Venturing into the world of homebrewing can seem like a waste of time and energy when a good beer is right around the corner. Although pursuing a hobby that produces a plentiful, cheap and delicious beverage may not seem worth it to the average beer drinker, the homebrewers of Madison would say otherwise.
Homebrewing is the brewing of beer in small quantities, usually in one’s own home. Its popularity has risen in conjunction with the rise of the microbrewery/craft brewery movement. Here in Madison, a small tight-knit community has developed around homebrewing. A big advocate and organizer for the community is Ben Feifarek, owner of the Wine & Hop Shop on Monroe Street.
Wine & Hop Shop, a major force behind the homebrewing community in Madison, sponsors and participates in contests, giveaways, tastings, classes and other events. At the store itself, there is a plentitude of different grains, hops, kits and equipment for the purpose of homebrewing, along with its own tasting spouts in the back for different beers and wines that are switched out frequently.
“If a shipment we needed doesn’t show, we’ll call up Vintage, the Great Dane, One Barrel, and we’ll be like, ‘Hey, can we borrow four bags of this and when our shipment comes in on Monday, we’ll get it back to you, along with something else.’ They’ll sponsor us for contests,” Feifarek said. “We hosted two homebrew competitions each year, one hop-themed and a stout contest. The winners of those competitions get to brew their beer at One Barrel Brewing [Company] and they put it on tap.”
The process to get started is simple. The equipment required is a boiling pot, a fermenter and hydrometer, along with other cooking and sanitation utensils. There are beginner kits available for around $100 that will take care of all rudimentary requirements for any aspiring homebrewer. These kits can be placed in the corner of a room, a bathroom, or a closet, as long as it’s not in direct sunlight.
There are opportunities to get creative with homebrewing as well. One creative attempt Feifarek recalled is a spruce beer that used the bark of a spruce tree instead of hops. Despite using half the amount of spruce in the recipe, it still turned out to be too much and the beer ended up tasting like pine sap. Feifarek’s favorite homebrewed beer used vanilla bean along with Thai chili peppers and cacao nibs soaked in tequila, which resulted in a hot Mexican chocolate stout.
Allison Cunniff, a junior at the University of Wisconsin majoring in economics and entrepreneurship, has been brewing her own beer for nearly six months and loves putting her own spin on the beer she makes.
“I started off with an amber, which is very malty and not as hoppy as an IPA [India Pale Ale]. Then I made a peach wheat. I went to the store, got peaches, made a puree and put it in with the beer. It was a really nice, fruity, summery beer. The girlfriends who usually don’t like beer actually liked that one. The last one [I made] was an IPA, a hoppy beer,” Cunniff said.
Cunniff brought her homebrewing passion to her fellow employees and the owner of Roast Public House. She recently set up her equipment at Roast and brewed an IPA there, with plans for a beer with raisins, apricots and currants in the works. She enjoys making beer more accessible to her friends and creating a social experience.
“For the weekends, I’ll pick up a new kind of beer for my friends and me to try. I’m really working on some of my girlfriends. They still like their cosmos or margaritas. I want to do a strawberry-orange wheat, [I’ll] make it almost like a wine cooler but still a beer so my guy friends can enjoy it also,” she said. “I really like how beer brings people together. If you sit down and actually care about how it tastes … you can have a conversation about the flavors. It’s definitely a fulfilling experience.”
For more information on homebrewing, seminars and events, visit the Wine & Hop Shop website at wineandhop.com.