Homebrew cuts cost of craft beers
November 30, 2010 3:47 PM
Craft beer has had roots in San Francisco far longer than the recent nationwide explosion, but for people who scrape together just for mass produced domestics, the small-batch local bottles may be out of reach.
Mainstream consciousness of artisan beers is hitting a high point, even spawning a show on Discovery called Brew Masters that follows maestros in search of the perfect ingredients. According to the Brewers Association, craft brewing generated $6.98 billion in retail profits during 2009 and grew by 12 percent in retail income for the first half of 2010.
Small-batch and locally produced beers are becoming popular with the idea that superior quality is created and better ingredients are added when made by people with a passion for their product.
But with quality comes a heightened price tag for the consumer.
"In my own shoes, 20 years ago, I was one of those people who bought cheap domestic lager," he said. "In the larger model of craft foods, the unfortunate thing is that they cost more. We're not trying to be elitist, it does cost us more to buy really good barley and really good hops."
Marjorie Lammon, 24-year-old marketing major at SF State, has tried local beers at restaurants such as Monk's Kettle in the Mission District which is geared toward getting diners to pair dinner with beer.
"It's a good time, and the beer really does taste completely different than what I'm used to and pairs well with food, but when it comes down to it I can't afford the luxury of fine beer like I can't afford a lot of other fine things."
For reasons of economics or leisure, people have begun taking it upon themselves to create specialized brews from home, bypassing the retail markup while controlling the quality of ingredients.
Recent SF State alum Henri Gruen began his homebrew operation in his Sunset apartment when he was 20. At first experimenting in creating an elixir he couldn't lawfully purchase, it grew to a steady hobby among him and his friends.
"The first batch was bad, but it was alcohol and that's all that mattered," said Gruen, now 24. "I didn't consider myself anything like a beer snob, but over the years you learn an appreciation for the work that goes into it and the differences you're able to manipulate."
McLean agrees, citing his own experience brewing in his 20s as a marriage of science and cooking. "Brewing for economy is probably the least fun," he said. "It's fun in the curious scientific aspect of deconstruction and learning about something you like and making something tailor made to your likes."
For people on a budget who uninterested in taking the leap to home brew, a number of spots in the city provide a bridge from Pabst to more refined varieties. At City Beer Store in SOMA, more than 300 beers can be purchased in mixed six packs for a 10 percent discount or consumed in store for a dollar corkage fee. Not far from SF State, Beach Chalet offers on site brewing with seven beers on tap and seasonal additions. And the Mission isn't the only place elevating beer's status within restaurants; Social Kitchen and Brewery on 9th Avenue offers on-site brews with foodie delights.
Mating beer and food is nothing new, but beer's ascension into culinary ranks to the prominence of wine is something people aren't quite used to.
"There are common threads, specifically the carmelization of sugar in barley, that create a natural affinity with something like a roasted meat, because of the similarity in the cooking," said McLean.
Gruen is also expanding his small brewing horizons, creating beers to pair with friends' cooking at dinner parties.
"It's really cool to bring something and say that you made it, from start to finish, and it's actually good," he said. "So in a way me and my friends can create on some small and cheap scale the ideas that more expensive restaurants are doing."
San Francisco Brewcraft, a homebrew supply store that's been operating for 14 years on Clement Street, caters to the needs of local homebrewers, offering free classes taught by the owners on Monday nights.
"We've made every mistake, and that's the only way to learn," said employee and brewer Mike Daddona. "The aesthetic of wanting to make something yourself versus paying someone to make it for you are very different."
For those worried about time and money, Daddona assures that with some simple instructions anyone can make good beer for an initial $120 investment in equipment and $30 per five gallons thereafter.
"If a bunch of guys can get together and make it work, that should prove that it's pretty much foolproof," he said. "If you can let go of your ego and give it a try you can probably make a really good beer."
McLean suggests that people with a finite amount of money approach craft beer differently than they might think about mass produced beers.
"It might require a willingness to drink less and go for more character and uniqueness," he said. "Re-assessing what your beer experience is, by thinking this is special because it's made down the street from me by people following their dream, it's almost a different animal altogether."
According to Daddona, though, it's important to retain a sense of humor.
"We try not to take it too seriously. It is just alcohol, after all."
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