Minnesota homebrewers pushing boundaries, raising standards

A bartender pours a glass of beer.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images 2014

Something's happened in the Minnesota homebrew beer scene in the past few years. It's gotten a lot better.

"People actually look forward to drinking other people's homebrew," said Beth McCall, a seven-year homebrewer who's a chemical engineer by day.

While the number of homebrewers has leveled off nationally at about 1.1 million, there's increased availability of high-quality ingredients and a wealth of brewing knowledge that's easily accessible.

Homebrewers differ from micro- and craft brewers because those who make it at home without a license can't legally take money for their beer.

However, hobbyists and small commercial brewers are increasingly influencing each other, said Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association.

The experimental nature of homebrewing lends itself to making new types of beers, he said, and craft breweries take note.

"Craft brewers are picking up these things that homebrewers are doing and pushing them further, and homebrewers are going even further," Glass said.

Experimentation is what drew Joshua Janos to homebrewing. As a kid, he loved cooking, gardening and making his own pickles and salsa.

"For me," he said, beer making "is just an extension of that 'maker' quality."

Janos, of Plymouth, has brewed beer for about seven years and now runs Brew For Good, a Minnesota homebrew charity event that will host its second event on Saturday.

Even in his few years of brewing, Janos said he has seen homebrewers become more serious with a greater knowledge of how to make high-quality beers.

In addition, they can fill gaps that commercial brewers don't — from unique concoctions to replicas of traditional beer styles that have fallen out of favor.

"A lot of what's making it in the liquor stores and what's making it at breweries are these kind of hip, trendy styles that are great in their own perspective," Janos said. "But I think some of the classic beer connoisseurs would say that's not the only thing and not all they want to drink."

Unique Minnesota law allows homebrewers to share their work

Most states don't allow for homebrewers to serve their beer to the public, let alone have any financial transactions involved, Glass said.

However, Minnesota law makes room for homebrewers to give away their beer publicly — as long as they aren't being paid for it.

That makes room for charity events like Brew For Good. On Saturday, the second annual gathering will feature about 70 homemade beers, ciders, hard seltzers and meads on tap.

Entry and beer at the event are free. But attendees are encouraged to donate to Think Small, an early childhood education charity.

The tap list exemplifies trends in homebrewing. Offerings range from a traditional German light beer to the "KIPA," a West Coast-style Kveik India pale ale fermented with a 400-year-old Norwegian farmhouse culture.

If you go

What: Brew for Good

Where: Sociable Cider Werks parking lot, 1500 Fillmore St. NE, Minneapolis

When: 4-8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: Free, with a suggested donation of $30

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