“Nothing ever tasted better than a cold beer on a beautiful afternoon with nothing to look forward to than more of the same.” –Hugh Hood, Canadian writer and professor
Like beer? According to Statistics Canada, if you’re Canadian, you probably do. In 2013, $9.1 billion worth of beer was sold off stores shelves, totalling more than 40 per cent of overall alcoholic beverage sales in the country (source: Statistics Canada).
Access to privatized liquor stores, breweries and brew pubs has made Alberta an especially great place for beer lovers, who can purchase hundreds of different flavours and styles of beer produced locally and around the world. For many Edmontonians, however, the love of beer extends beyond the cooler shelves, with hundreds of people producing amazing, award-winning lagers, ales and stouts right at home.
Meet the brewers:
Shane Groendahl – president of Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous and brewer of porters and stouts (plus the occasional IPA, using hops grown in his own backyard)
Owen Kirkaldy – education director of the Edmonton Homebrewers Guild, with 20 years of home brewing experience and hundreds of batches under his belt.
Ryan Reimer – Member of Edmonton Homebrewers Guild and certified judge of the annual EHG home brewing competition, the Aurora Brewing Challenge (May 19-23, 2015).
Why you should try home brewing:
After interviewing Shane, Owen and Ryan, it became clear that making beer at home is a great hobby (not that we needed any convincing!). Here’s why:
- It’s easy – Making beer at home is not difficult. It requires a small amount of basic, easily sourced equipment, few ingredients and attention to detail. “Keep things clean, and you’ll be making great beer in no time,” promises Shane.
- It’s creative – Once you’ve got a handle on the brewing process, let the experimentation begin. “The outcomes are limitless with the different strains of yeast, malts, hops, and if you really want to get into it, the water chemistry,” explains Ryan, who draws parallels between home brewing and his love for cooking. “The difference in quality and the potential for diversity is enormous,” echoes Owen.
- It’s rewarding – “Home brewing allows people to take ownership of the beverages they drink, to diversify their palate, and gain a greater understanding of what goes into the drinks they consume,” explains Owen. Like gardening, cooking or baking, home brewing gives us a greater appreciation of process and ingredients.
- It’s fun – Taking on a new hobby or learning a new skill can be challenging, but the journey and your accomplishments are what make the hurdles fun. While you may create some batches better used for cooking or making beer mustard along the way (or “beer volcanoes,” as Shane can attest to), the process of learning and experimenting, then sharing your craft with friends and family is worth the few struggles you’ll encounter.
- “It’s cheaper than beer at a liquor store, and well, it’s beer!” says Ryan. I can’t argue with that logic!
Before you start printing off your custom bottle labels, you’ll want to get a general understanding of the brewing process. “Find a friend that home brews and tag along for a brew session to get a handle of it,” suggests Shane. Alternatively, pick up a book from the library (see below for suggestions from Owen) or take a class with the Edmonton Homebrewers Guild.
Once you know a carboy from a bung, you can start collecting your equipment. Basic packages offered at home brewing stores (like Winning Wines Plus, Estate Brewing and Harvest Brewing Co.) are enough to get you started, but you can also find lots of used equipment in online stores, forums and Kijiji ads, or as hand-me-downs from other brewers.
“Most of my equipment is cobbled together from hardware stores, the homebrew shop, and industrial kitchen supply shops,” explains Shane, whose favourite piece of equipment is a custom wort chiller he made out of copper tubing. “All of it is modified or altered from its original state to be useful for home brewing, but it doesn’t really have to be complicated to get started.”
Making your brew:
Beer-making kits come in an endless variety of styles and flavours, with ranging levels of difficulty. Talk to the staff at the homebrew shop for advice on what kit to choose based on your level of experience, budget and desired style of beer.
Transitioning from good beer to great beer then comes with practise, experimentation and helpful advice. Fortunately, the brewing community is helpful, generous and friendly. Join the EHG and EGBA for monthly meetings and seminars, attend events and, of course, share your beer and ask for feedback. Fellow brewers are an excellent resource, because after all, “you can’t learn everything on the Internet!” says Owen.
Tips from the trade:
A few final thoughts from our brewers:
“Don’t get bogged down with the idea that you are building a tiny craft brewery in your home. Just because you can’t afford a multi-tier brew sculpture and refrigerated conical fermenters doesn’t mean you won’t make fantastic beer. Beer is simple. Don’t make it complicated.” – Owen
“Like our slogan states: ‘The search for good beer need not be lonely.’ It’s all about learning and having a good time with friends.” – Shane
“There’s a certain level of precision that comes with adding anything other than the four main ingredients (barley, hops, water and yeast)… . Learn to brew basic styles, and once you have a handle on that, then start experimenting with the ‘fifth’ ingredient, whether it’s fruit, honey, coffee or barrels.” – Ryan
Book Recommendations from EHG Education Director, Owen Kirkaldy:
- How to Brew by John Palmer
- Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff
- Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse by John Mallett
- Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff
- For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops by Stan Hieronymus
- Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles by Ray Daniels