Being a brewer is always good for a few interesting questions at a barbecue or cocktail party. First, a lot of people are really amazed that it’s possible to brew one’s own beer at home. Second, there’s a vague feeling that homebrewing must be illegal or otherwise dicey. Then there are usually one or two people who are really lit up by the idea and want to learn more about how it’s done, whether it’s difficult, expensive, &c.
I don’t imagine there are many readers of a blog like this who fall into the ‘homebrewing must be impossible’ camp – if you’re reading about Ink, Yarn & Beer, it’s a good bet that you have at least some interest in making things yourself, and have already learned that practically anything is doable by a determined and resourceful home practitioner.
As to the second question, there are places in the US where homebrewing is illegal, and some smaller jurisdictions (dry counties) may prohibit it, but the majority of states have legalized homebrewing. Even Utah just recently passed a law allowing people to make their own beer at home. Apparently, there were already lots of people doing so (possibly encouraged by some of Utah’s other pecuiliar blue laws); now they can just do so legally. Even Alabama, where homebrewing is illegal, has homebrew shops, so it may be that, even if it’s illegal to brew in your area, the law is ignored or unenforced.
Of course, I can’t encourage you to break the law, but I can help you to find information about the law in your area. This site has some information about what states outlaw brewing. You should be aware, though, that web pages are frequently out of date, so it’s well worth doing a little research of your own to find out what the laws are in your area before possibly breaking them.
So, assuming you enjoy a nice craft beer and are interested in making your own, how should you start? I generally recommend to people that they read a good homebrewing book before they run out and buy equipment and ingredients. The reason for this is that homebrewing is not for everyone, and it’s better to find out you don’t like it after having spent $12.95 (or whatever) on a book than after spending a hundred bucks (or a few hundred) on gear. I have to admit a particular soft spot for Charlie Papazian’s classic homebrewing text, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, but these days I am hearing people say they don’t like his writing style. And really, there are lots of good resources on the Internet, one of the best being John Palmer’s How To Brew, which is a free online version of his book of the same title. It’s really, really hard to beat the cost:benefit ratio of free information.
Another great way to get a feeling for the hobby is to sit in on a batch or two. If you’ve met a homebrewer at a barbecue, ask them if they would mind inviting you to their next brew day. If there’s a homebrew shop in your town, ask if they have a club with an open meeting or club brew you can come to. The overwhelming majority of homebrewers like sharing their hobby, so it’s pretty likely you’ll find someone to help you get started.
Part 2 will include information about what to look for in a starter’s kit and what you should make for your first batch. Watch this space.