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A brewing trend in San Francisco

photo by Brian Pelletier

The time it takes most people to do their grocery shopping, I could spend just standing in a well-stocked beer aisle. Or staring at tap handles in a bar. Every pint has its own story. Who’s responsible for the recipe? How is the beer crafted? Where did the beer come from? What are the brewer’s inspirations? These are all questions I ponder when I’m making my own beer, and I wanted to know what my fellow San Francisco homebrewers thought. 

“Beer at least for me, personally, is a perfect combination of my science background and then being able to be really creative with the flavors of the beer," says Regan Long, co-founder of Local Brewing Company, a fledgling San Francisco brewery trying to expand. Long started home brewing seven years ago in his garage. About a year ago, the Local Brewing Company started bringing its beer to Dolores Park and the San Francisco Underground Market for feedback.

Long’s partner, Sarah Fenson, says there’s a lot of help available for curious home brewers who want to take their craft to the next level, "There really is, I’ll say a personhood, a brotherhood, a sisterhood among people in the beer industry. You already have a commonality in terms of what kind of beer do you like ... And it is a real knowledge sharing community,” says Fenson.

I like to think of brewing in cooking terms: There’s no sense in making a delicious feast if you’re going to eat it alone. Sharing ideas, food, and drink is an act that makes us human.

Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub and Brewery on Haight Street, says that it’s a big part of what the craft beer community is trying to promote. “We’re not competitors with each other so much as we are fighting the good fight to try to open people’s minds and palates up to the breadth and diversity of the beer that’s out there.”

According to the Beer Institute, the brewing industry’s lobbying arm, Californians bought nearly 713  million gallons of beer in 2009. That’s 27.5 gallons per of-age adult – a little less than a pint per day (of course, some beer lovers enjoy slightly more than that).

Still, the craft brew market makes up just 5% of a $224 billion industry. Which is to say, not everyone who starts brewing on their kitchen stove wants a market share.

Some people just want to share the best beer they’ve ever tasted with a friend. 

But home brewing wasn’t actually legal until 1978, so certain renegades had turned their kitchens into recreational brewing laboratories long before that.

“I learned how to brew out of the back of a Field and Stream magazine," says Gregory William Miller the Thirdstein, also known as Griz. Miller is a brewmaster at San Francisco Brewcraft in the Richmond District, with over 42 years of experience under his belt. After answering an ad for brewing classes, Miller made his first batch. “It tasted like someone had boiled all the jock straps from the San Francisco 49ers,” remembers Miller. “But that just made me want to do it more.”

Miller says brewing at home has grown in popularity since he first started since it’s become easier to learn. Mission-based author William Bostwick’s instruction manual Beer Craft explains how to brew single gallon batches – small enough to allow for experimentation. And Bostwick’s partner Jessi Rymill says that it’s not hard to give beer that unique San Francisco twist by using fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.

But for homebrewers like myself, beer-making is an experience to share, with friends, family, or a friendly passerby. 
The special taste of an amazing homebrew is something that can be savored everywhere – from my house, to your house, to the White House. Yes, recently President Obama became the first sitting American President to brew at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House Honey Ale used honey from bee hives on the property. And it sent an important message to home brewers everywhere: Yes, we can, and keg, and bottle.

This story originally aired on December 12, 2011. Since then, new beer statistics have been published!  In 2011, Californians of legal drinking age bought less beer --  676 million gallons of beer, or 25.4 gallons per person.