By Anna Daugherty, Emma Ledford and Alex Vickery
As the do-it-yourself culture grows, brewing their own beer is becoming a favorite hobby for Austinites.
With over 20 craft breweries, annual beer festivals, two homebrew supply stores, and a crafty reputation, it’s no surprise that Austin has developed a vibrant, supportive and ever-growing homebrewing community.
Dave Ebel has been homebrewing for almost eight years. He got started when his friend sold him his homebrew kit for $40. He tried it once and loved it, and has been brewing ever since.
Ebel is a member of the Austin Zealots, a local homebrew club that gets together once a month to swap brews. He said the homebrew community in Austin is “amazing,” “supportive” and a lot of fun.
According to Texas law, homebrewers can’t sell their beer but they can give it away, which means sharing and comparing beers is a central part of Austin’s homebrewing culture.
“Everybody brews their own beer. Everybody has got their own take on it, right? And then you share that with your friends,” Ebel said. “So you learn something from every beer you get, and you realize a flavor you might have not tried before.”
Ebel has seen both the homebrewing and craft brewing cultures grow side by side.
“There’s more and more homebrewers every day, it feels like. Talk to any homebrew supply shop in town and they’ll tell you the same thing,” he said.
Chris Ellison, co-founder of SoCo Homebrew on South Congress Avenue, can testify to that. Before Soco Homebrew, there was just one homebrew supply store, Austin Homebrew Supply, up north. SoCo opened in August 2014 out of necessity to have a shop in South Austin, and the reception has been “fantastic,” Ellison said.
“There are more and more homebrewers every day. We see it all the time. We see new homebrewers come in – people that just start – and they become our repeat customers,” he said.
People can get into homebrewing for a variety of reasons, Ellison said. Some simply want to save money by brewing their own beer, while others are looking for an extra hobby. There are also homebrewers who are very “engineer-oriented” and like to create very specific things, and finally, there are those who use homebrewing as a creative outlet.
Ellison and the other SoCo Homebrew founders created the store to provide a friendly and supportive environment where entry-level and pro homebrewers alike can find the supplies and ingredients they need to help them grow in their craft.
“It is a great community,” Ellison said. “It’s something that you can either start and put very little time into and still yield great results, or if you want to really dedicate yourself to a great hobby, it’s a great hobby to start.”
The annual Austin Home Brew Festival aims to bring together and celebrate the city’s diverse homebrew culture. Organizer Wendy Salome started the festival in 2009 as a small fundraiser for her children’s independent school, and like the homebrewing community, it has grown each year. This year’s festival took place on Nov. 15, and there were about 250 attendees with a competition that included 17 home brewers and a panel of judges from four local craft breweries.
“We had a huge community of people,” Salome said. “Lots of people who just came through word or mouth, or hearing about it or seeing our flyers.”
Salome, whose husband is a homebrewer, said that one reason Austin’s community is growing is because it fits perfectly with the city’s creative and crafty culture.
“Austin is full of people who want to do things. We have craft brewers, and tinkers, and experimenters, and, you know, it’s a population of curious people,” she said. “You can make a batch and you might like it, but there are so many different aspects of it where you can improve your wear, and I think that’s really what people like.”
Homebrewer Christian Holton loves to experiment by incorporating his love for spicy food. His take on a Belgian Saison, Feisty Redhead, is brewed with bright red hibiscus petals, ginger, cracked peppercorn, coriander and fresh bright red jalapeños from his garden. It won the “Most Unique” award at the Austin Home Brew Festival.
“All the other brewers kept coming back to me,” he said. “People who get what I’m trying to do and enjoy it and come back for more – that’s my trophy.”
Holton describes homebrewing as “part chemistry, part biology, part cooking.” You will not always be successful, he said, but when you get it just right it can be addictive.
“I think everybody can homebrew. It’s really not that hard,” he said. “If you can make a cake, if you can make pancakes, if you can make cookies, you can brew a beer.”