For folks like James Sutton, drinking a run-of-the-mill beer is simply not satisfying enough.
Sutton, president and founder of Future Brewers Club at the University of Texas at Austin, is a beer enthusiast who eschews the likes of Bud Lite and talks excitedly about lagers the names of which few have probably ever heard of, much less tasted.
“Both my parents are craft beer drinkers,” Sutton said. “I grew up with my dad drinking Saint Arnold, and that just being in the fridge all the time and not thinking anything of it.”
Saint Arnold is a craft brewery in Houston, just one of many that Sutton frequents on a regular basis. Many of the best craft breweries in the state are here in Austin, according to Sutton.
“We’re really lucky that we live in Austin and we live in 2015, because there’s a ton of craft beer everywhere,” Sutton said. “You can find good stuff anywhere. Try anything from Austin Beerworks, 512 or Real Ale.”
While brewing your own beer combines a bit of creativity and a bunch of complex chemistry, Sutton insists that the club is really just a vehicle to bring beer buffs together.
“You definitely don’t need any homebrew experience to come or to enjoy it,” Sutton said. “I, at least, try to stay away from the more technical side of beers. I just want people to come and learn some and not be overwhelmed.”
The crux of the club is simple, but Sutton himself knows the complexities of brewing and hopes to have a career in it someday.
“I’ve worked at a couple breweries in the past and it’s extremely rewarding to see a product out at a bar or a grocery store,” Sutton said. “You could see a bottle out on the floor at HEB and think, ‘Hey, I might have picked up that bottle at some point.’”
“This is what I want to do. I don’t know about the rest of my life, but after I graduate I definitely want to work in a brewery. It’s fun.”
Working at a craft brewery is not so much of an oddity anymore, either. According to the Washington Post, there are now over 4,500 of them in the United States, and sales from craft breweries constitute 14.3 percent of the $100 billion beer market.
Sutton, like many craft brewers, is a chemistry major, and attests to the importance that science plays in brewing.
“Brewing is a science,” Sutton said. “Brewing is an art. It’s a lot of complex chemistry that maybe we don’t understand. But a lot of it is understood and it’s helping everyone make better beer every day.”
But after some prodding, the process was revealed to be not so difficult.
“Really, there are only four ingredients: barley, water, yeast and hops,” Sutton said. “Boil the barley in the water, which breaks it down into simple sugars. Boil some hops in there for bitterness and aroma. Transfer it, cool it down. Add yeast, and it’s basically a chemical reaction in which simple sugars are converted into alcohol and CO2.”
Sutton’s club was started just last year, but the membership has already grown substantially.
“At orientation, they tell you all you need [to start a student organization] is three friends and 10 dollars,” Sutton said. “I was like, ‘Hey I totally have three friends.’ Twenty people showed up at the first meeting. It was hard to get it started, but rewarding.”
The members of the club have varying levels of interest in brewing their own beer, though seemingly none are as enthusiastic as Sutton. He claims that you get out what you put into it.
“It’s kind of like any hobby,” Sutton said. “You can spend as little as you want and do as little as you want or you can spend as much as you want and do as much as you want. It’s not that hard if you want to do it. The hardest part is getting out and doing it.”
In the end, Sutton said, craft brewing is all about being the right mix.
“Brewing is 25 percent janitor, 25 percent chef, 25 percent chemist and 25 percent dude who drinks beer.”
Interested in brewing? Sutton tells us how.
Sutton, chemistry student and president of the University of Texas’ Future Brewers Club, shares some brewing basics and what his new student organization is all about (though that you could’ve guessed), all over a glass (or two) of his own home-brewed beer.