Homebrewing offers cheap and tasty answer
// Leanne Kriz

“It’s fun to do, you get beer, and it’s just like cooking.” That’s home brewing in a nutshell from the brew master himself, Dan Small, owner of Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies. His shop which is located on the corner of Heatley and East Hastings St. in Vancouver has been there for decades.

This nondescript store, which Small describes as busy and hectic on Saturday afternoons, supplies the home brewers of Vancouver with the equipment and ingredients needed to brew their own beer. Business, he describes, “[has] been growing for the last 20 years.” He contributes this to high beer prices which people just can’t afford and word of mouth. Also, he adds, “commercial beer is, for the most part, kind of crappy.”

“Have you tasted Kokanee?” he asks. “There is no flavour, there is no body, [and] they use adjuncts. Adjuncts are any type of additive that is not water, hops, yeast, or malt,” he explains. “They are using corn, rice, cane sugar; you know, that kind of thing. It not only makes the beer taste bad, but it will give you a headache.”

These adjuncts are used to do anything, from extending the shelf life of beer and cutting costs, to adding flavour or creating a better head. Unfortunately, consumers do not have the ability to check what ingredients are being put into their beer. According to the website of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, nutrition labels are not required for beverages over 0.05 per cent alcohol. Home brewing offers those with allergies and those conscious of what they put in their body an opportunity to have control over the ingredients that go into their beer.

A customer of Small’s Homebrewing Supplies explains that he started brewing because “it’s cheap and you can experiment with different flavours.” For some, the draw of home brewing comes from the experimental chemistry that goes along with brewing beer, while most others are drawn to it by its low cost.

Whatever the cause may be, Small insists that anyone can do it: “Just some basic equipment” is all you need, Small explains. “It costs about $70.”

Starting supplies include “a couple fermenters, a siphon, a hydrometer, and your ingredients. That’s the equipment to make about 23 liters.” The ingredients to make each batch will cost about $20 to $30 depending on the type of beer. His only suggestion for first-timers is to use good quality products and ingredients to brew their beer.

“People see these beer kits for $15 … [and] they buy these cheap things and expect them to be good and then they are disappointed … but if you start with good ingredients, there is no reason why you can’t make good beer the first time, and most people do,” he explains.

If you’re still hesitant about brewing beer on your own, you can join a beer club, or perhaps even start one. Graham With is the founder and president of Vanbrewers, a club that has been around for the last four years and caters to local brewers to give them an outlet to discuss and learn more about beer.

“There are about 140 members now and we meet up once a month and do technical presentations or have guest speakers on different aspects of brewing,” With explains. It costs $20 a year to join Vanbrewers, which is a non-profit organization.

The club offers a variety of support; for example, “if something didn’t turn out right,” With explains, “you can always bring it to the club meeting and get some more experienced brewers to test your beer to see what they think happened.” The Vanbrewers meet up on the last Thursday of every month. Their next meeting is on Mar. 29, and their event can be found on Facebook.

Whatever attracts you to homebrewing, Small insists that anyone can do it: “It’s just like cooking. You can make whatever you want and you’re not stuck with something that is prepackaged … You can add more hops you can decrease the hops, you can make it darker, you can make it lighter, you can do whatever you want.

//Leanne Kriz, writer
//Graphics by Stefan Tosheff

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