A fantastic sense of accomplishment washed over me the first time I tasted my own home-brewed beer. Looking back, it was probably not as delicious as I thought at the time, but the knowledge that I made it in my own kitchen was powerful.
In 1978, the United States officially legalized home brewing (though there was ample proof that many people were doing it all along). At the beginning of the next decade home brewing became a popular hobby with the publication in 1984 of Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which has since become a home brewer’s bible.
Mike Morrison, a Sydney, N.S. home brewer, started about five years ago, when craft beer was first taking off in Atlantic Canada. “I’d started to develop a taste for different kinds of beer and I like to make things. A friend of mine gave me a beginner’s home brew kit that she wasn’t using anymore and I went from there.”
Like many home brewers, he was hooked and now he has a three-tap keg fridge in his basement and a couple thousand dollars worth of used and repurposed equipment.
At its basic level, brewing is the act of steeping sugar from grain, adding hops and yeast, and letting the mixture (called wort) ferment for about two weeks. There are several different ways to do this, ranging in complexity.
The easiest way to start is with a Festa Brew kit. While other kits require you to boil and add water, Festa Brew kits require you to simply mix the pre-made wort and yeast together and ferment. All you need is two buckets with covers that can accommodate 27–30 litres of liquid, a long spoon, an airlock, and a means of transferring the liquid from one bucket to the other.
Another popular kit, called Best Case, made by Noble Grape, a Nova Scotia-based home brew store chain, takes the method above up a level. You need a 10-litre pot to boil your wort in, and will add water, steeped grains, and hops to your liquid wort and yeast. This style kit will get you a little closer to a craft beer taste.
You’ll find both kits at most home brew and wine kit stores in the region. They cost $29.99–$49.99, depending on the ingredients.
I started brewing on Best Case kits in 2015. Within a few months, I moved on to all-grain brewing. A basic all-grain brewing set up includes a mash tun (often made out of a cooler), a 20–30 litre pot, a 23-litre bucket and carboy, an airlock, hoses and tubing, and a thermometer. You can buy a starter kit including everything but the pot for about $75, but look on Kijiji first for someone selling their gear. That’s how I started because I didn’t want to commit a lot of money before deciding if it was something I’d continue.
While it requires more equipment, all-grain brewing allows you to shape your recipe to your personal taste. That’s why Robyn Vaughn, of Halifax, started brewing. “I wanted to see how it’s done so I could make slight changes to commercial beer I liked.” Vaughn brews with tea often and says it’s a big inspiration in her brewing.
While you can make a Festa Brew kit in about 30 minutes and a Best Case kit in about two hours, all-grain brewing is a day-long activity. Morrison says his brew day is about five to six hours now, including clean up.
“It’s a fun process, even the physical work of doing it on a brew day,” he says. “I enjoy that whole of it and the payoff is high because the beer usually turns out well.”
If you’re looking to adopt this hobby, there are a few tips that will help improve your final product almost immediately.
“Start basic if you can,” says Morrison. “I think early success is important because otherwise you’re not going to want to keep doing it. Also really make sure you’re into the whole process because you can end up spending a lot of money and time on it.”
Sanitize everything, says Matt Chapple, manager of Noble Grape Quinpool, a home brew and wine supply store in Halifax. “It’s the biggest factor in whether your beer will turn out or not.”
Don’t be afraid to make a bad beer, says Vaughn. “All you lost was what you would have spent on a case of beer, and in theory you had fun doing it,” she says. “Every time you pour a batch down the drain you learn something for the next one.”
Within Atlantic Canada, the home brewing community is strong. Brewnosers, an online forum for brewers is a great resource for advice and offers an opportunity to pick up used gear at a discount.
Morrison says if you can’t find a community of home brewers near you, use YouTube to trouble shoot issues on brew days and learn new skills.
“Everyone in the brewing community, from staff at brew stores to people online, is really into it and excited to talk about brewing,” says Chapple. “When you find like-minded people you will make quick friends.”
The best place to start your home brew adventure is with a visit to your local home brew store. There you’ll find kits and any other ingredients you need, plus any equipment. Here are just a few of the many East Coast shops.
Nine stores in Nova Scotia, one in Fredericton
E&L Wine and Brew Outlet
459 Elmwood Dr., Moncton, N.B.
John’s Home Brew Store
14A Exhibition Dr.
100 Brookfield Rd., St. John’s, N.L.