Business of Life
Hopping on the homebrew trend
June 20, 2012By Brieana Deflavio
A grassroots movement is taking place in Wilmington and across North Carolina changing the minds and attitudes of people about beer.
Dubbed as the beer Mecca of the South, North Carolina is seeing a shift in consumer attitudes towards beer. A growing number of people are starting to turn instead to craft selections, and some even are venture so far as to brew their own beer.
Two Wilmington natives, John Savard and Michelle Peck, saw a need for a home brewing supply store and decided to be the answer to local homebrewers’ needs. Wilmington Homebrew Supply opened its doors March 1 and has been attracting a growing clientele ever since.
“There was already a community of homebrewers here in Wilmington before we opened up,” Peck said. “We’ve been so happy with our repeat customers – they’re why we’re here and doing well. It’s also so exciting to get someone whose never brewed beer before into homebrewing and see them get excited and tell their friends.”
Brewing beer hasn’t always been simple. The post-World War II era brought us “Bud Light, Wonder Bread and SPAM,” as Christopher McGarvey, assistant brewer at Front Street Brewery, pointed out. A shift occurred that took people from their backyard gardens to large grocery stores, and the same occurred in the beer industry.
“The fluke of history was the deviation we saw post World War II where basic foods like bread and beer were relegated to giant conglomerates far removed from local culture and dumbed down to the least common denominator,” McGarvey said. “I think what we’re seeing in the homebrewing and craft beer movement, as well as in the state of American food in general, is a healthy return to diversity, to an interest in a local connection with our food, and a vote for quality, wholesome alternatives to unhealthy and bland mass-produced, industrialized foods full of preservatives.”
Today, the homebrew resurgence has been causing a stir in the Wilmington community. With low start-up cost for even the most novice beginner, beer brewing has become a popular and affordable pastime. Brewing in-home lets people craft a beer to suit their palate, experiment and try something new.
“When you have a brewery, you make at tops maybe 15 beers, but if you’re homebrewing you can make a different beer every week,” Savard said. “There’s no stress or pressure. You can make a weird beer and worst case scenario, you make 5 gallons of beer that’s not the best tasting – but it’s still beer.”
Wilmington Homebrew Supply makes it easy for people to explore the hobby with knowledgeable, friendly professionals. They offer recipe kits, individual ingredients and beer and wine equipment kits that cater to a range of customers, from beginner to advanced.
Front Street Brewery, located in downtown Wilmington, has also recognized the demand from curious novices asking about the ins and outs of homebrewing and has since started an introductory course called What Would Jesus Brew.
As part of a hospice fundraiser, local churches formed teams, learned how to homebrew and will pit their beers against each other during a competition in September.
McGarvey said that after this initial round, he would like to continue the lessons or open it up to the public, but he said it was still too early to tell if that can happen.
“This is the very first time Front Street Brewery has ever offered a homebrewing course,” McGarvey said. “With so many newcomers to the hobby, we decided it would be best to jumpstart their learning curve by offering some introductory brewing classes.”
With suppliers like Wilmington Homebrew Supply making it easy to find ingredients and supplies, many people need little prompting to learn more about how to make their own beer.
“Most people I’ve met that got into homebrewing did it because they wanted to create something of their own,” McGarvey said. “It’s the same drive that inspires people to cook their own food. It’s just a fun way of being creative.”
The “vast and varied world of craft beer” is motivating people to learn how to homebrew, McGarvey said.
“I think there’s just something very human about producing your own food from scratch, whether it’s bread or beer or dinner for your friends,” he said. “Brewing beer inaugurates you into a tradition as old as history itself, of generations and generations of brewers, mostly at home, who have been delighted and mystified by the almost magical process of fermentation, and who have been proud to drink and share a beverage created with their own two hands.”