Brew it yourself
by Daniel Bush
May 25, 2010 | 958 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Barley broth, that wonderful age-old relaxer, is plentiful in Brooklyn, available in bodegas, grocery stores, and bars all over the borough. But why buy German conversation water at all when you could brew it yourself?

Making beer, as it turns out, is not so complicated or so expensive.

All it takes is a trip to Brooklyn Homebrew in Gowanus, where for roughly $100 or more one can assemble the necessary equipment and ingredients to produce several dozen self-styled pints of sudsy goodness.

The store, located at 163 8th Street, is New York City’s first homebrew business, according to its owners, Benjamin Stutz and Danielle Cefaro.

The couple - Stutz is from Michigan, Cefaro from Brooklyn - are professionally trained chefs who fell in love with brewing beer while working in restaurants in Chicago.

But when they moved to Brooklyn last year, they were surprised to find that the borough- which served at one time as the country’s beer-making capital- lacked a store that was exclusively dedicated to the craft. Further poking around showed nothing like that existed anywhere in the city.

“Every major city has at least one homebrew shop, but there wasn’t one here,” said Stutz. “There was a definite need.”

Brooklyn Homebrew, a small store with a whitewashed façade, opened in mid-January.

It does not sell beer; for that, go for a short walk to any number of restaurants and bars popping up in the gritty industrial neighborhood, which is on the cusp of a cultural renaissance.

What it does sell is everything beer-lovers could possibly need to take matters into their own hands- which is to say some water, yeast, hops, barley, or barley extract, and a large kettle.

Boil all of that up, let it ferment and carbonate, then drink responsibly.

“Our customers have a need for our products so they’re willing to travel here from New Jersey, Staten Island, Manhattan,” and from all over Brooklyn, said Stutz.

Bars from Bay Ridge to Bed-Stuy remain reliably busy night in and night out, to be sure. And delis still do brisk beer business.

But Brooklyn Homebrew has made an immediate splash, and should gain further notoriety after hosting a highly anticipated brew competition at Sycamore in Ditmas Park later this summer.

The store’s popularity is part of a nationwide trend that started after President Jimmy Carter legalized homebrewing in 1978, overturning a Prohibition-era restriction. (It remains illegal in three states; Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma).

Ten years later, Congress recognized May 7 as National Homebrew Day. Today, there are an estimated 750,000-plus homebrewers and 800 homebrew clubs in the United States, according to the American Homebrewers Association.

Stutz said most people brew five-gallon batches of beer at a time, an amount that produces approximately 40 pints. From start to finish the process usually takes between one month and 45 days.

Brooklyn Homebrew sells the ingredients to make a variety of beers in dozens of flavors. Brewers can also follow award-winning house recipes.

And though the store’s “Quintessential” brew kit tops out at $265, cash-strapped brewers needn’t worry; the much cheaper “Bare Bones” alternative will work just fine, Stutz said. “That will get you pretty well set for a couple years of quality brewing.”

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