Archive for Saturday, November 24, 1990


November 24, 1990


Some 7,000 years ago, the Babylonians made their own form of beer, often using it in medicines.

In Medieval times it was mixed in monasteries.

But in modern times few people still make their own mainly because you can buy a six-pack almost anywhere.

But that's starting to change.

A recent resurgence of small breweries around the country has helped to create a taste for a wider variety of flavors of beer and ale that aren't available from the large, domestic commercial breweries.

So more and more people are trying to brew their own at home, say several area people who dabble in the arcane art.

"It's kind of like the wine movement back in the '70s and everybody having an awareness of wine," said Dave Montgomery, a Eudora home brewer. "It's like an ever-increasing movement."

THE UPSURGE in so-called micro-breweries, where Old World style beer is served on the premises, is creating a market for a more robust beer, said Montgomery, an underwriter for a California-based savings and loan firm.

"There are more and more home brewers all the time interested in making their own beer and who want to enjoy a good beer that's fresh," he said. "It's almost unbelievable how its snowballing."

Montgomery, who is fairly active in the K.C. Bier Meister's Club, said some of the club members have "mini-micro-breweries" in their garages, where they brew batches of 10 gallons or more.

But for the most part, the materials don't need to be that sophisticated, he said.

"Basically, you need a pot that you can boil water in," he said. "You must sanitize all the equipment. If you can boil water and mix together ingredients, you can do it."

THERE ARE many styles of beer to choose from, such as lagers, stouts, ales, meads and barley wines, the home brewers said.

Some of the more accomplished home brewers like to enter their favorite recipes in competition.

Montgomery says he's getting ready to make a light-bodied ale for Christmas.

The mixture is cooked and will take a couple of hours to brew, he said. Then it is poured into a five-gallon fermentation vessel, which is usually a glass jug or a plastic bucket.

The yeast is pitched in after the mixture is cooled. After it's fermented for 15 days, priming sugar is placed in it and the beer is bottled. In about two more weeks, effervescence will form and the brew will be ready to drink.

Taste is the big attraction.

"Our regular U.S. beer is like air water compared to the full-flavored experience of a really good beer," he said. "You really come to appreciate it. Instead of guzzling beer, you get into the actual characteristics of what you're drinking, like a wine taster."

JUNE JAMISON is one of the owners of the Bacchus and Barleycorn, a Merriam business that sells supplies for making beer and wine. She agrees that home brewing is becoming more popular.

"It is bigger than it used to be and I foresee it being bigger than it is now," Jamison said. "Homebrewing is an up and coming thing. It is an art not an art beyond the capability of the average person, but it is an art."

Those who want to try the art for the first time can follow a recipe or buy a "kit" beer from a supply shop, where they would add water and corn sugar to the mix.

"Some people come in and start with our kits, they never depart from it," she said. "Other people like to go on and try recipes."

She said her customers range in age from college students to people in their 80s. And the incomes are also wide-ranging from the well-to-do to those who are barely squeaking by on their Social Security checks.

One of her regular customers is Dwight Burnham, a Kansas University emeritus professor of art who has been brewing his own beer since about 1936.

BURNHAM, 73, is often called on as a storehouse of knowledge for local brewers just getting started.

Burnham said he got his start when he was going to college in Rhode Island. His knowledge of the art is so refined that he often judges beer-making contests.

"You can buy some pretty good beers," he said. "But 10 or so years ago, you couldn't get what we would consider a decent beer."

Skill and a touch of good luck are involved in making a batch of good beer, says Ben Rapp, a novice brewer who's often consulted Burnham for tips.

"It's harder than wine," Rapp said. "Dwight has made both and says making good beer is harder to make than good wine."

Rapp, a 32-year-old department manager at the local K mart, said he became interested in brewing beer about two years ago.

He said most home brewers generally make five-gallon batches, which would amount to about two cases of commercial beer.

"I PREFER the darker beers, the Bochs, a German-style beer," Rapp said. "My wife (Yvonne) likes the lighter styles. The darker beers are easier to make because you can hide the yeast flavors."

Rapp says not only is it fun to make, but it's generally cheaper to make than going out and buying commercial beer.

Also there's a sense of excitement about a new batch.

"The whole thing takes about a month or more," he said. "There's a lot of anticipation built up in that time."

Chuck Magerl, brewer and proprieter of the Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., says that the different varieties of beers that the small brewers are making provide an inspiration for people making beer at home.

"We get a lot of people in here who are home brewers from Lawrence, Topeka and Kansas City," Magerl said. "The extent of people's devotion to it will vary widely."

Some start with the idea they can make a cheap beer while others want to make the best beer in the world, he said.

"BUT EVERYONE is going to end up with batches of beer that not even their best friends will drink," he said.

Magerl, who got his start in home brewing in 1978, said many people probably have at least one ancestor who dabbled in the art.

"I think everybody's had something in the family history where Grampa made home brew in the basement and it blew up or something," he said.

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