The flavor pretty much follows the nose. Lots of differing flavors going on here; multidimensional flavor profile with multiple flavors going on at once and a transition of flavors from the fore to mid-palate. I am tempted to say it’s like a party going on in your mouth.”
Now, who wouldn’t want to produce their own beer that equates to having a party in your mouth?
From my readings on BeerAdvocate it appears that folks living in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Washington State) have available to them during the hop harvest season (e.g., late August – September) a number of wet (fresh) hopped beers. This is quite different from the majority of the US (and other countries too). I cannot go to my local beer retailers and readily purchase beers brewed with wet (fresh) hops so I homebrew my own. From the below linked article:
“Do you have any homebrewing friends (e.g., members of your homebrewing club) who grow their own hops? Maybe they would permit you to harvest some hops to brew a wet hopped batch (in exchange for drinking some of your beer)?
If homebrewing friends are not an option, there are hop vendors who supply wet hops for commercial brewing and perhaps that is an alternative source you could tap into. If you have a relationship with a local craft brewery that annually produces wet hopped beers maybe they would be willing to share some of their supply with you?
In the past I have read where some homebrew stores would permit their customers to pre-order wet hops. It may be worthwhile to check with your Local Homebrew Store (LHBS) to see if this is an option.”
The below linked article also contains a recipe for the wet (fresh) hopped beer I annually homebrew which I brand as a Harvest Ale.
My 2022 batch of Harvest Ale:
We homebrewers refer to the pale lagers that were brewed in the latter 1880’s in America using adjuncts (e.g., corn, rice) as Classic American Pilsners. You can read more about this beer style within the below linked article:
There are some commercially produced CAP beers as discussed in that linked article:
“There are few examples of commercially brewed CAP beers. They tend to be only available in limited regions and sometimes on a rotating basis: Straub 1872 Pre-Prohibition Lager (Pennsylvania), Fort George 1811 Pre-Prohibition Lager (Oregon), Short’s Pontius Road Pilsner (Michigan), Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. Rocket 100 (Texas), Upland Champagne Velvet (Indiana), and Fullstream Paycheck Pilsner (North Carolina).”
Since CAP beers were not commonly available for sale to me I homebrew my own. I brewed my first CAP beer in 1998 and I have homebrewed a batch annually since then.
For folks who are members of the AHA you can read the article I wrote on the topic of Classic American Pilsners in the March/April 2020 issue of Zymurgy magazine which includes a recipe for the beer I brew.
For those of you who understand German you will recognize the word “alt” which means old in English. Altbier means “Old Beer” in English and it is a nod to the old way of brewing in Germany: ale brewing before lager beers became the popular German type of beer. An Altbier is basically a German Brown Ale.
In 2002 I read an article that was written by Matt Cole (head brewer of Fat Heads Brewing Co.) in BYO magazine entitled Old-World Alt. Here is how the article is detailed on the BYO website:
“An American brewer flies to Germany to learn how to brew altbier, the traditional top-fermented ale that made Dusseldorf famous. He talked to brewers, tasted his share of alt and came home with the inside dope on malt, hops, yeast strains and fermentation, plus an authentic recipe straight from a brewer's mouth.”
Matt’s visit to the Uerige brewery and his description of his drinking their Sticke Alt there was truly inspirational to me: “I was fortunate enough to taste Sticke Alt straight out of the aging tank at Uerige brewery. It was possibly the best beer I have ever tasted.” I said to myself: I just have to make a beer like that. For those of you unfamiliar with the term Sticke, in the dialect of German spoken in Dusseldorf it broadly translates to “secret’ in English. The “secret” is that these beers are higher in ABV than the standard Altbier and in addition for the case of Uerige the beer is dry hopped as well.
I tell my friends with whom I share my homebrewed Altbier, to think of an Oktoberfest sort of beer but with more hops. I use a German Ale yeast strain (Wyeast 1007) and I ferment cool (around 60 °F) and this ferment results in a neutral flavor profile from the yeast. And I also lager (cold condition) this beer after primary fermentation so it is what I consider to be a hybrid beer: fermented like an ale but conditioned like a lager.
None of my local beer retailers carry Altbiers so my homebrewed batch is how I get to enjoy this beer style. There are a few local craft breweries who lately produce Altbiers on a rotating basis.
When I started homebrewing, Czech Dark Lager was an unknown beer style to me. I read about this beer style in articles in The New Brewer and Zymurgy magazines. Based upon these articles I constructed my own recipe and my first batch was brewed in 2014. I typically need to iterate on my recipes to ‘fine tune’ them but as good fortune would have it this beer was a homerun on this first attempt. I have annually homebrewed a batch of my Czech Dark Lager ever since using the exact same recipe. In 2019 my wife and I visited the Czech Republic for a two week beercation and I was able to drink many Czech commercially brewed Czech Dark Lagers during that visit. You can read about our beer experiences in the below linked article.
After that visit, my wife decided my Czech Dark Lager needed a name so she branded it as Dark Angel. The motivation for that name was that we stayed in the Andel neighborhood of Prague; Andel is Czech for angel. You can see the label she created for this beer below.
There is a ‘back in the day’ backstory about how I came to brew Oatmeal Stouts. My wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) really liked an Oatmeal Stout that was sometimes brewed at a local brewpub. During a visit at that brewpub she stated: “Make me a beer like this!”. Of course, I replied “OK”. At the time I knew little about brewing dark beers like Stouts or Porters so I decided to just order a kit beer (from Listermann Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio). That first batch turned out well and not only was it a hit with my girlfriend (now wife) but also a large circle of friends. I was a bit surprised by this since at that time and still today, Oatmeal Stouts are not popular beers. I have in the past purchased Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout but finding this product fresh is a challenging task for me. One of the appeals of this beer style is that the addition of oats (flaked oats) provides an appealing smooth/velvety mouthfeel to the beer and it is an easy drinking beer. I am obliged to brew this beer twice a year in order to meet the demands of family and friends.
One of the important aspects of homebrewing is the satisfaction of a job well done! When I first started homebrewing in the 1990’s I would go to my LHBS (Local Homebrew Shop) to buy ingredients on a per batch basis. These were the days before the internet being a ‘thing’ and at my LHBS they would have sheets of recipes in storage racks where you could select one and then go off and buy the needed ingredients. I also greatly enjoyed interacting with the staff, particularly Peter. During one of my chats with Peter I asked: “What are the typical type of folks who like to homebrew?” Peter did not have to take even a second to think about this, he immediately responded: “Engineers and people who like to cook”. I found this to be quite intriguing. I have a good sense of appreciation for the engineer part since I am an engineer (and I know a lot of engineers), engineers like to design & build things and in a way with the brewing process you are ‘building’ a beer. And while I do cook, I would not classify myself as being a cooking person. When watching cooking shows I always thought of those folks as being creative people, akin to being artistic, and not too many people would state the equation: engineer = artistic. But one similarity is that cooks also obtain the satisfaction of “building” a dish.
Often the times that bring the most enjoyment is when we are sharing with others. It could be as simple as sharing some time with others but the enjoyment is even greater when we all have a tasty beer in our hands. I confess that some of the batches of beer I brew are not always exactly my favorite styles but they are favorites for others so I will brew them, and for me my favorite beer styles. A classic win-win! 😊
My buddy Phil enthusiastically enjoys drinking beer including my homebrewed beers. I will meet up occasionally with Phil at local craft beer taprooms and we (and others) will attend local beer festivals. It is always heartening to hear Phil tell others: “Jack makes the best beer, they are AWESOME!”. Is there any other reason needed for making homebrew?
If you are still on the fence about taking up the hobby of homebrewing, hopefully this article will get you off that fence.
And if you are a homebrewer: keep on brewing!
Cheers to homebrewed beer!
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