With dwindling to-do lists and resourcefulness at a premium, some in the Tri-State area have found themselves putting an inner DIY ethos to work — revisiting kitchens and crafts and creating firsthand many of the goods they had become accustomed to picking up from the store.
For some, that includes taking the plunge into the curious world of homebrewed beer.
“It's a little math, a little science, a little cooking, and – (once) you learn the basics – it's a little art,” said Michael Florez of Cincinnati Malt Infusers, or CMI. Founded in 1994, CMI is a club of about 40 members who meet every month to share notes about their homebrewed creations.
Their ranks are growing, with plenty of would-be beer barons taking up the hobby.
“Membership and interest in homebrewing follows the unemployment rate,” Florez said. Empty agendas leave plenty of time to explore new interests.
“It's a great time to (pick up) a hobby like homebrewing,” said Roxanne Westendorf, a former Bloatarian Brewing League president, chair of the American Homebrewers Association Governing Committee and board member of the Brewers Association. “You can follow a standard recipe, or ... create your own, based on taste.”
Although recipes for crafting fermented food and drink almost certainly have existed since the dawn of mankind, it was President Jimmy Carter who, in 1978, signed H.R. 1337 into law. That bill contained an amendment exempting beer brewed at home for personal or family use from taxation — essentially clearing the way for a homebrew explosion.
“Before the craft beer business became so large, people would have to brew styles they couldn't find in the stores,” said Allen Moellmann, homebrew store manager for Listermann Brewing Co. in Norwood. Listermann is Greater Cincinnati’s longest-running homebrew supply shop, opening 25 years ago in 1995, and is stocked for homebrewers at every level.
“Simply put, we have the largest variety of ingredients such as yeast, malt and hops,” Moellmann said, adding that Listermann’s staff is “helpful to (both) beginning brewers and experienced veterans.”
Homebrewer Jon Weidenbacher was drawn to the hobby for its potential challenges; a researcher by day, he took up the pastime about three years ago and admits he still obsesses over recipe tweaks.
“There’s so much information to work through and learn,” he said. “I spend a ton of time trying to figure it out, but I love all of it.”
For first-time homebrewers such as Ashley Hines, it was all about simplicity, she said.
“Realizing that it wasn’t as complicated as I had thought made it much more approachable,” she said, while pointing to a wealth of information online that gave her the confidence she needed to give it a go. The encouragement of a friend also was helpful, she said. “What actually made me excited to try it was trying a friend’s homebrew — and really liking it!”
Hines isn’t alone: a collective access to tips and tutorials, along with a community-minded spirit, makes the hobby welcoming for so many. And, of course, there’s the beer.
“It’s a great time to be alive if you love good beer,” CMI member Rick Franckhauser said. “In large part, we have homebrewers to thank for maintaining and sometimes reviving classic beer styles. As a homebrewer, I get to be a part of that tradition while enjoying the camaraderie of the brewing community.”
Matt Found, beer buyer and department manager at the Party Source in Bellevue, has noticed growing interest as well, “particularly during mid-March,” he said. The Party Source, which opened in 1993 and has sold homebrew materials intermittently since then, stocks kits, ingredients and handy accessories.
For Dave Kleier, a new co-owner of Evendale’s Corny Keg, things were already heating up before a renewed enthusiasm for homebrewing kicked in.
“We’d just started keeping normal business hours,” he said, and plans for “an uptick in business, with homebrewers having some time on their hands, getting in an early spring brew.”
“We (do) seem to be experiencing an increase” in those taking up the hobby, Listermann’s Moellmann confirmed, “with so many people staying at home now.”
At the heart of the hobby, and no matter where materials are procured, the homebrew experience continues to be about so much more than the beer.
“Some of my closest friends have come through the homebrew club,” Westendorf said. “We have a mix of people who are passionate about the hobby, others who are just learning, and some who dabble from time to time. Many in the local craft brewing community started as homebrewers and were members of local clubs.
“'Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew’ is really the right attitude for the hobby right now,” she added, sharing a homebrewer’s mantra coined by guru Charlie Papazian. “It's a great time to think about picking up a hobby like homebrewing.”
TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEER RUN
Because shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic have forced businesses of every kind to adapt – impacting both store hours and the shopping experience itself – here is contact information and ordering tips if available:
Brew Monkeys: 4312 Harrison Ave. www.facebook.com/TheBrewMonkey; 513-330-8806
Corny Keg: 1240 Glendale Milford Road. www.cornykeg.com; 513-325-7279; firstname.lastname@example.org
Store hours are 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; customers are permitted inside as long as social distancing is maintained, or they can shop from the dock door and their orders can be brought to them. Orders also can be placed online for either UPS delivery or pickup.
Listermann Brewing Co.: 1621 Dana Ave. 513-731-1130; email@example.com
An online inventory is in the works; customers are invited to call or visit. Email or telephone orders can be placed on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; email is recommended. Orders placed before 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday may be picked up the following day from noon to 6 p.m. Orders placed Friday may be picked up 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Pick up at the front window next to the taproom door (Dana Avenue side).
Paradise Brewing: 7766 Beechmont Ave. firstname.lastname@example.org; 513-232-7271
Party Source: 95 Riviera Drive, Bellevue, KY. 859-291-400; email@example.com
Customers who have questions about homebrewing are encouraged to email or call to speak with the Beer Department. Many homebrewing items are available to review and purchase from the website.