Savage Thoughts -- Beer, Homebrew versus commercial beer

By Leo Savage

A popular new hobby (well, an extremely ancient hobby now growing in popularity) is brewing your own beer. Most homebrewers do it because they like "real beer". In fact, most bottle caps sold to homebrewers say "REAL BEER" in big black letters on gold colored metal. The implication here is that what you buy in the store isn't real. Or at least it isn't really beer.

The general lament is that once upon a time brewers everywhere made "real beer", but now they all make synthetic commercial crap. The blame is usually laid against American Prohibition, which put all the American brewers out of the beer business until everyone had forgotten what "real beer" tastes like. Then when Prohibition was repealed, the major brewers came out with commercialized junk and taught everyone to like it.

Why the brewers would do that isn't very clear. Supposedly American commercial beer is a whole lot cheaper to make than "real beer", but so far my own experience in brewing hasn't confirmed this. Also unexplained is why breweries all over the world are making their beer more and more like American commercial beer. Presumably, since they never had Prohibition, their customers never forgot what "real beer" tastes like, so why the switch?

The answer is simple. Homebrewers don't like beer. The alcoholic malt beverage they typically make is very similar to beer, but it isn't the stuff millions of people all over the world know and love and call beer.

Hints abound. The most obvious is that few beer lovers like homebrew when they taste it. In fact, a popular book on homebrewing warns the homebrewer against offering his best batch to people not accustomed to homebrew because they won't like it and may be turned off homebrew forever.

If you've tried homebrewing and didn't like what you got, don't despair. There are lots of interesting and worthwhile things you can do with your brewing equipment.

One of my favorites is hard cider, which is very easy to make. You need five gallons of apple cider with no artificial additives. By checking out local farm markets during apple season I've found people who will sell me pure "home pressed" cider with no preservatives added for around $1.50 a gallon, which comes to $7.50 for five gallons. Boil the cider, cool it to 90 degrees or less, then pitch champaign yeast and let it ferment out (which normally takes me two or three weeks). Use a blowoff tube, because it can get quite frothy for the first few days. I also rack to a secondary fermenter after it stops foaming out the blowoff tube, but you may be able to skip that step. When it's all done, rack it into your bottling bucket with a cup of priming sugar and bottle it. Condition it for a couple of weeks or until it sparkles to your satisfaction, then stick it in the fridge. If it's too tart to start with let it sit in the fridge awhile; it improves with age.

My next attempt will be ginger mead, just because Papazian goes on about it so. Wish me luck!

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