Home-brewed beer becomes more than just a hobby
“It’s like making a sandwich…” John Palmer described, “No matter what you do, it is still a sandwich, but this one is a BLT, this one is a PB and J, and that one is a Philly Cheese Steak. There are many flavors and ingredients available that you can combine in different proportions, but it is still a sandwich.” Except Palmer was not talking about sandwiches at all; he was discussing his favorite hobby: home-brewed beer.
“That kind of cooking creativity is what draws people to the hobby”, Palmer continued to explain, “it’s fun for people to envision a beer and get to create something new.” Experimenting with different yeasts, malts, and hops, there is no end to the unique flavors people can produce!
Palmer started brewing over twenty years ago, and has explored many different brewing techniques. In the process, he engaged with people around the world (majority online), sharing his advice and learning from the many other hobbyists out there. He began to compile his practical experience along with the science behind it into a book. Desiring above all to make his passion and his hobby accessible, Palmer published his book with free and unlimited access online. (How to Brew)
The more I listened to Palmer talk, the more I was surprised. Home brewed beer: it is something at once historical and avant-garde; simple and complex; creative and scientific; local and international. It is extremely social, and yet personally meaningful.
Before, when I thought of home brewing, I pictured middle-aged men with beer bellies. I saw groups of carefree, post-graduate hippies experimenting with dangerous, highly alcoholic brews. I even reflected on some of the time I had spent in developing countries, remembering issues of illegal, local brews that are common the majority world. What I did not imagine was a diverse and widespread group of hobbyists, enthusiastic about the opportunity to share their knowledge and welcome others into their realm of creative activity.
“I don’t bake cookies for my neighbors, but I do give them beer”
Another home-brewer, Bob Horn, affirmed this creative, community-oriented emphasis. “I don’t bake cookies for my neighbors, but I do give them beer, and it allows me to hear their stories. I get to hear more about them as well, and build relationships through it,” Horn shared.
Horn also talked about another form of artistic self-expression in his hobby that goes beyond the brew, itself. He has learned to design his own labels. “The last label I did was for a beer I made for my father-in-law. I called the beer ‘Ol’ Frothingslosh’, and I included a picture of him kayaking. I gave it to him for his birthday, and it was a hit!”
This was perhaps the most prevalent theme I found as I explored the hobby of home-brewing: it is something special that people make to share. It connects people. “Since starting to brew, I have met many new people who brew and have learned a lot from them. I have also gotten a few of my friends interested in brewing and we now all brew together,” shared Glen Meyerowitz, another home-brewer who started just eight months ago.
Palmer was also very clear about how excited he was for the hobby to expand. Though humans have essentially been brewing locally for thousands of years, it was never before so easy to access the global variations and technology that make it so simple today. Thanks to the internet, people everywhere have access to the kind of information that can feed the enthusiasm and business of brewing.
“People like beer!”
And for Palmer, that growth, in knowledge and in passion, is essential to the hobby of home brewing. “One thing that’s important to understand,” he said, “is that brewers as a group are really excited to share. There are a lot of different hobbies where people don’t share techniques and knowledge to maintain their own status, whereas brewers really are excited about sharing the best of their knowledge on how to make it work. People like beer!”
In a world where the constant complaint is how disconnected we are all becoming, hiding behind phone and computer screens, it is relevant to see how some things truly defy that reality. Home brewing makes use of expanding networks and technology to forge bonds and communities. It is a hobby about experience, friendship, tradition, innovation, and creativity that is eager to expand. Its invitation is open to anyone who would like to tap into their own brewing potential and for whom the proclamation: “I like beer, too!” is true.
Photo Credit: Etsy.com