By Cara Miller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
With names like Cherry Fever Stout, Toad Spit Stout or Goat Scrotum Ale, it's got to be good.
William Safieh, a University of Arizona electrical engineering senior, has been home brewing for the last six years. Like most aspiring brewers, Safieh started with a kit that produced five gallons of beer, then he moved up to a 20-gallon system.
"My favorite recipe is Brewster's Ale, which is named after my cat," Safieh says.
And many other people, including college students, are getting the brewing bug.
The popularity of home brewing has increased significantly since 1988, says Jim Hawk, owner and manager of Southwest Bee Supply for 25 years.
"In 1986-87 home brewers were kind of an odd lot and hardly anybody wanted to try a home brew," Hawk says. "Now that imports are more recognized, people are more anxious to try home brews and not compare it to Bud Light or Coors. They are judging it on its own merits."
Hawk says as the popularity increases so does the amount and variation of recipes he sees.
"People are trying exotic beers, spiced beers, fruit beers, pumpkin beer, chili beer," he says. "But the weirdest one I've ever heard of is chewing up corn and then spitting it into the pot and fermenting it."
In addition to homebrewing, the popularity of microbreweries has increased.
"We've had 30 percent more business this year than last year," says Dennis Arnold, brewmaster and owner of Gentle Ben's Brewing Company. "Slowly but surely, people's palates are getting acclimated to beers with flavor."
But beer brewing is not simply a late 1980s fad. According to Charlie Papazian's The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, the first beer was brewed in the mid
ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures.
Barley was one of the staple grains in Mediterranean cultures. People soon discovered that if barley was wetted, allowed to germinate and dried, the resulting grain would taste sweeter and be less perishable.
Papazian guesses that someone left his or her bread in the rain and the dissolved sugars and starches were fair game for yeasts in the air. Soon the yeasts began to ferment the "malt soup." No matter how crude the process was, the first "beer" had been brewed.
Luckily today, people don't have to wait for rain to brew their own beer.
Home brew is usually made five gallons at a time, only because the equipment is sized that way. Beer is made from four essential ingredients: water, fermentable sugars, hops and yeast. Given the right conditions, the yeast will ferment the sugars to alcohol, carbon dioxide and the taste of beer.
The beer is then bottled and aged anywhere from a week to three months to develop full body. The more stout the beer, the longer it needs to age.
For beginners, Safieh suggests purchasing a home-brew kit, which can be found at brewing supply companies. The kit usually includes a hop-flavored malt extract, so all that's needed is water, yeast and corn sugar or plain dried malt extract.
From there, it's just a matter of following the cooking directions. Combine ingredients, add to boiling water and ferment for eight to 14 days in a fermenter, which lets air out but doesn't let air in.
Hawk says the most important advice he can give novices is to sterilize all bottles and equipment thoroughly.
"Beer is a very fertile medium, and there are a host of organisms that thrive in it, especially in room temperature," he says.
Once the fermentation process has been completed, the beer is given a conditioning period of six weeks to three months depending on the beer. Ale requires six to seven weeks to develop, and lager takes an average of two and a half to three months. But brewers agree the longer you can let it age, the better the taste.
"Pale ale is one of the more popular flavors among beginning home brewers," Hawk says. "It's a kind of a middle of the road type of easy beer to make, and it appeals to a broad palate range."
For those who want all the flavor of home brew without the work, Gentle Ben's offers a six-beer menu for the connoisseur.
"Red-Cat Amber is currently the most popular beer because it is a nice transition from factory beers," Arnold says.
Gentle Ben's produces about 240 kegs per month. Because of the long fermenting and aging process of lagers, the brewing company only makes ales which ferment for two weeks.
Arnold, a self-taught brewer, says his beer varies with each batch.
"I tinker," he says. "It's slightly different every time. I can never leave well enough alone."
As Gentle Ben's brewmaster, Arnold says many novice brewers ask him for advice. He says his most important piece of advice is to not get discouraged.
"So many people have a pretty awful first batch and get turned off by it," he says. "Just keep after it. It's something that takes practice and time."
Hawk says he agrees.
"There are variables beyond the average person's control," he says. "It's just like cooking. Maybe you'll get a strange organism in there and maybe it does a good thing or a negative thing. Each batch has its own unique character, even if you are using the same recipe."
Safieh had different advice for first-time brewers.
"The biggest mistake beginners make is impatience," he says. "People just want to jump from kit to all-grain. They have no experience with how little changes affect the flavor or how to troubleshoot."
Safieh suggested talking to experienced home brewers, asking questions and reading trade magazines like Zymurgy.
But still the question remains: Why not just go to Circle K and pick up a six-pack of Bud?
People brew their own beer for many reasons. Home brewing actually can be more economical in the long run. After the initial equipment cost of $80 to $130, the only thing left to buy is the ingredients. But most home brewers are more interested in the challenge of producing a variety of beers.
"It's a great feeling to do it yourself," Safieh says. "To know you created it with your own hands."
Safieh also says it gives him an appreciation for quality beers.
"Home brew really does have a lot more flavor than the American beers, which lack character," he says.
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