With more than a million people trying their hand at homebrewing annually, it's no surprise that demand for brewing supplies and education continues to rise. It's easy to buy ingredients online, but if you really want to know how to get started or ways to take your homebrews to the next level, hands-on training from experts beats YouTube any day.
North Park's The Homebrewer (est. 2012) and its sister business Home Brewing Company (est. 2015), both located at 2911 El Cajon Blvd., Space #2, accommodate those who seek supplies as well as guidance on how to use them. There are plenty of local beer classes—Miramar's White Labs offers a variety each month—and homebrew supply stores like Linda Vista's Home Brew Mart, but The Homebrewer shines by filling that crucial learning gap with classes taught by brewing authorities, many of whom are Certified Cicerones.
"We try to do one to two classes per week," says Chris Manzi, retail manager and instructor at The Homebrewer. Courses range from food-and-beer pairings to more advanced homebrewing techniques like switching to all-grain from extract. Thanks to a federal law allowing persons 18 years or older to homebrew, some classes are open to those younger than 21. (You still have to be 21 to enjoy the tasting classes and complimentary beer brewed on-site at Home Brewing Co.) Class sizes range from six to 15 people, with the more hands-on demo classes capping between 10-12 to ensure everyone gets full attention.
Upcoming courses at The Homebrewer include the popular Beer Off-Flavors Workshop (August 15, $40), the Hops Workshop (August 22, $30), the Cider Making Workshop, taught by local award-winning cider-maker Brian Trout (August 28, $40-$65), and the trendy Kombucha Workshop with guest instructor Austin Durant, president of the San Diego Fermenter's Club (August 29, $45-$85). The Kombucha Workshops in particular tend to sell out early, and every student leaves with a live SCOBY ("Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast") for their own fermentation experimentation.
During a recent Intro to Homebrewing class, I was pleasantly surprised that female attendees more than doubled the number of men. Before class, Manzi remarked that a "mixed bag" of students is fairly normal. "The Intro to Homebrewing class is free when you purchase a starter kit, but the majority of people who sign up say 'I tried homebrewing once and it didn't work out as well as I'd like, so I want to do it better.'"
A few people who had purchased the kit were noticeably absent, which Manzi admits is unfortunately somewhat typical. (Note to no-shows: Don' t be a dick. If you sign up, show up!) Once the hour-and-a-half class was underway, it covered everything from common terminology to a hop aroma demo connecting Beatles band members to the four main beer ingredients—it turns out Ringo is most like water: crucial, but often overlooked.
Afterward, I realized I didn't just leave with new supplies and skills that I came for, but an extra dose of enthusiasm as well. It seems that The Homebrewer's holistic approach to homebrewing nurtures curiosity, inspires creativity and may very well cultivate the local craft homebrewers of tomorrow.