When beer drinkers get thirsty, most head to the nearest liquor store, supermarket or gas station and pick up a simple six-pack. But for one group of Grayson County beer lovers, the brewing starts and stays in house.
The Sherman-based Mashrunners is a collective of roughly 20 home brewers who concoct everything from craft beer and cider to wine and grog. Members meet once a month to taste each other’s most recent creations and the group has even racked up a few awards in the BlueBonnett Brew-off, one of the state’s largest home-brew competitions.
“Once upon a time, home brewing was the only way to get ‘good beer,’” Mashrunners member Roger Gregory-Allen said. “Nowadays, we have dozens and dozens of choices at every grocery store, many of which are really quite good and interesting beers. But home brewing has really caught on again because a lot of drinkers are interested in pushing the creativity aspect of it and they enjoy the pride of ownership. And, of course, it’s just fun.”
Allen explained that the process of home brewing begins much like it would at any major brewery, just on a smaller scale.
Brewers take malted, roasted grains such as barley and slowly add them to near-boiling water. The resulting mixture is referred to as mash, and the remaining liquid is then separated from the mash and kept. The brewer then boils the solution with ingredients such as hops, chills it and adds yeast to start the production of alcohol and carbonation. Once the main fermentation is complete, the beer can then be added to bottles with a bit of sugar or yeast or put inside a keg and infused with carbon dioxide.
“If you were to go and buy a typical home-brew starter kit, you’d end up with a bucket, a siphon hose, a bubble lock of some sort to let the (carbon dioxide) escape, and a pot to do the boil phase,” Allen said. “Beyond that, you really only need some bottles and a way to attach the caps. So it can be quite simple.”
But the brewing process is often anything but simple. Allen said most brewers learn the hard way that properly sanitized equipment is essential to a successful batch and that patience is required, as most beers aren’t ready to drink for at least four to six weeks.
Mashrunners member Tim Zabel was at the group’s recent beer camp and chose to tackle one of the most labor-intensive styles of beer making — stein brewing. The practice, popular hundreds of years ago, requires brewers to heat granite rocks over fire and add them to water so it boils. Despite hours of work under the afternoon sun, turning recycled tombstones over the fire and tediously matching the mineral content of his water to those found in Northern Europe, Zabel said the effort was worth it.
“When you go to a store and buy beer, you’re buying something that someone else created, what they envisioned,” Zabel said. “But when you brew, you get to add whatever you want, make it taste however you want. You get to do it for yourself and you really come to appreciate all the work that goes into it.”
While home brewing is often thought of as a boys’ club, the Mashrunners said many of their wives regularly join in on the fun and that more and more women are setting out to brew great beer on their own.
“I think you’ve got to realize it’s not just a man’s thing,” Mashrunner wife and beer camp attendee Viki Reeder said. “You can participate and you can have fun too.”
Reeder pointed out that American women actually have a long history of brewing beer and doing it well.
“In colonial times, the women here in the U.S., they’d be the ones doing the brewing,” Reeder said. “They did it pretty much on a daily basis, and they were the real experts.”
While becoming an accomplished brewer can be a daunting task for both men and women, Zabel said anyone interested in home brewing should give it a try at least once as there’s plenty of support, fun and beer to go around.
“Come and hang out with a group of home-brewers,” Zabel said. “That’s all it will take.”