Local home brewers share tips with beer brewing beginners
Self-proclaimed beer evangelist Lynn Hoffman sits on his porch with a glass of La Fin Du Monde, his eyes welling up as he describes the dynamic of the Mt. Airy Society of Homebrewers (MASH). Along with trading beer tips and brews, Hoffman's made loyal friends.
According to Hoffman, home brew clubs are usually "half showing off and half getting feedback." He finds MASH, which formed four years ago under the name Cliveden Guilders Club, more friendly than competitive. On Christmas Day members come together and share their most treasured brews.
As a veteran brewer, Hoffman is eager to convert younger folk to the craft and provide useful advice to brewers who are starting out.
'It's like you've been colorblind your whole life'
Hoffman takes another sip of La Fin Du Monde and points out the citrus smell and herbal aroma from the hops. After almost a minute, he notes how the flavors linger in his taste buds. He says you can tell a good beer by its different sets of flavors and how long they last -- just like good wine.
Hoffman is particularly appreciative of beer because he can spend less on high-quality beer than a mediocre wine, making it the perfect indulgence at the end of the day.
A longtime wine expert and professor of culinary arts and beverage management at Drexel University for 15 years, Hoffman discovered great beer in the early 1980s when he tried Belgian beers at Bridgid's in Fairmount.
"When I first tasted these Belgians, it's like you've been colorblind all your life and suddenly someone turned on the technicolor and you see," Hoffman said.
Since then, he's been brewing beer at home. Beer is not just a hobby for Hoffman, but a source of inspiration in the classroom. In 2009, he published the book, "The Short Course in Beer," for his students since there weren't any beer textbooks for students at the time.
The home recipe
MASH member Scott Wikander opened Malt House a year ago to provide beer supplies to local homebrewers and introduce community members to brewing.
On a Tuesday night at Malt House, Wikander stands in front of a pot of boiling water and the necessary ingredients for beer -- water, malt extract, hops and yeast. He tells his students they don't need any fancy equipment to get started, instead they can use household pots for mixing ingredients and then airtight coolers or plastic buckets for fermentation.
Wikander adds the malt extract to the boiling water. He explains to his eager students that brewing beer with malt extract will only take an hour and a half. However, fresh grain requires five or six hours because the grain must be mashed, which involves soaking the grain in hot water and draining it, as well as rinsing the grain and extracting the sugar needed for the fermentation process.
After the water boils, he adds bitter hop extract to balance the beer's sweetness. Wikander adamantly reminds his students to sanitize everything multiple times to prevent sanitation flaws, which can impact the taste. He adds more water to the mixture and waits for it to cool. The mixture is poured into a bucket, dry beer yeast is added, and the top is sealed and left to ferment and turn into beer for students to enjoy the following week.
While beginner students might come to the class out of simple curiosity, Wikander hopes students will see how feasible it is to make beer. According to Wikander, a basic home brew set-up is around $130, far less than most people might think.
"My goal is to demystify the process and show it's not hard to brew beer in your kitchen at home," Wikander said.
Kevin Walsh attended the class with his brother-in-law, Michael Fleisher. They thought it would be a fun way to celebrate their birthdays but they walked away encouraged to give brewing a try.
"When my wife recommended we do the class, I didn't think I'd actually make beer on my own, but it's way too easy not to do," Walsh said.
Next, Wikander's students will have the task of naming their brew. Hoffman and Wikander note that beers often have playful names, which Hoffman attributes to many beer drinkers' immature beginnings.
Flying Dog Brewery, for example, is known for names reminiscent of college-humor like "In-Heat Wheat."
Wikander tries to give beers a unique name that reminds him of the setting and type of beer. Hoffman's neighbors named a beer "Saison du Porch," after the Belgian style of the beer saison and the place where they sit and sip.
After decades of brewing, Hoffman encourages beginner brewers to move beyond extracts and try fresh grains to enhance the beer's flavor. For Hoffman, beer and life boil down to taste.
"When you brew your own beer, you're forcing yourself to be alive in the moment and taste it."