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Homebrewing 101: Tips from Beer’s Best Brewmasters

 America's best brewers

America's best brewers

More than 1.2 million Americans brew beer at home, according to the American Homebrewers Association. If you’re not among those who have taken the plunge into the sudsy waters of do-it-yourself brewing, you should be. To get you motivated, we spoke with three brewing greats who started small and turned their passion into a career. 

Jim Koch, founder & brewer of Samuel Adams

Jim Koch, Sam Adams

How does someone get started brewing?  
The bible for every homebrewer is "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing," written by Charlie Papazian. 

What’s the most experimental flavor you ever brewed? 
Over the years, we’ve experimented with thousands of different ingredients, including things like rocks from our backyard, chickens, beef hearts, and Japanese yuzu wood.

Any fun stories about your brewing successes? 
When it was announced (in 1985) that Boston Lager was selected as the “Best Beer in America” (at the Great American Beer Festival), we were shocked. A family recipe that was first brewed in my kitchen was declared the “Best Beer in America!”

Biggest rookie mistakes? 
While your bottles are fermenting, cover them with a box or a towel. Nothing’s more alarming than bottles exploding because they’re over-carbonated. It sounds like grenades detonating! 

What are your three best tips for brewing a great beer?
1. Brew a beer you’re sincerely passionate about brewing.
2. Brew with the best quality ingredients you can find.
3. Be patient and keep brewing until you perfect your recipe.

What do you love most about brewing beer?
I’m a sixth generation brewer, so brewing is in my blood - .06 so I’m legal! And I am still as passionate about brewing today as I was when I first started 32 years ago. 

Anything else we should know? 
We’re celebrating 20 years of our Sam Adams LongShot American Homebrew contest ( Homebrewers across the country can submit their best and most innovative beers. Two winning homebrewers will be featured in the Samuel Adams LongShot variety pack in 2017.

(Editor's note: To learn more about Koch's rise to success, we highly recommend his entertaining and inspiring new book "Quench Your Own Thirst.")

John Legnard, brewmaster of Blue Moon Brewing Company

John Legnard, Blue Moon

How does someone get started brewing? 
The American Homebrewers Association is a great place to start. 

Where can first-time brewers get their ingredients?
I’d start with your local homebrew shop if you have one in your town. The local shop will likely have knowledgeable folks to answer questions. Chances are the shop is also associated with some homebrewing clubs they could connect you with.

Biggest rookie mistakes? 
Keep things clean. And don’t let your dog in the kitchen when you’re brewing. 

Are there any life lessons you learned from brewing? 
I did my senior college project for my industrial fermentation class on beer brewing and I brought in samples. That was when it clicked for me that people love beer and the guy that makes it. 

What are your three best tips? 
1. Don’t worry if you mess something up. The beer and your friends won’t know.

2. Don’t get stuck on one style or recipe.

3. Use good yeast.

What do you love most about brewing beer?
I love experimenting and making a beer that completely surprises somebody. I love it when somebody says, “that’s my favorite beer I’ve ever tried.”

Anything else you think we should know?
When I started homebrewing in 1989, the craft brewing industry was in its infancy. After college graduation I had to tell my parents I wasn’t going to school for veterinary medicine but I was going to help start a new brewery. My mom said, “Is that even legal?” That hobby has now turned into 25-plus year career with Blue Moon Brewing Company that has led me all over the country and world visiting great breweries and sampling great beers.

Nick Crandall, brewmaster of Redhook Ale Brewery

Nick Crandall, Redhook

What type of equipment do homebrewers need? 
You can get started with some pretty simple equipment and upgrade as you go. Basics that you need are a kettle — maybe what you’re making spaghetti in already — and a fermentation vessel, a large container that holds the beer while it’s fermenting: glass carboys, food grade buckets and stainless fermenters are all good options with different benefits to each.

Biggest rookie mistakes? 
Remember that the kettle is hot. I might have learned that one the hard way.

How long does it take to get good at homebrewing?
It’s kind of like cooking or barbecue, some people are going to hop in and get good real quick and some are going to keep making burnt toast for years.

What are your three best tips? 
Sanitation, sanitation and sanitation. 

Anything else we should know? 
You’re opening Pandora’s box once you start your first homebrew. It might be just a hobby or it might be the start of a new career.