Lots of guys love beer. Heck, enjoying a cold one now and again is almost an essential part of guyhood.
But then there are guys who REALLY love beer, so much so that the commercially brewed stuff isn't quite good enough, no matter how exotic or fancy. They've got to brew their own.
These are the beer enthusiasts who set up breweries in their basements or garages, acquire the necessary ingredients, equipment and knowledge and go about brewing up fresh batches of pilsner, porter, stout, ale, wheat beer -- you name it.
By some estimates, in the Lawrence area there are dozens of folks like these, aficionados who want to be involved in every aspect of crafting small amounts of beer that's precisely tailored to their individual palates.
Include among them Andy Booth, 38, of rural Douglas County. He's a firefighter with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical at Station No. 2.
"I do it (home brewing) because I like beer from other countries that you can't get here. I just love craft beer. I don't have any use for the typical American lager or pilsner; there's not enough flavor involved," he says. "The whole process of brewing is fascinating."
Booth is vice president of the Lawrence Brewers Guild, a group of about 20 home brewers that regularly gets together to compare notes, share tips and critique each other's latest batch.
Right now, Booth is into dunkelweizen -- or "weizen" -- a dark, cloudy German wheat beer with, according to Booth, "clove and banana highlights."
"A lot of these styles, you can't buy in the United States," he says. "That's the beauty of home brewing: the different world styles of beer you can't get here."
Brewing beer is a pretty basic human activity. There's evidence that people have been making beer and other fermented drinks for thousands of years. Home brewers say it still can be a simple process with little equipment or expertise necessary.
"All you need at home to brew beer, at the bare minimum, is a bucket, a hose, a pot and a stove," says Rob Dewhirst, 35, who lives in Jefferson County and manages computer systems for Kansas University's Biodiversity Research Center.
Dewhirst, a member of the Lawrence Brewers Guild, has been a home brewer for about 10 years.
"Beer starts out as sugar water. There's two ways to get the sugar water for beer. You can do what Andy (Booth) does and cook the barley grain, or you can get a mix (a malt syrup) where they've already extracted the sugar and you just add water and boil it," Dewhirst says.
"The vast majority of home brewers are in between brewing on a stove top and doing what Andy and I do. Some people make very respectable beers with rudimentary equipment."
Booth and Dewhirst both built their own breweries, which largely consist of kettles, hoses and propane burners.
A commercial version of Booth's brewery might cost $1,500 to $4,000
"I personally couldn't afford all that. I've got about five hundred bucks in this," he says.
Booth has a room in his basement where he stores plastic containers of various grains and hops, as well as two refrigerators that house conical fermenters -- miniature versions of the huge, stainless-steel vats at Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass.
He also built himself a grain mill, where he cracks grain before it's put into hot water for the mashing process. He even formulates his own recipes.
"I like the whole process. I wanted more control, in the brewery itself and the fermentation part of it," Booth says.
Attention to details
There are lots of home brewers out there, including some in Lawrence, who are crafting top-quality beer that's as good as anything from a microbrewery or brewpub.
"You find that most of the people who are engaged in this hobby know what they're doing and are committed. There are some great beers being made in people's basements and garages," says Steve Bradt, 40, longtime brew master at Free State Brewing Co.
He serves on the board of the Brewers Assn., a not-for-profit trade and educational association for small and craft brewers.
He's also been a judge in several home-brewing competitions.
It's easy for beginners to try brewing a batch of beer, according to Bradt.
"You can get a starter kit of basic equipment and ingredients. If you start out with malt extracts, it's not really technically difficult. You just have to pay attention to the details and cleanliness," Bradt says.
There aren't any real health risks to home brewing because there are no known pathogens that can live in beer.
But if you put too much sugar in a home brew -- sugar sparks a second fermentation, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol -- it could lead to trouble.
"You can go overboard and blow the cap off a bottle or blow up a bottle," Bradt says. "It's good to read the instructions before you get started. It's a matter of paying attention to what you're doing."
|Lawrence Brewers GuildGroup that regularly gets together for meetings and social events. Web site: www.sunflower.com/~homebrew/Bacchus & BarleycornShawnee store owned by Jackie and Alberta Rager sells a variety of equipment and supplies for home brewing, including starter kits. Contact: (913) 962-2501 or www.bacchus-barleycorn.comKansas City Bier MeistersGroup for home-brewing enthusiasts, offering many social events and competitions. Web site: www.kcbiermeisters.orgThe Homebrew Pro ShoppeOlathe and Lee's Summit, Mo., stores offer a wide variety of home-brewing products. Contact: (913) 768-1090, (816) 524-0808 or www.brewcat.com|