Heading back to the brew kettle

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SATURDAY IS Learn How to Homebrew Day, and I’m here to tell anyone who’s tempted: Forget about it.

It takes hours to make and weeks till it’s ready to drink. It’s messy. Something often goes wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t taste so great.

And it’s not 1980 anymore.

Back then there were, like, two beers in America, and one of them was Schlitz.

Today, who needs home-brew? There are about 10,000 beers – professionally made and ready to drink – that you can enjoy through the modern convenience known as the debit card.

A couple of years ago, I posted my brewing kit on Craigslist and put the hobby behind me.

And felt a little bit empty.

Ideologically, I am a huge home-brew sympathizer. Homemade beer is where the entire microbrewing revolution began, and I do mean revolution. By making their own beer, these hops-loving counterculturists broke the shackles of corporate monopoly, reversed the inevitable slide toward mass-consumer mediocrity and stood up to The Man.

Turning my back on homebrewing was like throwing away my last tie-dyed shirt.

Call it a midlife crisis. Or call it an idle afternoon with nothing to do as Hurricane Sandy shut down the local taproom.

Either way, I found myself in front of a steaming kettle this week, cooking up my first brew in more than 10 years.

My old setup produced five gallons at a time, and I just didn’t want to be saddled with that much of the same beer. This time, I used a kit from the online Brooklyn BrewShop – a clever package that makes just eight pints at a time. It comes with crushed grain, hop pellets, dry yeast, thermometer, plastic tubing and a one-gallon glass jug for fermentation.

It cost 40 bucks at Whole Foods, and you can purchase either prepackaged ingredient kits for future batches ($15) or assemble custom ingredients from an area home-brew shop (see below).

While Brooklyn BrewShop offers some whacked-out mixes – Chocolate Maple Porter, Coffee & Donut Stout – I was mindful of advice from some area pros:

Jason Harris of Keystone Homebrew in Montgomeryville told me to “keep it simple.”

More important, Nancy Rigberg of Home Sweet Homebrew in Center City told me to make something Mrs. Sixpack likes.

So I opted for the supplier’s Everyday IPA, which sounded both easy and – with its balance of malt sweetness and fragrant Cascade and Columbus hops – something that would help the missus forgive the mess.

With online videos and clearly written instructions in hand, I cranked up some Creedence and plunged in.

They say brewing is as easy as making soup, but that’s not quite true. There are more steps: mashing in, sparging (rinsing the grain), boiling, cooling and transferring the liquid to a separate container for fermentation. Also, pre-sanitation and precise temperature control aren’t exactly essential components of opening a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle.

Still, brewing this ale was not quite a science project, mostly because it was just one gallon. When it came time to cool the boiling wort before pitching the yeast, for example, there was no need for laboratory chilling equipment. I simply dunked the kettle into a sink full of ice water.

The beer is fermenting now. I’ll let you know how it tastes in a couple of weeks.

But in the meantime, I rediscovered the essential joy of homebrewing – and I’m not talking about that idealistic bonding with antiestablishment beer lovers.

It’s the glorious aroma that fills the kitchen. The smell of simmering malt and hops is reason enough to learn how to brew your own.

Get brewing here

Learn to Homebrew Day is organized by the American Homebrew Association, which offers ample guidance at homebrewersassociation.org.

The one-gallon home-brew kit is available online at BrooklynBrewShop.com, or at Whole Foods, Di Bruno Brothers (1730 Chestnut St., Center City) and area beer distributors, including Brewer’s Outlet (7401 Germantown Ave., Mount Airy).

For a more extensive range of supplies, visit a home-brew shop:

•Home Sweet Homebrew, 2008 Sansom St., Center City. 215-569-9469.
•Malt House Ltd., 7101 Emlen St., Mount Airy. 215-242-1700.
•Barry’s Homebrew Outlet, 1447 N. American St., Kensington. 215-755-4556.
•Keystone Homebrew, 435 Doylestown Road, Montgomeryville. 215-855-0100.
•Brew Your Own Beer, 2026 Darby Road, Havertown. 610-449-5496.
•Brew Your Own Bottle, 162 Haddon Ave., Westmont, N.J. 856-858-6000.


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