Sunday, April 20, 2014

Point of Brew: Home brew rules the roost


Zymurgy, the magazine “for the home brewer and beer lover,” conducts a poll of its members and subscribers every year to determine the best beer and the best brewery in the USA.

I’m not sure the election is run in a particularly rigorous way and perhaps it’s possible to vote early and vote often; nevertheless, the results are remarkably consistent: The same beers and breweries tend to fill the list of winners year after year.

Pliny the Elder, a double India pale ale (IPA) made by Vinnie Cilurzo and his talented team of brewers at Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, won in the Best Beer category. That is quite extraordinary really because this beer, of the many thousands out there, has now won Best Beer for five years in a row; it’s even more remarkable because the beer is available only in California, Oregon, Colorado and Philadelphia.

Stone Brewing Company of Escondido was voted the Best Brewery in the USA; that is the brewery whose portfolio of beers received the most votes overall.

Now, what interested me about this contest was not so much the results but the comments of the winning brewery owners.

Vinnie Cilurzo said: “Getting the home brewers’ vote is important because that is how I started.”

Greg Koch, the charismatic owner of Stone Brewing Company said: “Considering that our brewery was born from a passion for home brewing, there’s no higher sign of respect that we could be given than this accolade.”

Almost every brewer in the Craft Brewing category (some 2,500 small companies taken together) probably would have made similar comments because the homebrew hobby has been the engine and launching pad for many, many successful breweries. A prime example is the career of Ken Grossman, who owns the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, arguably the most beautiful brewery on the planet: Ken was an avid home brewer who began his professional engagement in brewing as a proprietor of a home-brew supplies store.

Home brewing continues to spark and drive the craft industry and the hobby itself has grown immensely since the earliest days.

What brought this to mind was a piece by Boyd Farrow in Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, headlined “The Sipping Point” (you can Google it to read the whole thing); the story is about Chibuku-Shake-Shake. This is a Zambian beer made in the style of traditional African home brews that are typically made from sorghum (or sometimes maize).

Chibuku-Shake-Shake is simply a commercialized version of such beers as are many craft brews in this country. The commercializers of this beer are none other than SAB-Miller, who in this country, under the Miller-Coors banner, brings us Miller Highlife and Miller Lite among many other products. So here again we have home brewing driving a commercial enterprise.

In Tanzania I saw the further development of this idea at a small SAB-Miller brewery in Arusha; I wrote about this a year ago. The new product, called Eagle, was a clear-beer version of sorghum beer; it provided the consumer with the traditional sorghum flavor plus the sophisticated and up-market panache of clear beer that Africans prefer, if they can afford it. Importantly, the beer also used local materials. Eagle beer was such a success that it now comprises half the beer made by the brewery. Home brew goes commercial.

Traditional sorghum beer is cloudy and lumpy (hence shake-shake) and is sold in milk cartons with a little hole in the top to let out the gas that results from continued fermentation in the package; the beers are low in alcohol if drunk fresh but, by storing the product for a few days, the beer becomes much more alcoholic and sour and flavorful; a little dribble of foam emerges from the hole signaling the extent of fermentation.

Some home brewers speak of beers in almost religious terms: commenting about a beer called Odell St.Lupulin (lupulin refers to hops), one said, “It’s the beer that changed my life.” Commercial brewers in the craft industry wisely and properly accord home brewers high respect. After all, the hobby is not only the mother lode of the craft industry but home brewers probably make up much of the cohort that drinks such beers and they heartily promote it among their friends.

Vinnie Cilurzo comments: “(Home brewers) make beer; they are brewers and they know what is good. It’s incredibly flattering that they love (Pliny the Elder) like that.”

Greg Koch goes on: “What a great honor it is to be recognized by our brothers and sisters in the home-brewing community.”

The home-brewing hobby has come a long way since the early days of when a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon syrup, a few pounds of sugar and Fleischman’s dried bakers’ yeast from Safeway made beer.

Since then, home brewing has been made legal in every state and home brewers have moved on to much more sophisticated practices.

They are also much more demanding for information: In a recent course I taught that was originally designed for brewers at large corporations some 80 percent of the attendees were home brewers!

— Reach Michael Lewis at Comment on this column at


Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    A springtime ritual

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Tom Adams seeks Davis school board seat

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

    UCD admits record number; 4,284 from abroad

    By Cory Golden | From Page: A1

    Hub of activity: DHS newspaper keeps evolving

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Holy fire ceremony draws thousands in Jerusalem

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Sign up soon for spring cooking classes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Robb Davis team to rally on Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Tour renovated YCCC facility Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Tour Davis Waldorf School on Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    The fifth annual Tour de Cluck is soon to be hatched

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Ortiz lawn signs available

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Quilters gear up for annual show

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A4

    Steadfast in their support

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Yolo Hospice offers free grief workshops

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Sign up for Camp Kesem caterpillar crawl

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    League hosts a series of candidate forums

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    KDVS launches fund drive on Monday

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A5

    Calling all Scrabble fans

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Hub webpage is seeing traffic increasing

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A8

    Learn Chinese crafts at I-House

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A16

    Preschool open house set at Davis Waldorf

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

    Birch Lane celebrates its 50th anniversary

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

    Hotel/conference center info meeting set

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

    Lescroart welcomes all to book-launch party

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16 | Gallery

    DEVO set to serve up 14th annual Winkler Dinner

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery



    Take ownership of your health

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    Reliving the agony and ecstasy of spring

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

    Keep your baby safe

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Core values on campus

    By Our View | From Page: A12

    Road diet? No, city diet!

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12, 2 Comments

    We’re reveling in our equality

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Vote no; it’s fiscally responsible

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Bill is an affront to UC Davis ag biotech and local farmers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13

    Don’t want to sit in Fix 50 traffic? Consider alternatives

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13, 1 Comment



    Devils burn up the track

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD softball shut out by Santa Barbara

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggie men shoot 9-under, lead own tourney

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Stars shine in Woody Wilson Classic

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie baseball swept away by Highlanders

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    A’s score 3 in ninth, rally past Astros 4-3

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6







    Yolo Federal Credit Union gets WISH funds

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    PG&E pays taxes, fees to county, cities

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

    Will Davis get an Old Soul?

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9

    Pediatricians, nurse practitioner hired at Woodland Healthcare

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Asian stocks mostly higher after mixed U.S. earnings

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

    University Honda wins another President’s Award

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    Dutch Bros. raises $19,000 for girl with leukemia

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    Davis Roots will showcase its graduating startups

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A14





    Comics: Sunday, April 20, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8