Fancy yourself a craft beer connoisseur? Sure, you might enjoy drinking it, but have you ever thought of making it? What about showing off your creation to other beer enthusiasts in South Florida?
Coming up in about six weeks is the 2014 New Times Beerfest (April 5, 2014, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at America's Backyard), which will feature a homebrewing competition that anyone with enough homebrewed beer can enter. If you've ever experienced a homebrewing competition, you know that it means you can expect to find beers ranging from the most basic of pale ales to the complex and culinary inspired beers like conditioned stouts and wild ales.
Even if you don't have aspirations to share your brews with the rest of the world (and let's admit, sometimes you make something really good and don't want to share it with anyone), brewing beer makes you a better judge of good beer. There, I've said it. It will improve how you view the world of beer almost ten-fold.
With the knowledge gained from learning about different hops and their flavor profiles, the different roast characters of malts, and the spices imparted from various yeast strains, you can add another toolbox to your arsenal for craft beer critical thinking.
But where to start?
The world of beer can be a daunting place. After all, there are 23 recognized styles of beer via the Beer Judge Certification Program (the country's leading professional beer judging association), which even includes a 'catch-all' category for the myriad of niche and up-and-coming styles yet to be formalized.
I think the best place to start is with some time being spent immersing yourself in homebrew culture. Brewer, 2014 Sam Adams' Longshot winner and overall nice guy Russ Brunner shares these sentiments.
"I would suggest to aspiring brewers," he says. "Go spend time at one, or all of the local homebrew shops. BX Beer Depot in Lake Worth, Funky Buddha [Homebrew] in Boca Raton or Daddy Brew's in Miami. All the equipment and ingredients are there waiting for you. Get a beer (yep, they have great beer on tap) and they can get you set up with ingredients, equipment and advice/directions before you can finish a pint or two."
With a location narrowed down, it's time to figure out what equipment to buy. These places should have kits, in either one gallon or five gallon varieties, that will get you going in brewing for way less than $100. With an extract kit (wherein the malt grain is already turned into a sugar-like syrup), you can get started brewing in a day, and have beer ready to be bottles in less than two weeks.
"I will also say that you can make a good beer with a Mr. Beer or brew in a box kit," he continues. "It's a great inexpensive way to try brewing to see if you enjoy it. Brewing can be as simple as making a pie but the end product is sooo much more interesting."
As for the beer to brew, the sky is the limit. Since you're now brewing beer to fit YOUR palate, you can do practically anything... but it's good to take it slow at first. Like cooking, you're going to want to practice and perfect your 'sauces' before tackling that molecular gastronomy.
"Style-wise, I'd suggest starting with a stout or IPA," Brunner shares. "Those beers have huge flavor from either the Hops or dark roasted grains. Those strong flavors from your recipe ingredients can mask any potential off flavors you might develop as a new brewer, as you begin to learn the process and your brew equipment."
Check back again next week as we talk to more local experts as we talk all-grain brewing, signing up for the New Times homebrew competition, and other brewing at home tips.
The 17th-Annual New Times "Original" Beerfest 2014 Presented by Isle Casino is from 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday, April 5 at America's Backyard in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Visit newtimesbeerfest.com to purchase tickets.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.