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New Yorkers Hop Aboard the Homebrewing Craze During Oktoberfest

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | September 28, 2012 6:49am

NEW YORK — When Mary Izett and Chris Cuzme are looking for a frosty pint of beer, they don't go to the fridge — they head straight for the stove.

The Park Slope couple is part of an increasing number of suds-loving New Yorkers who don’t mind turning their apartments into the city's smallest microbreweries, whipping up batches of private label brews on their kitchen ovens.

The trend has been growing faster than the head on a Guinness, accelerated by an increasing number of stores with homebrewing supplies, easy access to homebrewing secrets online, and beer clubs that have been popping up around the five boroughs.

On a recent afternoon, Izett and Cuzme brewed their low-alcohol “end of summer beer,” which they planned to mix later with hibiscus tea.

“Homebrewing allows me to prepare beer that I can’t buy anywhere,” said Izett, 39, a pharmaceutical sales rep and president of the New York City Homebrewers Guild who also writes a blog called mylifeoncraft.com. “And I like weird things.”

“We can experiment without worrying about commercial success,” adds Cuzme, 35, a musician who is also a member of the guild.

The couple whipped up their latest batch using a “brew in a bag” method, which originated in Australia and is gaining popularity in New York. Some say that the process is less efficient and produces smaller batches, but Izett says it is faster and easier to clean up than the traditional way of brewing.

In this method, which takes several hours, all the grain is contained within a bag, which is placed in a pot of water. Then, instead of "sparging" or rinsing, the grains, homebrewers simply remove the bag from the pot and boil the liquid again with hops.

After that, yeast is added to the beer, which is fermented for about a week-and-a-half.  

When he started homebrewing in 2001, Cuzme said there was only one store that sold homebrewing products in New York — East Coast Hydroponics and Homebrew Too in Flushing.

A Brooklyn resident, Cuzme said at that time he preferred to order online, but the quality of the products wasn't always the best.

Then in 2009, Brooklyn Homebrew opened up in Park Slope.

Nowadays, there are at least five places selling homebrewing equipment in New York City, including Brooklyn BrewShop and the Whole Foods at the corner of Houston and Chrystie streets in Manhattan, Cuzme said.

At Bitter & Esters, a brewing supply store in Prospect Heights, customers who don’t have their equipment at home can actually brew on the premises.

Homebrewing kits are quite affordable, enthusiasts say.

“You can get all the equipment for a five-gallon batch for less than $100,” said Benjamin Stutz, the owner of Brooklyn Homebrew.

A batch that size produces about two cases of beer. Customers usually have to pay another $25 to $35 for ingredients, like barley, hops and yeast.

Stutz says every week about 10 first-time homebrewers come to his store to buy equipment. He and his staff also help those brewing at home who need assistance, and often spend hours on the phone and answering customers’ emails.

“We want people to be happy with their beer,” he said.

Many homebrewing stores, as well as a few bars including Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, also offer classes and the number of homebrewing clubs has also been growing.

For a long time there were only two of them in the city: NYC Homebrewers Guild, which will celebrate its 25th year in 2013, and the Malted Barley Appreciation Society. Now there are seven in the city, two in Long Island and one in Westchester, Cuzme said.

Ryan Crook, 30, an Astoria resident and financial adviser at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said he started an online discussion group called Astoria Homebrewers after he got a homebrewing kit for Christmas in 2010.

He was hoping to get advice from other people in the neighborhood who had already been brewing beer. But the group grew so quickly that it soon turned into the Brewstoria beer club, whose members gather regularly at 5 Napkin Burger in Astoria to discuss their brewing experiences.

The club has about 40 members who also bring samples of their suds for others to taste.
“We sit at a communal table, talk and taste beers, and give each other constructive feedback,” Crook said.

That social part of homebrewing is one of the aspects that makes this pastime so popular, said Joshua Bernstein, a Brooklyn-based journalist and the author of “Brewed Awakening,” who for the past three years has also been taking beer enthusiasts for homebrewing tours in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

“Homebrewing is a very communal activity,” he said. “If you make five gallons of beer, you want to be able to share that with your friends.”

Bernstein added that he believes beer is a “more democratic drink than wine”.

“You share beer with people and you share conversation,” he said.

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