“Brewing in a lot of ways is like gardening. How cool is it that you can plant a tomato bush and the next thing you know you have full-grown tomatoes? In the same way, you can take raw material and turn it into the world’s greatest beverage.”
— Jesse Core, owner and brewer at Core Brewing Company in Fayetteville.
By Terrah Baker
Home brewing is first and foremost a process, said local Northwest Arkansas brewers and experts. And like any process, there is a certain amount of art and skill to mastering the technique of making one hell of a good beer. The good news is: even that first batch can be enjoyable, and all a beginning brewer need do is follow some simple instructions.
And luckily, Northwest Arkansas has its very own home brewery specialty store where interested brewers can buy everything from all-in-one kits to bulk specialty grains, along with an advocate group where they can learn about the craft.
When talking with The Home Brewery store manager Bruce McCain, he said that brewing isn’t for everyone, but for those who stick with it, it’s an extremely rewarding hobby.
The Best Parts of Brewing
Once a month the Home Brew Club of NWA meets to share their beer and ideas. The night McCain discussed the best parts of the art of brewing, a group of about 30 men gathered in the back of The Home Brewery off of College Avenue and Township Street in Fayetteville. They stood holding freshly opened beers, and displaying one of the best examples of why brewing is so popular.
“I like providing something people enjoy. The culture that surrounds micro-brewing is really fun,” said owner and brewer at Fossil Cove Brewing Co. in Fayetteville, Ben Mills, who started as a home brewer. “It was something to do myself where I could say ‘hey, I made this.’”
Local home brewer Jeramy Joyce agreed that being able to hand out that freshly made beer is worth the effort it takes to clean and prepare his equipment and wait, sometimes up to six months, for the brewing to be complete.
Brewing his own has allowed Joyce to recognize tastes and qualities in different beers that he had never noticed, and to specialize his own beer, whether it be by adding more alcohol content or homemade labels to the bottles.
“Brewing in a lot of ways is like gardening. How cool is it that you can plant a tomato bush and the next thing you know you have full grown tomatoes? You can take raw material and turn it into the world’s greatest beverage,” said Jesse Core, owner and brewer at Core Brewing Company for The Hog Haus in Fayetteville, who started as a home brewer and is about to open the largest brewery in NWA at the beginning of November.
But the same reasons that make Joyce, Mills and others like J.T. Wampler of Tanglewood Branch Beer Company — who also started as a home brewer — love home brewing, also makes it unsustainable for some.
McCain said many who get involved with brewing don’t follow through once they realize how much work is actually involved in the cleaning process, or how much patience it takes to let a beer age for at least six weeks. That’s why he always suggests beginners start with a basic kit and the simplest process.
The Process of Brewing
The process of brewing depends on what’s being made, how much influence one wants to have on the final product and how complicated, and expensive, a brewer wants to get, said McCain. Owner of The Home Brewery, Andy Sparks, thinks the easiest way to approach home brewing is to think of it like any other recipe.
“Home brewing is a process like anything else. If you had never made spaghetti, it would seem intimidating when your recipe says to get a pot for the water and brown the beef and a pot for sauce and get the tomato sauce going. You get these different balls in the air and it sounds complicated, but once you’ve made spaghetti it doesn’t seem hard at all,” he said.
Nowadays, getting the process down can be made simple for those just beginning, or for brewers like Joyce who said he tries to recognize his patience and time constraints when choosing his supplies. Companies like The Home Brewery offer kits with different flavors and everything needed to brew, minus the large stock pot. Each kit comes with detailed instructions and recipes, helping to make it a smooth process.
Joyce likes to add a special touch to his beers — like sweetness by honey or an Asian berry for a sweet, summer beer — which is something all brewers try to accomplish once they’ve refined their technique or go professional.
Core explained that in the professional and home brewing world, there are over 109 official beer styles, with almost an infinite number of possibilities.
“You can combine ingredients to create your own recipe. If you just think about all the different types of grains — rye, wheat, barley, [etc.] — and mixing it with different water temperatures. You can get as crazy and creative as you like,” he said.
Now Start Brewing
One characteristic of most long-time brewers is their interest in making things, cooking and, overall, being able to enjoy the process of creating something unique. The local professionals who began as home brewers said they stuck with it because they were just nerdy enough to appreciate a good home-making challenge.
But the great thing about brewing, said Sparks — and one of the reasons he opened The Home Brewery — is that it’s so accessible to almost anyone, at least at first.
“One of the charms of home brewing is you’ll probably be successful even the first time you try it by following a simple recipe. It’s approachable, and you can be successful your first time out,” he said.
The best advice Core said he could give to a beginning brewer is something he learned right away, and what he applies to his brewing business today.
“Strategy number one for home brewers is don’t stress about it. I have made plenty of bad beer, along with plenty of good beer. The most important thing is to relax, and the key is just having fun,” Core said.