Ben D’Avanza of Oak Cliff started brewing his own beer about 18 years ago. Back then he started with a brew kit, which he bought at Homebrew Headquarters.
“They sold me a book,” he says. “Now with all the information that’s available on the Internet, there are people all over the world giving you information.”
American craft beer is growing in popularity, and so it the do-it-yourself trend in beer making. The National Homebrew Competition reported there were more than 6,000 home-brew competitions across the country in 2010, up from fewer than 4,500 in 2006. Oak Cliff’s own Brew Riot home-brew competition at Eno’s has grown since its inception in 2009.
“There were no more than eight home brewers, and I remember I was really excited about that at the time,” says Eno’s manager Stacey Rives, who helps orchestrate Brew Riot.
This year’s competition, in May, drew 31 home brewers from all over the Dallas area, and at least 1,500 people attended the festivities.
Rives says she thinks home brewers have always been around, but with online communication and an increase in competitions, they are becoming more visible.
Either way, Oak Cliff is home to some very serious home brewers.
D’Avanza, who doesn’t enter home-brew competitions, spent about $400 creating a homemade brewery setup. And a start-up kit for a newbie could cost as little as $100. But there are high-end brewing systems that cost thousands of dollars.
When D’Avanza first started brewing, he used extracts of hops, malt and grains. But five or six years ago, he switched to what’s called “all-grain brewing”, which means he uses only the fresh stuff. It’s cheaper that way, since extracts are more expensive, but it takes longer.
D’Avanza typically spends $20-$60 on a 5-gallon batch.
“One beer I like to make takes a whole pound of hops, so that gets expensive,” he says.
He orders the hops from a home-brew store in Austin, and he’s growing his own now, but they could take up to three years to produce a lot of buds.
Oak Cliff’s St. Canterbury brew club took the homemade route with its brewery too.
“Everything we can make ourselves, we do it,” says Toby Tucker, of St. Canterbury, which includes his wife Becky and Oak Cliff neighbors Jon Lopez and Jonathan Colley, among others.
St. Canterbury is named for Canterbury Court in Kessler Park, the site of their first brew, which they produced almost four years ago. They entered Brew Riot in 2009 and won the “people’s choice” award for their pale ale and stout brews. Last year, they won second in people’s choice and “category favorite” in pale ale and stout.
Brewing is a scientific art. Temperature control is very important, as are cleanliness and timing.
“It’s like a science-fair project for adults that you get to drink,” Tucker says.
Occasionally, a brew turns out bad, but the guys of St. Canterbury say they drink everything they make, even when it’s not so tasty.
They get excited about creating palate-pleasing brews, and they experiment with aromatics including elderflower, vanilla and ginger.
Recently, they made a mango-flavored India pale ale.
The St. Canterbury guys are competitive. But mostly, they like to drink beer and share it with their friends.
Brewing beer at home makes your house smell like a brewery. But it can make a person very popular. D’Avanza once threw a birthday party where his friends went through 25 gallons of home brew in under three hours.
Stacey Rives says she doesn’t brew beer at home, but she likes to hang out with people who do, “for obvious reasons.”