February Rubber Chicken

Love your Chicken.  The Rubber Chicken.

RC FEB 18  (mailer)

Life is Easier than Ever

Life is short and hard, like a bodybuilding elf. But, it keeps getting better for the Homebrewer! The hobby has grown so much and gotten so much easier, anybody can win that Brewer of the Year plaque these days. We have come a long way just in the last decade.

When I started brewing 15 years ago, (I know, I am but an infant compared to many of our members) the beerscape was quite different. I won’t get into how different because that could be a topic for another day. Craft beer was nearly non-existent compared to now. Many homebrewers started out of necessity as much as curiosity.

I remember those bleak, colorless, pre-dawn mornings getting the fire ablaze before making the harrowing trek to the well, a mere 15 miles uphill both ways. Threshing and malting wild grains the children had collected weeks or months before. I experimented with different bitter herbs to temper the sweetness of that hodge-podge of field grains. Dipping my beard in the cooled concoction for inoculation, I prayed it wasn’t nasty–Godisgood. All this time, my bedraggled family shaped earthen vessels to store this brew for the future. This was the SOP at the time. I had it pretty good.

Once a year, after the back-breaking harvest, we brought our meager bounty to market in hopes that we could subsist for another year on the profit. While at market, I stopped by the stall of a Sicilian to hear the news and catch up with my fellow homebrewers. Word was spreading like the plague of this new wild weed called hops. Oh the doors had been thrown wide and the horizon was spread before me. This was the first breakthrough to modern brewing. I am sure there are many members that remember when fire and pottery were outlandish innovations. Look how far we have come since those dark times.

But seriously, Homebrewing has never been easier. It has always been a DYI style of hobby. People that like to make something out of nothing. We scavenge parts, and repurpose equipment to meet our needs. Not too long ago ingredients were much more limited in variety, quality, and availability. I recently paged through Midwest Supply catalog that I received in the mail, and was struck by how
much thicker the volume was. Now everything is at your fingertips, literally. The internet is a strange and wondrous place full of a myriad of ways to spend your hard earned money on Homebrewing “shit”, as my wife calls it. The level of innovation and invention in products, as well as marketing, is growing exponentially.

It really is spectacular. With things like automated nano-brew setups like the PicoBrew, or Grainfather, it almost feels like cheating. The PicoBrew system seems like a Keurig machine for beer. Set your timer and come home to finished wort, ready to pitch. I still love my hands-on, 3-tier gravity fed, ½ barrel brewhouse. I made it out of sweat, cursing, and materials hewn from the earth itself. Its like a manual transmission in a car, yes the machine is easier and probably shifts better than me, but I like to do it myself dammit!

Some of the less automated but still well-equipped turnkey brew systems from Blichmann, Speidel, SABCO, Brewsculptures and the like are pretty awesome too. While they can get quite expensive, they are here. 10 years ago setups like these were either nonexistent, or reserved for pilot systems at commercial breweries. So damn sexy.

I am excited about the significant drop in price of stainless fermentation vessels. A 7-gallon conical fermenter used to gouge around $900 out of your hide. Now, with companies like SS Brewtech, you can get Stainless conical fermenters for $150 to $200! There are even glycol units scaled down to homebrewer level! Whirlpool tried their hand at the temperature controlled fermentation vessel market recently with their Vessi system. As ill-fated as that was, it still represents the interest and visibility our humble hobby has piqued with corporate America.

Then there are the ingredients. When I started brewing, in the relative Bronze age, A well-stocked homebrew shop might have a dozen or so grains to choose from, about as many hop varieties, and half that in yeast selection. There were often issues with the freshness of these ingredients because turn-over was low. Now, a LHBS can’t even be considered serious without an inventory of 50 or more varieties of malt, hops, or yeast. It seems every year there is new maltster to try, a fresh crop of new hop varieties, or some new hairsplitting yeast strains. It can get complicated.

This makes the hobby so much more accessible to new brewers. Because it is easier to find equipment and ingredients now, more people get into it and stick with it for longer. This is awesome. We now have more perspectives and friends in Homebrewing than before. A larger resource and research pool, and depth of knowledge in the community is good for the craft. I can’t wait to

see how much easier life gets in the next 15 years. –DT

*Read more in the Rubber Chicken