Since I started making my own beer in Brooklyn in 2009, I’ve learned a lot about how to set up, maintain & improve DIY rigs. Being from San Diego has given me an interesting perspective as our craft beer and home brewing worlds have co-evolved over the past few decades. It’s both challenging and rewarding to try and make homebrewing processes both energetically more efficient and environmentally more sustainable.
Many elements in the DIY home brewing world can be made with upcycled materials and repurposed gear. There’s a lot of high end equipment that’s commercially available these days that enables a high degree of functionality and control to the home brewer. But resourceful makers on a budget, along with a handy skill set, can make their own custom rigs with a much lower price tag attached.
My friend Lee Chase has been an extremely influential brewer, and has helped put San Diego on the world beer map. He was Stone’s first Brewmaster in 1996, and since then has diversified his talents as a problem solver and trouble shooter to countless breweries large and small. Lee has always been a DIY brewer, and has a keen eye for ways to make systems do more for less, often with improvised means. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years about how to configure systems with unconventional tweaks. He currently runs Automatic Beer Company, and is a co-owner of the restaurants Blind Lady, Tiger Tiger!, & Panama 66.
Here are examples of some adaptations, tweaks, and modifications that come in handy in the home brew world. Some are adjustments made to equipment, others are tweaks that repurpose gear to do something it wasn’t designed for. Others are warranty-voiding alterations that should only be undertaken by a competent handy-person willing to accept the consequences if stuff gets destroyed.
Over the past few months I have been designing and building my own homebrew rig here in Bavaria. It has been challenging to find, buy, assemble and install all the various elements on a tight budget and without a strong fluency in the Bavarian dialect, but I am happy to be report that I’m finally brewing! First up: Session Imperial IPA.
It has been interesting to watch the ongoing Craft Beer movement over the past 10 years, as it develops here in southern Germany. One of the interesting differences between here and my home town of San Diego is related to home brewing. Back there, the craft beer revolution of the 90’s was tied directly to the homebrewing scene: as more people started making their own beer, it fueled more micro/nano-breweries dedicated to crafting limited batches of high quality beer for their small communities. In a huge way, it was fueled by a resistance to big “corporate” beer companies.
Here in Bavaria, since high quality beer is already so plentiful for relatively cheap prices, the benefits of making your own beer might not seem worth the time and energy. Since price & quality are always related, many of us decided to make our own beer because we were tired of paying lots of money to huge corporations that used shitty ingredients and were focused only on profits. The early origins of brewing in the US were strongly German, and started out with a lot of small breweries focused on limited distribution to their respective communities. Then the post-war expansion of the canning technology, the interstate highway system, and the rise of bigger brewing conglomerates led to the extinction of smaller breweries. In a way, the craft beer movement is just a return back to the old days, before greed and profits dominated the US beer industry. And that’s where we’d like to keep it: focused on the community!