With markets across the board looking unsteady these days, Minnesotans are returning to their agricultural roots in an effort to re-cultivate Minnesota’s heritage and revitalize local business. With today’s food prices on the rise and a little extra free time to spare on new hobbies, traditional homegrown pastimes have expanded to new frontiers. However, instead of home-canned tomatoes and other produce familiar from the heyday of Betty Crocker, this time it’s the Average Joe’s of Minnesota brewing and bottling their own beer with homegrown ingredients.
Homebrewing is a rising trend across the United States with Minnesota being no exception. Minnesota boasts a long, hoppy brewing tradition with niches for long-established national distributors, as well as hopeful home brewers intrigued by the art and science involved in the hobby. Northern Brewer on Grand Avenue in St. Paul has supplied and advised home brewers since 1993. According to the American Homebrewer’s Association, there are at least 18 homebrewing clubs in Minnesota, totaling several hundred club members.
“Part of the attractiveness of homebrewing,” said Northern Brewer manager Heyward Gualandi, “can be attributed not only to a love of great tasting beer but also to rising food prices across the board.”
Prices of commercially grown hops and malted barley, the two main ingredients of beer, are on the rise thus putting the pinch on the cost of our favorite domestic drafts. The simple solution according to Northern Brewer: brew your own. It costs less and comes enriched with the taste of accomplishment.
The inflated prices of loose-leaf hops coupled with the challenge and satisfaction granted by the creation of something truly unique and authentic, have led many home brewers to not only bottle their own brews from purchased kits, but to invest a little extra time into independently producing their own old-fashioned beer. Avid homebrewers are taking to the garden, growing their own hops, the aromatic flower that gives beer its characteristic bitter flavor. The price of loose-leaf hops has been rising over the past several months giving brewers the extra justification they need to put the extra effort into a more self-sufficient product. A well-established hops plant can produce up to 3 oz. of dry hops in a good year, so with a few hops plants of differing varieties, one can easily produce enough hops to brew a batch for a relatively low input.
Freshops, based in Philomath, Oregon, is the hops provider favored by many local brewers. They sell hops rhizomes in addition to looseleaf hops and have seen a 300 percent increase in orders for hops rhizomes during the recent hops crisis. Hops, though traditionally grown in the Pacific Northwest, can be easily grown on the small-scale by Minnesotans but encounters problems at the commercial level.
Perhaps the hardest hit by the rise in hops prices have been the local, commercial microbrewers. Dustin Brau, of Brau Brothers Brewing Co. in Lucan, Minnesota admitted that the high price of hops made some varieties impossible to get. To fight the price increase and assuage the desire to make a truly authentic Minnesota brew, some local craft-breweries are dabbling in their own farms trying to commercially raise hops. Brau Brothers Brewing is one of the first breweries in Minnesota to return to old-fashioned brewing with locally raised ingredients. They have been working tirelessly this past season to raise their own barley and hops and will soon boast Minnesota’s only all local beer. This season marked the pilot year of independent hops production and according to Brau, the yield was fairly successful for their first attempt and will hopefully meet continued success as the project grows.
The home brewing trend has grown in the state, yet so has the number of micro and craft breweries, arguably because Minnesotan homebrewers and beer connoisseurs have developed a keener palate. Many of Minnesota’s microbreweries were, in fact, started by homebrewers including Surley Brewing, Brau Brothers, Lift Bridge and many others and are therefore able to appeal to the refined tastes of their consumers as a result of the close relationship between local brewers and local drinkers.
Minnesota boasts 10 well-established micro- and craft- breweries focusing mainly on local markets in addition to two national distributors, August Schell and Cold Spring (formerly Gluek’s). Some of the youngest microbreweries in the state, in addition to Brau Brothers, include Flat Earth Brewing Co. in St. Paul, Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater, and Surley Brewing in Brooklyn Center. Gualandi, of Northern Brewer, believes homebrewers appreciate a good tasting beer, and having saved money by making their own, will be willing to spend a little extra on a draft of good, local, craft-brewed beer.
Brau notes that much of his customers are homebrewers themselves and appreciate the work he and his family put into their small brewery. Brau notes his customers understand the situation with rising hops prices and are supportive. ‘There is a, “We’re all in this together,” attitude,’ according to Brau, which has helped Brau Brothers weather the hops crisis and keep on brewing. Homebrewing is, in fact, good for sales of domestic microbrews and is just good for business.
By brewing their own, home brew enthusiasts are supporting local agriculture, self-sufficiency, and local markets. Support your neighborhood homebrewers and local breweries. Drink local.