In 1998, Colin and I attended the wedding of our mutual friend Alex. After the beautiful outdoor ceremony, we went inside to stuff our faces, dance, and enjoy the reception. It was a great night, as weddings tend to be.
But this one broke with tradition, massively, when it came to wedding favors. No engraved M&Ms, tiny bottles of bubbles, or pastel-colored Jordan Almonds for this couple. Alex and Jodi had spent the weeks before the wedding brewing their own beer, and they sent home bottles with all their guests.
Maybe in 2013 this doesn't surprise you. Maybe this is a "thing" now, in places like Brooklyn or Portland. But back in 1998, I can assure you: it was pretty epic.
Other than Alex, I'd never met anyone bitten by the homebrewing bug until I crossed paths with Emma Christensen, a writer and editor who moved to the Bay Area in 2011. Turns out, Emma and I had similar educational biographies. I'm a Haverford alumna, and she's a Bryn Mawr grad. (They're sibling colleges in Pennsylvania.) Years later, we both attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Massachusetts, though I preceded Emma by several years. Though we'd never met in person before setting foot in a Sunnyvale, California coffee shop, we became fast friends.
In True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home (Ten Speed Press, 2013), Emma presents an accessible and stylish primer for the homebrewing enthusiast. Though homebrewing does require a small, initial investment in some special equipment and ingredients, Emma breaks down the process itself in friendly terms, with plenty of step-by-step photos, troubleshooting guidance, and clear, fluid prose. Best of all: the recipes are all geared towards small batches, meaning 1 gallon or less. You don't need an extra attic for supplies.
I know people who are obsessed with kombucha, and these folks probably don't know how easy it is to make at home. Same with kefir. (I think Whole Foods is getting plenty rich off of these two drinks, in particular.) For each recipe in True Brews, you do need to buy a starter culture (something called a Scoby in the case of kombucha, and kefir grains in the case of kefir), but many of them can be reused, and the techniques themselves aren't difficult to master. Let's be clear, though: homebrewing is a skill. Plan for a bit of trial and error.
Emma and I both sold our cookbooks at a local bookstore last month. I was selling Ripe, but now that I'm writing my own book about a fermented food (yogurt, as you know, is fermented), I was curious to see who would stop by Emma's table. What does a homebrewing aficionado look like? Would they all be super-alternative?
Nah. They were everyman and everywoman. Folks went bananas over Emma's book, and their enthusiasm for the ins and outs of fermented drinks was contagious.
If you know anyone bitten by the homebrewing bug -- whether we're talking alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, mead, hard cider, or sake, more traditional health tonic-type drinks like kombucha or kefir, or even naturally-fermented homemade sodas (which rely on something called champagne yeast) -- you'll want to introduce them to this book. And if you yourself are looking for a new hobby and want to master a new skillset, give True Brews a look. Most towns have a brew shop which can set you up with equipment and supplies, and Emma also lists online sources in the back of the book.
Have you guys ever tried homebrewing?