Home Brewing Boom: The Craft Beer Renaissance
Home beer making for personal enjoyment is making a comeback in the U.S in a big way. It is a sign of the times, and it’s something that landlords may have to deal with more often with tenants.
Unless you get a whiff of the pungent aroma of stewing hops, you likely won’t know if home brewing is happening in your apartments behind closed doors. Home brewers ply their craft in kitchens, a spare bathroom, basements and garages, making worts and filling glass jugs with soon-to-be fermented liquids.
Now, home brewers aren’t solitary weekend mad scientists juggling beakers in the basement. Actually, in most states, the activity is legal and goes on without much brouhaha. Some 1.2 million home brewers stand over stoves and pots, concocting their special recipes or imitating their favorite commercial brew.
This time of year, Oktoberfests is the perfect time for home brewers and beer lovers to rejoice, compare notes and sample a growing variety of beers that is taking America by storm, or suds.
Home brewing is gaining in popularity
Home brewers are growing in numbers. The American Homebrewing Association’s annual survey of supply shops notes that in 2013 there was a 24 percent increase in sales of beginner homebrew equipment kits. Most were purchased by 30-39-year-olds, a key apartment industry demographic.
Apartment professionals have weighed in on whether home brewing should be permitted in apartments. Those who said absolutely not cited potential property damage and inconvenience to neighbors from brewing. Some said it was okay for a resident to homebrew as long as they had plenty of renter’s insurance. Others say, “No big deal.”
In fact, a batch of beer can be brewed from a can of commercially prepared malt extract that is mixed with water and boiled in a pot on a conventional stove, cooled and stored in a five-gallon plastic jug in a dark corner of the home.
“It’s cooking,” says Lymon Liu, who began homebrewing four years ago and now sells his product commercially. “You need cookingware. The basic process is you cook the malt. A normal kitchen stove will work.
Brewing beer is different than making distilled spirits
Beer is created from wort, which is made cooking with a combo of grains and malt extracts. Simply, the home brewing process includes cooking the wort, cooling the liquid, fermenting in a large container, then filtering and bottling. The process can take about four or five weeks from start to finish, depending on variety and style.
Like with cooking anything, there are dangers. Advanced brewers may cook over an open flame using a propane setup, like a turkey fryer, and that could create potential fire hazards if done indoors. However, unlike making liquor, the cooking process is minimal and excessive high heat doesn’t have to be a factor.
Randy Golden, a former beer executive for MillerCoors who now consults in the industry, doesn’t home brew but says the process of making beer isn’t nearly as difficult and dangerous as making distilled spirits.
“It’s so much different than making a grain alcohol,” he said. “That has to stay at a high temperature for a sustained amount of time. You create condensation off of that, and you’re boiling and separating water from alcohol. It’s a lot more involved if you’re home brewing.
Home brewing could damage property and annoy neighbors
Golden and Liu agree that, aside from a cooking accident, the biggest cause for concern for a landlord likely would be the potential from property damage resulting from spills and cleanup, justifying renter’s insurance requirements.
Maintaining a highly sanitized environment, Liu says, is essential to brewing quality beer but it’s easy to make a mess if the brewer isn’t careful. A good brewer will spend more time cleaning than cooking or brewing.
“At times you will spill things,” said Liu, who crafts beer from local honey. “Those are highly concentrated sugar malts, in my case honey. Not everybody has good hygiene habits.”
Another drawback potentially is the aroma from brewing. Hops, barley, and other grains emit a heady odor that can be unpleasant to many, and could draw complaints from neighbors.
Of course, the brewer could be injured during cooking or handling the materials. Carboys, or glass bottles used to ferment beer, can be broken and injure the handler.
Homebrewing as a growing hobby
Homebrewing is a sign of the times as the U.S. swills in a craft beer renaissance, with a surge in startup local breweries that are creating specialty brews. Brews are about as individual as the drinker or brewer, and many got their start in the garage, just like where Liu started.
Golden doubts that most apartment beer meisters are brewing for reasons other than for the joy of creating something that tastes good.
“With so many beers out there, for somebody to home brew, they’re doing it purely as a hobby and probably not doing much of it,” he said. “For a landlord not allowing or allowing a home brew, it’s an issue that you would have never thought of five or six years ago.”
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