Building a Better Beer a Batch at a Time
By Laurie Wink
Home brewing is a niche hobby for foodies who are hot for hops. Conventional wisdom has it that, if you can cook, you can make beer. The fun is in creating your own recipes and sharing the results with family and friends.
Gabe Masiulis started making beer six years ago and says nothing compares to the enjoyment of a beer you make from scratch. It’s fun, he says, and, “You get something cold and tasty out of it.” Masiulis is so passionate about homebrewing that he pursues it as a hobby and works for Northern Brewer, an on-line company that sells brewing equipment and supplies. In keeping with its mission to grow homebrewing as a hobby and an industry, the company donates prize money each year for homebrew competitions and beer festivals across the country.
Homebrewing became popular in the 1990s, as part of the microbrew boom that turned beer lovers on to quality craft beers made by small, independent brewers. It’s a chicken and egg debate whether homebrewing spawned the spate of microbreweries or vice versa. Either way, the new breed of beer makers is passionate about producing the best possible specialty beer styles.
About 750,000 Americans are brewing beer at home and do-it-yourselfers have formed more than 1,000 homebrew clubs across the United States, according to the American Homebrewers Association.
Fresher is Better
Mark Roule, of La Porte, comes from a long line of beer purveyors. His great-grandfather and grandfather owned a La Porte tavern, his uncle is a beer distributor and his cousins own Four Horsemen Brewing Company in South Bend. Roule started making beer with his father a few years ago and was hooked from the get-go. “I enjoy craft brewed beer and it’s a fun opportunity to do it yourself,” he says.
And, Roule notes, it costs significantly less to make beer than to buy it, with equally tasty results. For an equipment investment of about $100 plus ingredients and enough time, Roule produces four cases of his own beer for about $70, compared to buying a six-pack of microbrewed beer for $8 to $10.
“Fresher beer is better, and you can’t get any fresher than the ones we’ve made,” Roule says. “Some of the best beers I’ve had are the ones we’ve made from home.”
Homebrewer Now Brewery Owner
There are potential pitfalls to the homebrewing process, as Michael Boardman found out the hard way when he failed to properly sterilize the equipment and ruined the first batches. Boardman, a La Porte firefighter, sought advice from Chuck Krcilek, owner of Back Road Brewery in La Porte. He started homebrewing as a hobby nearly 20 years ago and occasionally offers tips to those who want to try it.
Krcilek’s fascination with making beer went from homebrewing to establishing his own microbrewery in 1996. At the time, Krcilek says, “Craft beers were not big in the Midwest. We started doing it before it was cool.”
Today, the number of homebrewers in the region has expanded exponentially. David Dabagia, manager of Shoreline Brewery and Restaurant in Michigan City, said they sell a lot of beer making equipment and ingredients online and on the premises. He says homebrewers like to come in to get some supplies and quaff a few of Shoreline’s specialty brews at the same time.
American Home Brewers Association
Home Brew It
Beer and Wine Making Supplies
108 S. Elkhart Avenue
208 Wabash St.
Michigan City, IN
Back Road Brewery
308 Perry St.
La Porte, IN
Laurie Wink is a freelance journalist who regularly writes for several area publications and works on a wide range of communications projects for a variety of business clients. She has lived in Michigan City for nine years and each June, while walking on the beach, she commits to being here yet another year.