Resolve to Make Your Own Beer in 2017
You'll definitely keep this new year's resolution
Hudson Valley Homebrewers, a local homebrew club, offers a community for brew newbies and pros alike.
New Year’s resolutions are so predictable: lose weight, exercise, call your mother more often. Yeah, right — they’ll be forgotten by Valentine’s Day. This year, why not make a resolution you’ll keep? Resolve to brew your own beer.
It’s a lot easier to get started than you think. There are several homebrew emporia throughout the Hudson Valley, and each has the tools, knowledge, and support you’ll need. More than that, they have the passion for brewing that often turns novices into obsessives, dreaming about opening their own taproom and quenching the thirsts of discerning beer geeks across the region.
Start by purchasing a brewing kit, which has all the necessary ingredients and recipes you need to make a five-gallon beginner’s batch. “I tell people it’s like buying a cake mix,” says Jerry Pantano, owner of Pantano’s Wine Grapes & Home Brew in New Paltz. “If you can make a pot of stew, you can make beer.”
You also need equipment, though you may have much of that already: a big, stainless steel pot, for instance, and empty beer bottles. Depending on what you own, you can expect to spend between $150 and $300 to get up and running, but most of those costs are one-time expenses. “Like any hobby, you need the gear,” Pantano says. After that, all you need are new supplies of hops and grains and flavorings.
And you need the know-how. At Barley Hops & Grapes, in Red Hook, owner Tom Folster and his staff will take newcomers through the starter kit and explain everything. “For those who are still a bit nervous, we offer brewing classes,” he says. There are also homebrew clubs — including Hudson Valley Homebrewers and Westchester Homebrewers Organization — at which you can meet other brewers, pick their brains and even apprentice with them to learn the craft. “The fun comes from the camaraderie,” Folster says. “It’s more a community than a competition.”
There are, of course, a few pitfalls to avoid. Good beer requires good water, so be sure the water you use is “clean and healthy,” Pantano says. It needs to be the correct pH level and free of impurities (like iron). After that, temperature control is key. “The most common mistake is the fermentation temperature,” Folster says. “Yeast [used to promote fermentation] is an interesting organism. It is temperature-sensitive, and the challenge is to find a spot in the house where the temperature is just right.” And sanitation is critical: “A little bit of bacteria in the beer before it ferments will turn it sour,” Folster says. Cleaning everything properly is essential.
Brew once, and you’ll likely be hooked. You’ll start reading about brewing (Pantano recommends How to Brew by John Palmer; “It’s the bible for home brewers,” he says) and attending more advanced classes. You’ll experiment with recipes you lift off the Internet or concoct out of your imagination, and you’ll keep detailed notes about every gram of flavoring you added to your brew. You’ll subscribe to Brew Your Own magazine and bore your friends talking about the subtle differences between Cascade and Willamette hops. And you’ll likely have a blast doing it.
That’s where the passion comes in. “It gets you that feeling that you have created something,” Folster says. “Each batch is unique, personal, and invested, not just with time and energy, but emotion as well. Brewers feel like this is their child, their creation…[and it] came out better than anyone else’s, and they will be eager to share.”