LAKEVIEW — Some artists create masterpieces in oils; others work in clay or marble. For the 30-plus members of the Brewgadgeteer’s Homebrew Club in Lakeview, the medium is hops, barley, yeast and … the rest is secret.
But the end product is often a masterpiece to rival Monet’s “La Grenouillére.” At least beer drinkers think so.
The club formed around three years ago and was named for the Lakeview store, BrewGadgets, which supplies many of the club’s members with the requisite tools for the job. Owned by Ed Winter, himself a dedicated home brewer, the store offers everything an experienced, or novice, beer maker could need.
In fact, the store’s easy access was instrumental in firing up interest in brewing in Lakeview and surrounding areas. According to club member Chad Lincoln, it was the store’s proximity that got him involved in home brewing in the first place.
“We started with a wine kit and had some fun with it,” Lincoln said. “But not drinking wine myself, I decided to get into brewing. Since there (was) a home brew supply shop a block from my house, it developed into quite a hobby.”
That was in 2008, and in the years since, Lincoln has created more than a few top notch brews. The club formed around Lincoln, Winter, Doug Killian and a few other Lakeview residents, but word quickly spread and membership expanded.
At this point, Lincoln said, he can’t visit a nearby brew pub without running into at least one or two fellow club members.
At club meetings, held the fourth Monday of every month, members get a chance to compare recipes, sample recently completed brews and share notes and tips on their ongoing quest for the “perfect” beer.
“Normally everybody brings a few samples of things they’re working on at home and we get to try everybody’s brews that way,” Lincoln said. “So far I don’t think there’s a top secret recipe so everybody is happy to share.”
It’s this portioning out of brewing information that makes the club so popular. The “sampling” portion of the program doesn’t hurt, either, Lincoln admits. Sharing samples, he says, is the best way to pass along ideas to fellow club members.
“Probably the most satisfying thing about brewing my own beer is the pride when somebody else drinks it and really likes it,” Lincoln said. “I judge that by how fast my kegs empty at home! It’s also nice to meet other brewers and share techniques and attend other brewing functions.”
Another plus to brewing your own is having the option to “tweak” recipes over the course of several batches until you have something that, if not perfect, is perfect for you. Unusual brews that could rarely be found at a store also are just a brew away.
Lincoln’s most recent batch, which he calls “Bear Lake Pale Ale,” was made using lake water.
“It’s one of the cleanest lakes in the state, though, so it’s all good,” Lincoln said. “(One of the other members) once brought in a beer brewed with jalapeños; that was definitely interesting.”
Ed Winter is one of the most experienced home brewers in the club, having been at it for 20 years. He got started in the hobby, he says, because his wife, who is from Germany, was used to better beer than they could pick up at the average grocery or party store.
“I lived in Germany as well,” Winter said. “We liked weizen (wheat) beer. That was our first beer.”
It wasn’t until many years later that Winter started up BrewGadgets, as a home-based, internet business. It wasn’t until 2010 that Winter opened a storefront in downtown Lakeview.
According to club president Doug Killian, it was Winter’s expansion that spurred fellow brew-lovers to make the club more than just an unofficial gathering of friends.
“The inspiration for starting the club stemmed from Ed moving his BrewGadgets Store front to downtown Lakeview with a great inventory and space for meetings and ultimately to promote our hobby and passion for brewing unique beers we love to drink,” Killian said.
“We also make beer for our club to have on tap at meetings which are sometimes also demos of a brewing technique such as all grain, partial mash or brew in a bag,” Winter added. “We sample and critique each other’s brews in order to learn and improve our craft. Other meetings have been competitions with blind taste testings of a specific beer style, sometimes building home brew equipment.”
Club membership is just $25 per year and for that, new members receive a BrewGadgets beer mug and official club T-shirt. Getting started in brewing also need not be expensive, Winter adds. A simple kit with all the ingredients and hardware can be purchased at BrewGadgets for less than $100.
“(It all depends) on the level you want to get into,” Winter said.
Scott Slagle, who can be found manning the BrewGadgets counter most days at the retail store, 328 S. Lincoln Ave. in Lakeview, the popularity of home brewing has really taken off in the last 15 or 20 years.
“We don’t get a lot of foot traffic through the retail store,” Slagle said. “But we sell like crazy online. Our online sales are great. A lot of people are really into home brewing these days.”
Of course, just as every artist’s canvas is not a masterpiece, so it is with beer. Not every batch is perfect; sometimes not even palatable.
Winter speaks ruefully about his smoked apple porter.
“In theory was great,” Winter said. “But we over-smoked the apples prior to brewing with them. It was like smoking a pack of cigarettes with the first pint, got better with the second pint, almost not noticeable with the third. Either way, it was probably the longest lasting five gallons of beer we have made.”
Practice, however, makes perfect, and one smoked apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. Winter expects the club will continue to grow in coming years as more beer lovers become home brewers.