On a recent Monday morning in the Central Street pocket park beside Central Street Farmhouse, co-owner Zeth Lundy and store manager Josh Parda stood around a steaming pot where malt and blueberries tied together in cheesecloth simmered in hot water. The mixture would — after stirring, straining and fermenting — become beer.
It’s a process that takes hours, even when practicing the extract brewing method as Lundy and Parda were doing that day. Extract brewing uses concentrated malt extract, which cuts the time necessary for brewing from many hours to just a few. Then comes fermentation, which takes about two weeks.
Homebrewing, once reserved for select devout beer enthusiasts, has grown in popularity in recent years. Across the country, and here in Maine, more and more people are learning the basics of brewing.
“As craft beer grows, so does homebrewing because more and more people have that beer that they like or don’t like and think ‘I can do this at home,’” said Chad Lothian, who writes the BDN beer blog “If My Coaster Could Talk.”
At Central Street Farmhouse, a Homebrewing 101 class is held roughly every two months for those who want to try brewing. Meanwhile, brewing clubs and Facebook groups have sprung up to connect like-minded individuals who love brewing.
“Some of these guys are really, really into it. It’s usually the same group of guys and girls who are beer geeking at events,” said Lothian, who added that you can tell the real enthusiasts by the detailed and intricate brewing questions they’ll ask.
What’s goes into beer?
Barley malt. Hops. Yeast. Water. These are the basic elements of beer. Combine the right proportions in the right order and sequence and you’ll produce something you want to drink. Add in other flavors, and you can craft something all your own.
But Parda and Lundy agree, it’s important to keep it simple when brewing. Though it might be tempting to add in many flavor elements to a brew, that can lead to a beer you just don’t want to drink.
“It’s really easy to overcomplicate things,” said Lundy. “We really really try to help people slow down when they start and just make basic beer.”
Experts say to look for a beer style you enjoy, and start there with a recipe.
“Every style has a pretty well-established ingredients list,” said Parda.
When you’ve mastered that, start experimenting.
“Once you have a couple recipes [down], you start seeing things [in the brewing process],” said Lundy. “There’s a lot of trial and error.”
Want to try it?
Homebrewing is a complex process that requires some specialty equipment. Though beginners can use a standard stock pot and kitchen stove to get started, they still need a fermenter, bottles, caps and more to get going. At Central Street Farmhouse, a starter kit can be purchased for $100. Parda said that most of what’s included will be used again and again in brewing.
But it’s not just about equipment — it’s also about know-how. Experts including Parda, Lundy and Lothian recommend that brewers start small and work their way up. A simple recipe using extract brewing and the partial boil method is a good option for getting started. Books like “How to Brew,” by John Palmer can also help.
Just don’t expect to be brewing a complicated beer right out of the gate.
“We recommend for people just starting [with homebrewing] to do a partial boil,” said Parda. This allows new brewers to learn about the process before taking on the longer and more complex process of a full boil brewing.
Lundy, a father of three, says that although he has done all-grain brewing in the past, he now does all extract brewing at home because it’s what fits best into his busy schedule and family life. Pardy prefers the all-grain method.
“You can brew any method and make great beer,” said Lundy.
Want to try the all-grain method? Learn to make good beer with the extract method first, experts say.
“[All-grain brewing] would require more grain, more equipment, more skill,” said Lundy.
Introducing “Honey, I’m Homestead! Blueberry Bitter”
That blueberry beer Lundy and Parda were brewing that Monday? It’s the newest brew kit available at Central Street Farmhouse — and it’s named for the BDN’s Homestead section, which appears in print every Monday. “Honey, I’m Homestead! Blueberry Bitter,” is an English pub-style ale.
Central Street Farmhouse unveiled the new “Honey, I’m Homestead” brew kit on Tuesday, July 28. Included in it are all the specialty brewing ingredients you’ll need to make this beer at home — just add blueberries and your passion for brewing.