If you go to someone’s house, smell hops in the air, see alchemical-looking equipment laying around and notice dozens of full unmarked beer bottles, you can probably assume that that person is homebrewing. Don’t worry, making your own beer isn’t like the the Duke Boy’s moonshine trade; I promise it’s completely legal. According to Texas law, a person can brew up to 200 gallons of beer, so long as he or she does not sell any of it. What a single person would do with 200 gallons of beer is beyond me, but hey, to each their own.
As a process, homebrewing undergoes several stages. First, the malt extract and hops are mixed and boiled until they create a mixture called wort. The wort is then cooled and yeast is added. The yeast begins the fermentation process, which lasts for one to two weeks. After this process ends, the beer is siphoned into bottles and has to sit for another few weeks. Overall, it takes about three to six weeks to produce a batch.
“It’s a pretty rewarding hobby,” said Todd Huntress, the owner of San Antonio Homebrew Supply. “It’s usually economical, and of course it tastes great.”
Located on 2809 N. Saint Mary’s St., Todd’s homebrewing specialty shop is almost walking distance from Trinity. It seems to have a customized and personal style of its own. An inexplicable giant ball of yarn sits proudly at the entrance, hundreds of beer bottles of every shape and size line a high shelf and every conceivable surface is covered with bags of grains, cans of malt extracts and a variety of glass containers and complex looking doodads.
In order to get started brewing, you’ll need to buy a few things, and this is the place to get them. Depending on the size and quality of the equipment, a homebrewing kit can cost anywhere from $25 to $150. In addition to this equipment, you’ll need to pay for ingredients, which will cost you a little more.
Though the price might initially seem steep, after buying the equipment it’s possible to start saving some money. For example, one of the larger five-gallon kits can use approximately $25 worth of ingredients to produce a batch of up to 50 bottles of beer. That’s about 50 cents a bottle, which seems like a pretty good deal to me.
However, people rarely homebrew for purely financial reasons. Each and every homebrewer I’ve talked to has said that there is an enormous sense of satisfaction that comes with drinking a beer you’ve personally made.
Jack Newman, a student here at Trinity and an occasional homebrewer, explained this experience to me.
“There’s nothing like taking all of your time and effort, doing all this stuff and then cracking open that first beer and being like, “˜wow, it actually worked out’,” Newman said.
As he sipped a glass of beer from behind the bar counter of the San Antonio Homebrew Supply store, Huntress agreed, saying, “I remember being pretty darn proud of my first batch of beer.”
In addition to the pride and satisfaction one gets when homebrewing, the hobby also allows for a great deal of versatility and experimentation. Todd informed me that while it is difficult to mimic typical lagers such as Bud Light and Miller (though, honestly, why would you want to?), you can make something similar to any type of ale from a blonde ale to a dark stout.
Also, you can add a few things to spice it up. Soak wood chips in rum and let them seep into the mixture, use bits of banana or raspberry or pumpkin for flavoring or try something else to make your own personal twist on a traditional recipe.
“People do all kinds of crazy things,” Huntress said. “But one thing I would recommend is making one batch of regular beer first.”
So why not try to make some beer? It’s fun to do and, if you’re diligent and make multiple batches, it may even end up saving you some money. For those that do decide to give it a shot, remember that amateur homebrewers always mess up the first time. Todd wants to tell you that this is OK, and if you have a problem, you can give him a call.