BYOB: Brew Your Own Beer

By Chip Walton
Photography by Rebecca Fondren

Austinites appreciate good beer—something well-crafted, full of character and unique, much like our city itself. That’s why a dozen-plus microbreweries, breweries and brewpubs have found a comfortable home here. If you ask the brewers and their staff how they first got into beer making, almost all of them will say they started out brewing at home—proof that, as with many enticing culinary comestibles, eventually the consumer will ask: could I make that myself? When it comes to beer, the answer is a resounding yes. 

“My first batch turned out terrific,” says home brewer Eli Erales as he prepares to brew his fourth batch—a clone recipe for Real Ale Firemans #4. “I gave some to friends and they were very enthusiastic about it. That piqued my interest even more. I made a beer that I really like to drink, one that I would order if I went to a bar.”

When you start making your own beer, Austin Homebrew Supply (AHS) becomes very important. It’s a central market and gathering place for the home-brew community where enthusiasts can find the essential equipment and ingredients to get started. 

“Austin is a town based on quality of life,” says AHS’s John “J.B.” Brack. “Consequently, home brewers fit in well here. We take pride in making our own thing and pride in presentation. This is not a mass-produced, cookie-cutter, big-box item. It has soul.”

Brack started home brewing 13 years ago as a spin-off of his joy of cooking. Dan and Joelle Dewberry, a married couple with 12 years of home-brewing experience, say they started making beer for much the same reason.

“Part of it was us getting into the Slow Food movement,” Dan explains. “You spend time making your own food versus just grabbing something from the drive-through.”

Joelle notes they’ve also experienced a greater appreciation of the process and product simply because of crafting it by hand—and they’re not alone.

An integral part of Austin’s home-brewing community is the local home-brew club dubbed the ZEALOTS (Zymurgic Enthusiasts of Austin Loosely Organized Through Suds).

“The key phrase here is ‘loosely organized,’” jokes the club’s “primary fermenter,” Corey Martin.

There are no dues or official expectations within the club, but monthly meetings are a good time to showcase what you’ve been cookin’ at home, as members sample and discuss each other’s brews. Club members run the gamut of brewing experience and occupation—state employees, teachers, writers, engineers—but no matter how technical or nontechnical the day job, they believe anyone can make good beer.

“One thing I’ve noticed,” says Corey, “whether it’s from the resources and information available or the access to ingredients, the beers have really gotten better over the years. I’m amazed every month how many good beers our members are making.”

For those with a naturally competitive spirit, there are hundreds of contests on a local, regional and national level. Award-winning home brewer Kerry Martin suggests entering competitions if you’re serious about learning new brew styles and techniques.

“It’s not just winning the ribbons,” says Kerry, “it’s getting the feedback on your beer. Whenever you take beer to the home-brew meetings or to your friends, not everybody wants to be hard on you—which they need to be. But if you send it off to a competition, you get a completely unbiased reaction.”

The variables in home brewing make it limitless in flavor, style and experimentation. For example, the Dewberrys make a dark saison brewed with buckwheat, honey, rosemary, orange peel and blackened raisins deglazed in port.

“Now has got to be the best time to get into home brewing,” says Dan. “The ingredients—the malt, the yeasts, the hops—that are available are just off the scale.”

Austin Homebrew Supply
7951 Burnet Rd.