Article By SHELLY BIRKELO courtesy of The Janesville Gazette
Article Date: Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 View Original Article
EVANSVILLE — The driveway of Andy Walker's home on Tuttle Road looked like he was expecting company for a picnic.
Two coolers—one stacked on top of the other—sat in front of the garage covered by a picnic blanket. Tubing connected an LP tank to the burner from a turkey fryer. A recipe binder and plastic containers were spread out on a tray.
But guests weren't treated to turkey, burgers and condiments. Instead, they got a lesson in brewing beer.
Walker is among a growing group who brew pale ales, stouts and lagers as a hobby.
Walker, 33, began brewing four years ago after a buddy's bachelor party. He asked if the no-label brown bottles at the party were bought at a discount store. His buddy told him he'd made the beer.
"Bing. The light went on," Walker said. "You can make beer at home. It really piqued my interest, and I started researching."
Walker finds stirring up a batch of his own beer refreshing.
"You get to a point where you just don't like various commercial beers," he said.
It's cheaper to brew your own, Walker said.
Although a shortage of hops has driven up the cost of ingredients in recent years, Walker said they remain relatively inexpensive.
For example, brewing 5 gallons of beer takes about $30 worth of ingredients.
For those interested in making beer at home, Walker suggested buying a home brewing supply kit and a recipe kit. The kits will include malt extract, bottle caps, yeast, priming sugar, hops and instructions.
Startup costs will total about $150, but that doesn't include bottles, he said.
Most people probably already have some of the basic equipment, such as a 2- or 3-gallon stainless steel pot and a 5-gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid. New brewers might be able to find bottles and a bottle capper for cheap, he said.
Bottles must be sterilized. The simplest way is to put them in a dishwasher or wash them in bleach water, Walker said.
"Just make sure you rinse them well," he said.
You'll also need a hydrometer—a device that resembles a thermometer used to measure the amount of sugar in beer.
Recipes are included with recipe kits and can be found online.
A simple recipe can take two to three hours to brew. Others, such as "all natural" all-grain recipes, take six to eight hours, he said.
"It's not an overly involved process. I kick back, usually sip on a beer while brewing and if friends are over just have a good time," Walker said.
A 5-gallon batch of brew makes about 55 bottles of beer. But you'll have to wait about a month before you can drink it, Walker said.
Once the beer is brewed, it ferments for two weeks before it's bottled and capped. Then it sits another two weeks to carbonate, he said.
Some beers take longer to mature, Walker said.
Last year, he brewed a batch of high-alcohol beer flavored with cherries for the Wisconsin Badgers/Michigan State football game. It sat for nearly two months, but even then it was horrible, he said.
"I almost named it, 'Licking wet paint.' It was not overly good," Walker said.
By December, the flavor had improved, and by the time he drank the last bottle in February, it was very good.
"It had really matured," Walker said.
When he was a beginning brewer, Walker said, he got overly anxious. Now, he relaxes and enjoys the process.
"You're just making beer. Just do it," he said. "Don't think about it. Don't worry about it."
Even if it doesn't turn out perfect, "you'll still get to drink it and probably are going to like it."
Walker recommends joining a local brew club to share ideas and information, get new recipes, exchange critiques and get tips to improve brewing.
"Like with any new hobby, it's a way to share information, talk and ask questions," he said.
Beloit has the Stateline Brewing Society, and Walker and a co-worker are talking about starting a group in the Janesville area.
Brewing is not hard, Walker said.
"It's a hobby" and "it's easy."