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Relax and crack open a cold one with an American brewmaster

beer December 6, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Bruce Burkhardt

(CNN) -- Not long ago, drinking beer was a fairly simple endeavor.

Pick up a six pack at the grocery store, crack open a cold one, kick back and enjoy. Those who wanted much more than that were pretty much out of luck.

But that was before the recent craze for home-brewing, a trend that has spawned a surge in microbrewing and brew pubs -- just about anything imaginable that is beer-related.


It wasn't always easy to find "raspberry imperial stout" on a restaurant menu. But microbrewing has made that and any number of exotic flavors widely available.

The boom in beer selection stems in large part from the growth of home-brewing. It's estimated there are now about 1.5 million do-it-yourself brewers, with thousands more joining their ranks each year.


That up from zero 20 years ago, when home-brewing was illegal, one of the last remnants of Prohibition. It wasn't until 1979 that the federal government and subsequently most (but not all) states made home-brewing legal.

Few have done more to inspire brewing at home than Charlie Papazian, a master brewer, author of how-to books on home brewing and one of the pioneers of the home-brew movement.

He was into home-brewing long before it was cool. And with Papazian as our mentor, we decided to try our hand at making home-brew.

All it takes to get started and produce about two cases of beer is about $75 in start up supplies and ingredients -- and a few hours in the kitchen.


The four basic ingredients are almost always the same: water malted barley (the grain gives beer flavor and sugar content), hops and yeast.

The barley is a grain that gives beer flavor and sugar content; hops, a flower that grows mostly in the Northwest, gives the brew its the bitterness flavor and aroma, and the yeast converts the sugars to alcohol.

A lot of creativity and skill can go into blending these ingredients. And we decided to choose a yeast that doesn't necessarily ferment as much as other types. The idea is to leave a little bit of residual sweetness.

For Papazian, more important than the ingredients, is the attitude.

"Worrying can probably spoil the flavor of beer more than anything else," he says. Papazian's first rule of home-brewing: "relax."


The brewmaster's easygoing credo goes back a long time -- nobody knows how long -- but the ancient Egyptians had the right idea. So did the Mesopotamians.

Beer is believed to have been discovered when grain was accidentally left outside and colonized by wild yeast in the air. "Well, the next thing they do is drink it, and the magic really starts happening," says Papazian, who notes that fermented grain is more nutritious than the non-alcoholic variety.

But having an easy-going mentality isn't enough to brew good beer. The process involves a great deal of nuance, and Papazian knows his stuff when it comes to beermaking.

Here's one of his tips for the advanced home-brewer. "You can help the head retention by just playing around with the temperatures."

That was beyond us. We had a hard time just getting the brew into the fermenting tank. Finally, after a few weeks of fermenting, we bottled our beer and added a label with a personal stamp -- modest and understated, of course.

We wanted an opinion of our work, so we decided to ask the best: Papazian. It was like asking Picasso what he thought of some of your sketches. After all, asking the guy who brought home-brewing to millions to try a first batch -- that's risky.

His comments were encouraging. "Good clean beer. Tastes like an American style bitter beer," he says.


With that encouragement, we decided to ask some of the nation's foremost beer experts about our brew at a national beer convention in New Orleans.

Papazian was there of course, making his traditional entrance -- in a casket -- exhorting the crowd to "party" at the top of his lungs.

But we received a more sobering assessment from other beer enthusiasts. "It has a band-aidy, medicinal type flavor," one of the judges says.

"It has a kind of wet paper, cardboard aroma and flavor" says another.

I decided to accept their harsh verdict with grace, sit back and enjoy the flavor of the moment.

After all, worrying can ruin the taste.


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