Walter White would love homebrewing.
OK, it's not as lucrative as meth. Also not as dangerous. And "Breaking Bread" is probably the worst TV show never made. But the sanitation, the attention to detail, the chemistry? Dude would be all about it!
You don't have to be a chemistry teacher to be all about it, too. If you've been wanting to try homebrewing but feel a little overwhelmed by the process, don't. It's actually a lot easier than people think, as long as you follow the two golden rules of homebrewing: Keep it clean. Follow the recipe. (More on that later.) Luckily, there are quite a few homebrew shops in San Diego that are ready and willing to help demystify the BIY (brew it yourself) process.
With more than 20 years in the business, Home Brew Mart (5401 Linda Vista Road) is a go-to store for supplies, books, merchandise, advice—and delicious Ballast Point beer. That's right—the shop actually started as the brewery's original location and now features a tasting room with dozens of beers on tap. Home Brew even supports local artists. On display right now is the work of Paul Elder, the man behind all of Ballast Point's sea-inspired labels. Store manager George Cataulin and his staff know their stuff and can point you in the direction of four different starter kits with everything you need to make five gallons of delicious brew, all from the comfort of your kitchen. Which starter kit you choose depends on how comfortable you are with BIY and how much you're willing to spend. The cheapest, at $134.95, is the only one that comes with a plastic carboy (the big thing you'll ferment the beer in). The other three, from $200 to more than $500, come with glass fermenters. What's the difference? Well, remember what I said about sanitation? Over time, plastic can develop scratches, which bacteria love to hide in. And if the equipment isn't completely and thoroughly cleaned every single time, then the beer—well, let's just say five gallons is a lot to waste. So be clean! Bonus: Home Brew Mart has step-by-step instructions. If you lose 'em, no problem. They're also online.
If you're not quite ready to drop that much on a homebrew kit, then start with a $15 class at The Homebrewer in North Park (2911 El Cajon Blvd.). Owner George Thornton and his staff aren't simply focused on helping you make beer—they really want to educate you, too. That might be why they make their classes so affordable and accessible (check the website for a schedule). They're also expanding; a tasting room and brewery are in the works. Walk in, and Thornton will ask you what kind of beer you like (chocolate stout, please). He'll take you around the store and let you taste all the ingredients involved, essentially allowing you to try before you buy. Why does this matter? "I want to get people excited about tasting things," Thornton says. He also wants to get an idea of what kind of brewer you are. Are you the type of person who needs to follow a starter-kit recipe, or are you someone who's a little more adventurous and willing to customize? (Thornton swears he can tell just by lookin' at you.) Either way, you're in good hands. Bonus: These guys really take the time to personalize your experience.
If you want to get the advice of a bunch of experts, you always have the option of joining a homebrew club. Get in touch with Josh Stone, the director of membership over at QUAFF, San Diego's largest homebrewing club. His advice? "I also usually recommend starting with simple recipes when you first start off and focus on getting your process down before moving on to more difficult brews."
Right. Remember what I said about following the recipe? It really does matter. Don't go adding this and that, thinking you'll come out with the Best Beer No One's Tried. Thatís just not how it works. Also, you're not Walter White.