BRITTANY ELLIS and Derek Pedersen are new to Savannah. "We just moved from Connecticut where we have a lot of different breweries and a lot of craft beer and we're kind of missing it," lamented Ellis, a recent transfer to SCAD's sound design program.
"We're obsessed with food," she continued. That culinary bent combined with a nostalgia for the expansive beer options they left behind in the Northeast brought them to observe and ask questions at last Saturday's Learn to Homebrew Day. The event was promoted by the American Homebrewers Association and hosted at the Savannah Homebrew Shoppe.
While the young couple watched a member of the Savannah Brewers League add massive amounts of hops to a clone of Three Floyd's "Zombie Dust" IPA, several other brew kettles were set up in a parking lot outside the shop on Skidaway Road. Those pots contained the early stages of hazy golden hefeweizens and cinnamon-infused pumpkin ales bubbling under the midday sun.
The do-it-yourself ethos that forms the backbone of homebrewing resonated with Ellis and Pedersen, both musicians who appreciate the hand-crafted nature of brewing and equate it to the engineering aspects of performance and recording. "You can take these weird ideas, and I love to explore that," Pedersen explained.
Homebrewers are a creative lot, and their passion to brew often stems from their passion for food, the science of experimentation or their inability to find their own ideal beer on store shelves. While rewarding, in many cases it is a solitary pursuit, crushing grains, watching the boil, transferring liquids and doing a lot of clean up as a one-person crew.
That's where the Savannah Brewers League steps in. It forms a support system for local homebrewers to learn more about their craft through education and discussion with experienced practitioners. Steve Matthews is the newly elected president of the group and has been homebrewing for six years.
"It's not all about drinking — not by any stretch," says Matthews. After buying a 5-gallon basic starter kit, he quickly became hooked. Like many hobbies, it eventually expanded into more professional equipment. Some of that gear was on display as he brewed an American wheat beer for event attendees.
When asked why he chose that particular style, his response was thoughtful: "It's easy drinking, very flavorful and it's a craft brewer's lawnmower beer. It's low in alcohol and appeals to many different people. It's a classic style, made with 100% American ingredients."
If you're interested in brewing at home, Matthews advises to start small with the basic tools and focus on extract brewing, a method that involves providing the malt bill as a concentrated syrup or powder rather than the more advanced and time consuming all-grain process.
To make that first venture into the larger world of being an amateur brewmaster, Matthews suggests to "Go to the American Homebrewers Association website, get recipes off of the internet and visit your local homebrew shop to buy ingredients and equipment."
Savannah's sole homebrew store, the aptly named Savannah Homebrew Shoppe, is housed in an unassuming, low key spot on Skidaway Road at 37th Street. Proprietor Jerald Jameson stocks a wide variety of ingredients and supplies and will readily search out and order anything you need that he may not have on hand. It's a great resource for not only buying the items needed for brewing but also for asking questions and getting feedback.
"You get good, fresh ingredients and support the local community in lots of different ways" by purchasing local, says Matthews. "You meet a lot of people who share the same interest as you."
The Savannah Brewers League has been fostering that community of like-minded enthusiasts since 1993. They meet at 7:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month downstairs at Moon River Brewing Company on Bay Street.
As a final bit of encouragement, Matthews adds "It's fun and you'll be surprised at how good of a beer you can make at home. I'll wager you can make better beer than you can buy."
For Derek Pedersen, attending Learn to Homebrew Day was the right decision. "It made me feel more comfortable because I know I can make my own beer now."
Savannah Homebrew Shoppe is at 2102 Skidaway Rd. See website for hours or schedule an appointment. More info: savannahhomebrew.com
Savannah Brewers League meets the first Wednesday of each month beginning at 7:30 p.m. downstairs at Moon River Brewing Company, 21 West Bay St. More info: www.savannahbrewers.com