Review of Homebrew con — deciding how much technology you want in your brew system

I’m just back from three days of Homebrew con in Baltimore, and it was a heck of a time. The exhibit hall was full of displays from various homebrew vendors, and most of the booths were serving beer. You could say that the beer flowed pretty much non-stop the whole time, and by the evening of the second day a glass of rootbeer was a welcome change. And I don’t usually drink soda.

The talks were very interesting (and yes, they served beer during the talks), and I got to have a brief word with Charlie Papazian.

My main takeaway from the conference was that every homebrewer has to settle on how deeply he’s going to go into the hobby — not only in the old extract vs. all-grain decision, but in how complicated he wants to make his own brewing setup.

Mine is fairly simple. I do all grain, but I don’t use any pumps or filters, and I don’t have my equipment on a stand. I used an immersion chiller, and I basically pour things from here to there. I’m comfortable with it, I make good beer, and I don’t feel any need to make some Ruby Street sort of set up. Maybe I will one day, but for now I like my method.

When I started homebrewing in 1986, the ingredients and the equipment were very primitive. I would go to restaurants to get used food-grade buckets and I’d rob their trash cans for bottles. The yeasts were awful, the selection of grains and extracts was poor, and beers were often disappointing.

Nowadays, if you follow some simple guidelines, it’s hard not to make a good beer.

But the equipment keeps getting better and better, and you can enter the hobby at lots of different points. There are systems like the grainfather that turns making beer into something about as easy as brewing a big pot of coffee. Then there’s Picobrew, which makes it into a kitchen counter thing, and even Vessi, which is a homebrewing appliance that installs in your kitchen like a dishwasher.

These are extraordinarily cool things, but … I like having my hands in it a little more. I want to craft the beer myself, not just pick a recipe and push some buttons. I like the simpler is better attitude.

More than that, I like learning the craft from the bottom up. I want to try growing my own barley and malting it myself. I’ll let you know how that works out.

In any event, homebrewing is a very different thing these days than when I started, but it’s still a lot of fun.

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