Craft Beer: Brewing Community & Camaraderie
By Andrea Cruz
They wear the badges of beer snob proudly, have finely tuned palates, and if they are brewers themselves, hold back no proprietary secrets to what makes their fermented concoctions so special. Craft beer lovers are a growing subculture that wants to ferment the passions for better brew and celebrate the fact that they have the resources and the know-how to make the kinds of brew that they might not be able to find.
The art of brewing beer has been around for centuries, and although the techniques have become more advanced and frankly more hygienic, the general process is relatively unchanged.
Smaller, independent brewers make what’s known as “craft” beer. To legally be defined as a “craft brewer,” the company can only brew 6 million barrels or fewer a year. Oftentimes, a brew is even made in one’s home. Homebrewers cannot legally sell their liquid creations, but are free to drink it themselves or give it away. Because craft beers are brewed in smaller batches, brewers get creative, using different recipes with varied ingredients. As such, craft beer has grown in popularity largely because its flavor quality trumps that of larger, national brands.
Local connoisseurs of craft beer, Chad Boggs and his wife Ioulia (pronounced “oo-lia”), say the hobby of appreciating craft beer is growing significantly across the country and specifically in Florida.
Boggs says his interest in trying different beers was born while working at a bar in college, and later became a passion when he traveled for work as he sought out craft beers to try. He’s started brewing his own beer two years ago, and says that brewing beer is very satisfying.
“To drink what you make is the ultimate experience,” Boggs says.
It should be, too, because one has to be a bit of a scientist to make his or her own brew, following a precise recipe of specific ingredients, timing, and temperatures. A general knowledge of things like grains changing into sugars and fermenting yeasts is also helpful.
Boggs, who usually makes 5 gallon batches – about 60 beers – says the most basic way to make homebrew is to first sanitize all the equipment, and boil water to a temperature of 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water reaches the correct temperature, begin steeping the grains.
After the grains have steeped, bring the mixture (formerly water and now called “wort”) to a rolling boil and add malt extract, a syrupy mixture of malt and sugars.
Continue a rolling boil while adding hops at specified times. Hops are a plant that gives beer its bitter flavors and balances the malt’s sugars. (Typically the hop schedule is 60 minutes and begins once the malt extract has been added and the rolling boil is going good).
After the hop schedule is complete, the wort is cooled as quickly as possible down to a “pitchable” temperature (pitching is a brewing term meaning to add yeast). Then transfer the wort from the pot into a fermenter (a plastic bucket or glass carboy) and pitch the yeast. Make the container airtight with an airlock to allow CO2 to be released by the fermenting yeasts, and to not allow O2 to come in.
Two to three weeks are waited before kegging or bottling the concoction. When bottling, corn sugar is added, which allows the beer to carbonate inside the bottle. Another week is waited before enjoying the finished product. Boggs says that typically the whole process takes a minimum of three to four weeks.
Of course there are many components that can be changed up, such as making one’s own malt with barley, adding hops at a different stage of the game, using alternate grains, adding fruits, fermenting at different temperatures, etc.
“I like to experiment,” Boggs says. “I had a bad batch once that I had to dump and it was very heartbreaking.” The batch tasted sour, he says, and adds that it was most likely due to something very small not being sanitized correctly, which caused the whole batch to go bad. Boggs says a brew being bad enough to throw out is extremely rare.
Boggs belongs to the Lakeland Brewer’s Guild, which is comprised of about 100 people age 21 or over who are interested in craft beer, not just necessarily those that brew. His friend, Nick Wozniak, is the president of the guild, and says that even on the rare occasion that something goes wrong in a brew process, a happy accident if you will, beer will always be the end result – and that’s always a very good thing.
“What’s nice is you don’t have to have a lot of money or skill to make decent beer, anyone can do it,” Wozniak says. “When you make your own beer, you are the chef, and you can make whatever you want.”
Boggs and Wozniak recently pooled their resources and made a batch of Christmas ale in July, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and other seasonal spices. By the time it’s ready – Christmastime – it will have aged for five months.
This kind of collaboration by brew makers is not new; in fact, it’s rather the norm. Even the bigger craft beer companies occasionally come together to create a new concoction. Recently, Cigar City in Tampa and Widmer Brothers in Portland, Oregon, collaborated and released an old-fashioned style ale called Gentlemen’s Club.
“They help each other out and never feel the other is trying to steal business away,” Wozniak says. “There are plenty of choices, and the brewers realize the quality of the beer sells itself – not commercials during a football game.”
This lack of competitiveness is especially prevailing among homebrewers, who aren’t competing for business dollars. Wozniak says that if one homebrewer asks another for their beer recipe, the likelihood of sharing is pretty good.
Boggs agrees there is a clear lack of competitiveness, and maintains that brewers bond over their shared beer, recipes, meetings, and tastings.
“Everybody tries your beer and gives you feedback and critiques you, so you’re learning,” Boggs says. “I’m supportive of spreading craft beer. If people want to make home brew, that’s great. You can take my recipe and tweak it anyway you like.”
Boggs is so passionate about craft beer he’s started a website called Drink Up Lakeland (DrinkupLakeland.com), which reviews craft beers, lists local bars and pubs that serve craft beer, stores that sell it, and Central Florida breweries that give tours.
Another popular website keeping everyone up on the local landscape of craft beer is Lakeland Loves Beer (LakelandLovesBeer.com), owned by Dave Walters. It, too, is a guide to what beers are on the tips of everyone’s tongues, where to get them, and even a list of happy hours.
Walters says he knows how daunting it can be when looking at a drink list on a menu, and to not understand what any of it really means.
“A lot of times they use cheesy puns,” Walters says. “It’s helpful to have someone to guide the way.” And that’s what he does with his website – guide the way to the better craft beers in the 863.
Walters says there are two basic types or style of beers: ales and lagers. Think of it as red and white wines.
Ales are top fermenting at warmer temperatures, and lagers are bottom fermenting at colder temperatures. That sounds easy enough, but it gets trickier, Walters says.
“Lagers also use a different type of yeast than ales. Brewing beer is similar to brewing tea, and it’s also similar to making bread,” he says. “You brew it like you brew tea and then you add yeast like you would with bread.”
Richard DeAngelis, owner and manager of the Red Door Wine Market, located at 733 E. Palmetto St. in Lakeland, agrees with Walters.
“Beer is basically liquid bread,” DeAngelis says. Contrary to its moniker, the Red Door Wine Market is big on beer – but only craft beer.
DeAngelis says Red Door might be the only place in Lakeland that does not carry any bigger beer brands at all. And like their food, their beer selection changes weekly.
“I can find you a beer that’s made to suit your specific flavor profiles and likes, even if you don’t like a general style of beer,” DeAngelis says.
Identifying someone’s flavor profile is where sampling the different types of ales and lagers can come in handy. From dark stouts that have a heavier, masked flavor to the lighter pilsners, DeAngelis is certain there is a beer to please every palate.
Under the umbrellas of ales and lagers live many other offshoots. One is a pale ale, an English brew that generally has a more bitter taste due to the amount of hops in it. An IPA, or India pale ale, is a really hoppy (or bitter) version of a pale ale and was born out of necessity, says Abby Jarvis, Walter’s girlfriend and fellow craft beer lover.
India pale ales were first developed for British officers stationed in India during the Colonial Period, Jarvis says. They found out that when beer was shipped to the officers in India, the oils in the hops would break down during the long shipment and the beer would lose its flavor.
“So on purpose they brewed beer with a ton of hops so as it was shipped all the way from Britain to India and the oils broke down, it was super hoppy when it left and moderately hoppy when it arrived,” Jarvis says.
IPAs are still brewed in the same, super-hoppy fashion, which makes them very strong and bitter, Jarvis says, and adds that they can be an acquired taste.
Boggs agrees, and says that one’s mood or even the season can be a deciding factor on what type of craft beer to consume. His wife will often pick a lighter beer during the hot summer.
“There’s always a time and place for a specific beer,” Ioulia Boggs says. “Sometimes I feel I want an IPA, I want the hops and something not very smooth, but sometimes I feel that I want something coffee-like and strong, which would be a stout, a flavorful beer.” She adds that Magic Hat #9, sold in many grocery stores, is her favorite go-to beer, no matter the weather.
The larger breweries that make their versions of craft beer, like Sam Adams, can be a touchy subject, say Jarvis and Walters. They are often deemed “crafty” beers and many craft beer connoisseurs will not drink them. But craft versus crafty beers is splitting hairs, Jarvis says.
DeAngelis is in the process of brewing a red pale ale specifically for the Red Door Wine Market with Shipyard, a major brewer located in Portland, Maine. DeAngelis says he hopes to tweak the recipe so that the color is a vivid red without doing anything but toasting the malt, to result in a crisp, pale ale that’s creamy and not very hoppy. He adds that if all goes well, his brand could be marketed and sold on a national level.
Given the better quality of the ingredients and smaller production scale of craft brewing, it usually comes at a higher cost. However, the proponents of better brew will argue the old adage any day that you get what you pay for. Jarvis says that the innovation, quality and taste are definitely worth a few more dollars a glass, and compares it to the wine movement.
“You get the same complexities, depths of labor, and variety that you do with craft beer, but it doesn’t have the image that wine has,” Jarvis says. “And in the end, craft beer is usually still cheaper than a glass of wine.”