Brooks on Beer: Learning to Homebrew

Written by Jay R. Brooks for The Contra Costa Times and

The new year is a perfect time to start something new — like homebrewing. (David Perry/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
The new year is a perfect time to start something new — like homebrewing. (David Perry/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

The new year is a perfect time to start something new — like homebrewing. There’s no better way to appreciate the beer you drink, and unlike most hobbies, at the end of the day, you’ve got beer. How’s that for a reward?

There has been a huge surge of interest in homebrewing in recent years. The American Homebrewers Association saw its membership jump to 35,000, a 20 percent increase from 2011 to 2012. According to their estimates, 1 million people — including 130,000 Californians — made beer or wine at home last year. With more than a thousand clubs and 300-plus homebrewing competitions nationwide, it’s clear that the DIY beer bandwagon has arrived.

If you’d like to join those eager homebrewers, here are some resources to help.

All stocked up

The Bay Area boasts at least 15 specialty shops that have all the equipment, ingredients and resources you need to start making beer — and they’re staffed by experienced homebrewers who are eager to help.

Take Homer Smith, who has been the manager at Berkeley’s Oak Barrel Winecraft shop seemingly forever. He has been homebrewing since 1969. Smith teaches aspiring brewers the craft and offers occasional demonstration days, where prospective beer makers can get a sense of what the process entails and ask any questions.

Concord’s MoreBeer offers two classes per month, including a basic brewing session ($20) on the second Saturday of each month, and an all-grain advanced brewing class on the first Saturday, according to showroom manager David Wonder. The classes are taught by Austen Conn, a professional brewer at Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley.

Likewise, Brewcraft in San Francisco offers classes every Monday evening, and Livermore’s Good Brewer has classes on select Saturdays.

You’ll find links to 15 homebrewing stores — with class schedules and services listed on their respective websites — on my Bottoms Up blog at I’ve also posted links to 37 local homebrew clubs you may be interested in exploring, from Berkeley’s Bay Area Mashers to Pacifica’s Brewbirds of Hoppiness to San Jose’s Worts of Wisdom Homebrewers.

Brews fests

This cold weather makes it tempting to stay indoors, but here are three good reasons to leave your house this winter. Sponsored by the Brewing Network, the fourth annual Winter Brews Festival — which runs from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord — is one of the best resources for homebrewing information. The $40 ticket includes tastes from more than 30 top breweries, many run by people who started out as homebrewers. Be sure to swing by the booths staffed by the MoreBeer and HopTech homebrew shops and homebrewing clubs as well. Proceeds benefit the Coral Reef Alliance. Details:

On Feb. 1, Russian River Brewing will be releasing its widely popular triple IPA, Pliny the Younger. The Guerneville brewpub will open at 11 a.m., but expect to wait. Last year’s wait times stretched as long as five hours. They’ll have Younger for two weeks, with an allocation for each day. Details:

Do you dream of owning your own brewery? The San Jose Cooperative Brewery & Pub hopes to build a co-op brewery. They’re hosting a beer tasting ($20) and membership drive at San Jose’s Drying Shed, 402 Toyon Ave., from 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 2. Details:

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