Tony Welch can pinpoint the moment he decided to go from enjoying craft beer to making it himself. A financial adviser, Welch had been a beer connoisseur for years, sampling more than 1,600 pours at World of Beer and touring breweries around the country with his fiancée. At a charity event, he won a raffle contest that let him serve as brewer for a day at Bradenton’s Darwin Brewing Co. He spent hours there working alongside staff, making a batch of habanero IPA that was later served in the brewery’s taproom.
“Seeing people come in and order it was so cool,” Welch says.
So, like 1.2 million Americans now making their own beer, Welch bought a simple home-brewing kit and got to work. He also found his way to a meeting of the Homebrewers Association of Manatee & Sarasota.
The 15-year-old club meets every month at the Lakewood Ranch headquarters of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, the region’s Anheuser-Busch seller. Members—two dozen make it to a typical meeting—gather around a corporate-looking U-shaped table that makes passing cups and bottles simple, and makes it easy for members to gab, too.
Members arrive with coolers stuffed with growlers, two-liter bottles and jugs full of beer that they’ve been working on at home.
Joel Farabee, who works at a Sarasota church and serves as the club’s vice president, stands in front of the group to introduce his latest brew. “My wife’s birthday is this week and she asked me for cherry wheat, because she loves the Sam Adams version on draft,” he says. “So I attempted it. I’ve never done anything like this before.” He passes around a growler. “I’m not 100-percent satisfied with this,” he adds.
“Cherries are hard,” one member pipes up. “Cherries are real hard.”
Members pour small sips from Farabee’s growler into plastic cups, take quick, deep whiffs and sip. The brew is tasty, but the members agree that the specific acids common to cherries might be overwhelming the mix. There’s also a hint of “THP”—tetrahydropyridines that give off the aroma of pretzels or crackers.
“Yes,” Farabee says, sighing. “That’s what bugs me about this beer.”
But is that flavor such a negative? Not everyone is sure he should eliminate it.
Getting into home-brewing can be intimidating (anything can go wrong very easily) and expensive (kits start at $100 but go way up from there). Club secretary Mary Habas says groups like the Homebrewers Association can demystify the process. “Sit with a dude who knows what the heck they’re doing,” she says. “Every one of these people will hold your hand and walk you through it.”
What keeps members struggling to perfect their concoctions?
“It’s just this really interesting intersection of art and science,” Farabee explains. “There’s a lot of chemistry, there’s biology, but you also have the creative side—getting to pick your ingredients and figure out how you’re going to approach your recipe to get a certain flavor you’ve got in your head that you get obsessed with.”
To learn more about the Homebrewers Association of Manatee & Sarasota, visit hamsbeer.com.