Warning: once you start homebrewing, your house may never look the same again. You’ll have dozens of beer bottles, carboys, large pails, tubes, kettles, a propane burner, a mash paddle, thermometers, a hydrometer, and so much more. You’ll start to speak a different language: wort, trub, mash, decoction, vorlauf, sparg. And you’ll become part of a welcoming community that bands together in the pursuit of creating a unique beer you can call your own.
Here in New Westminster, that burgeoning community is called Brew Westminster. The Google group of over 100 people is open for anyone to join. It’s a place to talk about all things beer, and it’s a great place to ask questions if you want to get started homebrewing. It’s an addictive and growing hobby taking over the basements, kitchens, yards and garages around town. Much like home cooking, you get to pick the ingredients, play with the taste, there are no preservatives, and it’s fun.
Ross Arbo is one of the originators of the group. He and a few friends decided to give homebrewing a try a few years ago. They split the cost of the equipment and were impressed with their results. He thinks the best way to start making your own beer is to jump in feet first, just “grab a friend and decipher it together.” Arbo also suggests reaching out to people in the Brew West Google group to find out who’s doing a brew and offer to help while watching the process.
The group meets up semi-regularly and creates a beer together. Recently there’s talk about trying to create a Maple Bacon Ale, a German Märzen beer, or a French Saison. Does that ‘wit’ your appetite to join them? In the past they’ve also done a bulk group buy of various hop rhizomes.
The New Westminster brewing community has a key partner: Curtis Van Marck, owner of Barley’s Homebrewing Supplies on Columbia Street. He participates regularly in the forum and often hosts meetings at his store. Van Marck likes the group’s informality and creativity. “Sometimes we’ll pick a recipe and make it with the same ingredients but each of us will try a different yeast and compare the results.”
Van Marck says the interest in homebrewing has grown considerably since he opened his supply store in early 2013. “Sales are up 20% over last year. I see many customers coming in every week.” Van Marck believes that the explosion of microbreweries and craft beer has propelled the homebrewing hobby because “people get to know the importance of ingredients and once they get a better understanding of the process they realize they can do it at home.”
Go on, give it a try! The options and ingredients are endless – choose a white, brown, red, black IPA hop for example. Who knows, maybe you’ll be so impressed with your creation that you’ll fantasize about dropping your day job and opening your own microbrewery.