SHERIDAN — Tomorrow afternoon, more than a dozen regional breweries will participate in the second annual Chamber of Commerce Brewfest. While the popularity of microbreweries and craft beers has exploded in the past few years and it is easier than ever to find specialty beers at local liquor stores, some people prefer to try their hand at brewing their own creations.
“If you can cook, you can brew beer,” Sheridan resident Steve Lipetzky said. He has been brewing beer at home for eight years.
Lipetzky began his brewing career when he received a brew kit as a Christmas gift.
“The first brew involved a lot of dirty pots and a very dirty kitchen afterwards, but you know, the first batch that does turn out, you are really happy to be making something that is your own,” he said. “It gives you encouragement to keep going.”
“I was intrigued by the process itself,” he continued, noting that with an engineering background, the science of beer production appealed to him. “It is an experiment every time to see it go from sugar water to drinkable beer.”
The desire to keep experimenting and creating new beer has been a human endeavor for thousands of years.
According to the American Homebrewer’s Association, beer was first brewed in small batches as far back as 12,000 years ago. Fast forward to 1979, and residents of Wyoming were granted the legal right to brew beer at home.
The right to brew beer at home for personal consumption was not always guaranteed. The practice was illegal during the Prohibition era, but due to a clerical error in the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, the words “and beer” were left out.
Citizens could homebrew wine, but not beer, until President Jimmy Carter signed a bill legalizing homebrewing of beer in 1979. Still, some states continued to outlaw the practice, with Alabama and Mississippi becoming the last states to legalize the craft in 2013.
Though a homebrew beer usually consists of just a few ingredients, malt extract (from malted barley or wheat), hops, yeast and water, they can be combined in different ways to create dozens of different beer varieties. For instance, the AHA site has recipes for pale ales, lagers, pilsners, porters, stout and Scottish and Irish ales. There are even recipes for gluten-free beer.
Lipetzy said getting started with homebrewing is neither complicated nor very expensive. A typical starter kit makes a five-gallon batch, which comes to about 48 bottles, and usually costs $80 to $100. After the initial kit purchase, he estimates it then costs him approximately $35 in supplies to make a batch of beer. He noted that both the beer making and beer-drinking portion of the process is most fun when it is a social activity.
“Eight six-packs last a long time with just you drinking it, so it lends itself to sharing,” he said. “It is fun to share with other people and get their feedback.”
Lipetzky said it takes approximately two weeks for a batch of homebrewed beer to be ready for consumption. The process usually involves an evening of mixing ingredients and brewing the beer and a week or two for the beer to ferment, then additional time for carbonation to develop in the bottles.
Although there are no homebrew supply stores in Sheridan, there are stores in Gillette, Casper and Billings and many websites sell equipment that can easily be ordered and shipped. Lipetzky said there are also many websites and resources to help people get started in the craft.
“It is a learning process all the time to figure out what works for you,” he said. “The first batch didn’t turn out real great, but the second batch was real good. Once you start going you get more excited about it, you go online and do research and learn about the trials and tribulations of other people and learn from them.”
“I guess it is like cooking your own food,” he said, when asked whether the final product is worth the time and effort when there are quality beers available at local liquor stores. “It is just as easy to go down the street and buy some restaurant food, but there is a joy in creating something yourself and sharing it with other people.”