JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Home-brewer Erich Hennig was new to the hobby about 10 years ago when he set about trying to create a light, easy-drinking beer. But when he and a friend tasted the concoction, they winced and said, “Dude.”
The failed attempt became known as “Dudeweiser.”
“Starting out, you’re going to get bad batches,” Hennig said. “It sucks because you’re out the money on the ingredients. But don’t let it hurt your feelings.”
As craft beer’s popularity has soared, so has interest in home-brewing, and Durango is no exception, with the recent formation of a home-brewer’s club and the opening of a home-brewer’s supply store.
The American Homebrewers Association in Boulder reported a 62 percent increase in membership since the end of 2008 and a 139 percent increase in the last five years. It has more than 28,000 members.
Durango resident Brian Leavesley has organized a local brew club that provides a social outlet to discuss brews, sample beers, organize competitions and share advice with one another. The club, called Animas Alers, meets once a month upstairs at Ska Brewing. The next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“You have those certain wizards in the group, and you’re just in awe of their ability and why they’re not taking it further,” Leavesley said. “But you’re pretty glad you have them as a resource. Improving the brew amongst everyone is one of the primary goals.”
A brewing club for women called the Barley Pop Bettys meets during the winter months in Durango.
Home-brewers tend to be an eclectic bunch – men and women, young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, Leavesley said. If they could be generalized, they’d be considered geeky, process-oriented, scientifically minded and vexed by a crazy streak.
“They want to do something experimental with their brews,” he said. “They’re not brewing home-brew just to get drunk. Although, there isn’t anything like a home-brew buzz.”
The process is fairly basic. It involves extracting sugar from malted barley by soaking it in water. The water then is boiled while adding hops to extract bitterness from the hops. The liquid then is cooled before adding yeast, which metabolizes the sugars to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. The liquid sits for two to five weeks in a room between 65 and 70 degrees. The end product is beer.
There are three ways to brew:
Extract brewing is the simplest way to get started. The process involves adding malt extract to water, boiling it, adding hops, cooling it and adding yeast.
Partial-extract brewing is the same process, but during the boil process, certain grains are steeped to add flavor and colors.
All-grain brewing mimics the process used by professional brewers. Grains are steeped in water to extract sugars, the grains are rinsed to flush the sugars into a kettle or a brew pot, the contents are boiled, hops are added, the liquid is cooled and yeast is added.
“There’s a little bit of magic in brewing,” Hennig said. “The results will vary each time.”
Professional brewers strive for consistency, but home-brewers can experiment and expect different results every time, he said.
“The real joy of home-brewing is there is no obligation to make your beer the same each time,” Hennig said. “Each time it can be different, and that difference is entertaining and enjoyable and one of the reasons I do it.”
Home-brewing has gained in popularity as more people have become interested in making things for themselves. Some home-brewers also make their own bread, cheese or grow gardens, said Kathryn Porter Drapeau, events and membership coordinator at the American Homebrewers Association.
“I think it’s this whole focus of doing things for yourself,” she said.
A lot of home-brewers have scientific backgrounds, Drapeau said, and the brewing process gives them a chance to use their skills in a creative way. They can add a touch of fruit or Belgium-style yeast to achieve different results.
People who are gluten-intolerant also have taken up home-brewing because they can make beer that is gluten-free.
Hennig said he has degrees in philosophy and computer science. He also brews mead, fruit wine and apple cider. He makes an October-style beer and a Christmas winter ale that are particularly well received by friends and family, he said.
“Anyone can do it,” he said. “I take that back. Anyone who can follow directions can do it.
“The thrill for me is the process because it’s both a science and a process challenge,” he said. “But there’s a lot of artistry to it, too.”
People can get started for about $100 to $150, said Nick Collins, who opened Durango Brew Supply in October with his partner, Ryan Hannigan.
Subsequent batches cost $25 to $50 for the ingredients to make a 5-gallon batch of beer, he said.
A survey of home-brew supply stores in 2009 and 2010 showed an average annual growth in gross revenue of 16 percent, said Spencer Powlison, spokesman for the American Homebrewers Association.
Ska Brewing used to sell a limited selection of home-brew supplies, but co-founder Dave Thibodeau offered to sell his inventory to Durango Brew Supply.
Thibodeau said he supports home-brewers, mainly because he used to be one, but also because they help raise public awareness about craft brews.
He’s not worried about people making their own beer and no longer buying his or someone creating the next great beer and cutting into his profits.
Ska even hosts a home-brew competition, and the best-of-show winner gets to brew a batch on a professional level with Ska and enter it at the Great American Beer Festival. Ska also shares its recipes with home-brewers, Thibodeau said.
“No matter how much beer you make at home, you’re still going to be drinking some other beer,” he said. “We always did, so we assume everybody else probably is, too.”
Durango Brew Supply offers everything from beginner kits to all-grain setups. Store owners are knowledgeable about the craft and can assist customers, Collins said.
“It’s a lot easier than people think,” he said. “If you can boil water, you’re about halfway there.
“It’s very addicting,” he said. “It’s almost as fun to brew it as it is to drink.”