Monday, July 21, 2008

An Ode To Homebrewing

I was out of town last weekend and I had this killer post ready to go Friday that was going to go up today. At the last minute I killed it because, well, frankly it was going to generate more drama than I was looking for right now and I had already covered much of it with my post last Wednesday.

If you care, and I'm sure you don't - but it IS semi-relevant - I was at a bachelor party in Memphis, Tennessee over the weekend. Mine, actually. Now, the great thing about Memphis is: a) it's about as hot as Madison in July, so you don't really lose anything weather-wise by going; b) Beale Street serves until 2:30 or 3:00am, and some places until 6:00am; c) Graceland; d) a great scene that serves bachelor parties well, if you get my drift; e) it's much cheaper than Vegas or Miami or any of the other places where people typically hold these things and are of similar quality.

But here's two bad things about Memphis: a) it's a 10-hour drive from Madison, and doesn't often have "special" rate air fare - especially from Madison or Milwaukee; b) there's not much there in the way of craft beer. For a city its size (about 700K people) it doesn't have any major regional or even local breweries. A quick search of BeerAdvocate's handy BeerFly, a "yellow pages" of a given city's beer sites, reveals 4 listings for "brewery, brewpub, or beer bar." FOUR.

So, what's a poor boy to do? Headed to a bachelor party in a city with virtually no chance of quality beer?

Brew your own.

Let me tell you. A 5-gallon corny keg of beer (a little over 2 cases worth of beer) to keep in the hotel room is a really, really good idea. It cost $35 in raw materials and about 4 hours to produce. And for the input, rewarded with a constant supply of good beer that made me forget about the fact that we were staying in a hotel across the street from a Flying Saucer.

For those in Madison, who I've found are not particularly well-traveled to the south, The Flying Saucer is a chain, mostly in the South, that typically has around 300 different bottles and around 50 to 100 taps at any one time. It's a really great beer bar that specializes mostly in regional beers, so there's usually not much in the way of "wow" factor, but it is one of the few places you can get a Harpoon UFO outside of the NorthEast, for example. And, for a region that is severely lacking in quality microbrews, it's a lighthouse in a sea of Yuengling (America's #1 beer in chronology, brewing since 1829).

I took with me a 5-gallon keg chock-full of 4.5% ABV Amber ale goodness that was really more like a light porter. I had steeped too much caramel and roasted malts and got more of that coffee-like roastiness and color than I had anticipated. Plus, the local homebrew store, Wine and Hop Shop, was out of the hops that I typically use for this beer (Centennial and Northern Brewer), so I had to subsitute more mild continental hops (East Kent Goldings and Perle) and, fearing that this would not assuage my hop requirements, at the last minute added a dry-hopping of Cascades for a more complex hop aroma that would hopefully help to lighten the beer up a little bit. It worked and I ended up with a dark-ish amber/not quite brown/almost light-ish porter thing that everyone really seemed to like. It was just the right amount for our between drinking bouts of drinking and never seemed to weigh us down.

If you, the fine readers out there are interested, we will try to bring you more about brewing your own beer - a suprisingly simple, moderately inexpensive, and highly rewarding hobby. Is this something y'all are interested in learning about? Should I track down of the fine folks at Wine and Hop, or call up Marc over at Point Brew Supply?

Please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here's some great homebrewing information sources and blogs:
Wine and Hop Shop (1931 Monroe Street, Madison, WI).
Point Brew Supply (1816 Post Road, Plover, WI).
Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild.
How to Brew Beer - John Palmer.
BeerSmith (While not an endoresement of this product, it is my brewing software of choice for its ease of use, scalability, transparency, and price).
Home Brewing Blog by BeerSmith.


  1. The last time I stayed in Memphis I really enjoyed the Flying Saucer. I had to drag my friends there from Dick's on Beale, but it was completely worth it. I didn't realize it was a chain, though I suppose it doesn't really matter that much.

  2. I'm a brand new subscriber to your blog (Google Reader pointed me your way). I'd love to hear about some home brewing, especially with a Madison tilt.


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