Are you ready to join the home-brewing craze?
By Michael Austin September 25, 2012 10:46AM
President Barack Obama holds up a bottle of beer as he delivers a case of White House-brewed beer to the firefighters at Fire Station No. 14 during an unscheduled stop, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012, in Norfolk, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Bev Art, 10033 S. Western, (773) 233-7579, www.bev-art.com
Brew Camp, 2039 W. Belle Plaine, (773) 857-2400, www.brewcamp.com
Brew & Grow, several locations, including two in Chicago plus Bolingbrook, Crystal Lake, Roselle and Rockford, www.brewandgrow.com
Fox Valley Homebrew & Winery Supplies, 14 West Downer Pl., Aurora, (630) 892-0742, www.foxvalley brew.com
Home Brew Shop, 225 W. Main St., Saint Charles, (630) 377-1338, www.home brewshopltd.com
Siebel Institute of Technology, 1777 N. Clybourn, (312) 255-0705, www.siebelinstitute.com
Chicago Beer Society, http://chibeer.org/
White House Beer, www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/09/01/ale-chief-white-house-beer-recipe
Updated: October 1, 2012 9:43AM
I don’t know, I guess there’s something kind of cool about being one of the last people on earth who still has not made his own beer.
A few weeks ago I was in an antiques store in Lake View and a woman who looked to be in her late 20s or early 30s was paying for a large stock pot, the kind you would use to make a big batch of chili — or to boil wort in the brewing process.
“Good luck with your beermaking,” the cashier said as the customer walked to the door carrying her new brew kettle.
The customer raised the pot, as if it were a newborn baby. “This will help,” she said with a smile.
Lately I feel like I meet a couple of people a week who are making their own beer, or I find out that someone I have known forever is now doing it. Everybody’s a brewer. I have been thinking about making a small batch for a while now, and I have some first-time friends who are interested, too. But my goodness there are some great craft beers available just about everywhere you look, and I have always been a proponent of letting the professionals do their thing.
Plus it seems like a bit of undertaking — the better part of a Saturday, at least — with lots of sterilization and organizing. When I imagine all of that, the lazy but enthusiastic beer drinker in me takes over and reminds me of all the nearby places I can buy already-made craft beer. Then, in early September, I got the news: The White House was brewing its own beer. The White House. I felt a little inadequate and unambitious, because, you know the White House has a few other things going on.
Apparently the president had bought the homebrewing equipment and ingredient, and his kitchen staffers are brewing beer in their spare time. A White House blog (address listed below) offers recipes for the official Honey Ale and Honey Porter of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, both made with honey harvested from a hive on the South Lawn. Brew Camp (2039 W. Belle Plaine, 773-857-2400, www.brewcamp.com) also sells recipe kits for both beers at its Chicago store, and online.
George Washington made beer in Mount Vernon and my grandfather made it in Joliet, but they both lived in an era when people made a lot of things at home.
With his velvety-voiced radio pitches, Jim Koch, brewer of Sam Adams, may have inspired countless homebrewers and bought the practice into modern times and to the masses. He was very visibly on the leading edge of a new idea. The idea is no longer new, obviously, and maybe we are returning in some sense to that “homemade” era.
Brew Camp is not the only beer supply store out there. There are beer supply stores everywhere, offering not only equipment and ingredients but also instruction, from very basic to advanced. You could try one of those or step it up and enroll at the Yale of brewing, the Siebel Institute of Technology, which celebrates its 140th anniversary this year. Siebel counts among its alumni August Busch III (of Anheuser Busch) and Greg Hall, the former Goose Island brewmaster who is now making Virtue Red Streak cider.
I have tasted lots of homebrews through the years — from the early days when only certain kinds of people were making it, to now, when everyone is — and some of those beers have made me wince while others were good enough to be served in a craft beer bar.
In late August I found myself sitting on a sailboat in DuSable Harbor. White masts reached toward the sky in front of dark twinkly high rises, and a friend of mine popped two bottles of his homebrew. They were very tasty, and made that evening setting close to idyllic. It is cool to be a holdout but it also is cool to be able to say, “Hey, do you want to try some beer that I made?”
Now beer is being made in one of the most famous house kitchens in the world. I am guessing that the First Beer will not be the last at the White House. Someday there might even be a boiling kettle of wort in my kitchen, just so I can see what all the fuss is about.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.