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Home brew: Art of making wine and beer on the rise in Utah kitchens

December 13th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Rouchelle Brockman

LOGAN — Chris McGinty stumbled into homebrewing apple cider completely by accident. About three years ago, McGinty left a jug of apple cider in his Logan garage and forgot about it for over a month. The next time he saw it, “it looked like this milk jug was going to explode.” He then took the bloated container inside and after slowly releasing the pent-up carbon dioxide, poured himself a glass.

“It was delicious,” he said. “This hard cider wasn’t hard to make.”

This seemingly innocuous activity, however, would have been illegal under Utah law just three years ago. In 2009, the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 51, a law that allows adults over the age of 21 to brew a limited amount of wine and beer in their homes for personal or competitive use without a license. This hobby is becoming progressively more popular in the state, according to Dave Watson, assistant manager at the Beer Nut–a Salt Lake City store that specializes in homebrewing equipment and supplies.

The Beer Nut has organized the Beehive Brew-Off, Utah’s largest homebrew competition, since 2009. Watson said the 2011 competition, which was held in August, was the largest year yet with 482 entries. He said the number of entries has increased by about 20 percent every year.

Homebrewing in Utah did not begin in 2009 however. Watson said that before 2009, home brewing was legal if a brewer had a license, which was–as an individual brewer–very difficult to obtain. This licensing requirement did not, however, hinder some home brewing enthusiasts from pursuing their passion.

“Before legalization ZZ Hops was a clandestine club,” said Mike Hahn, a member of Utah home brewing club ZZ Hops. “(It was) difficult to get information. Since legalization we can put our information at the American Homebrewers Association.”

The American Homebrewers Association is, according their website, “a division of the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to promoting and protecting amateur and professional craft brewers.” Both associations are based in Utah’s neighbor, Colorado.

The association estimates there are currently one million Americans that privately brew beer or wine at least once a year. According to Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association, official AHA membership in Utah has increased from 171 in 2009 to 271 in 2011. National membership has increased from 15,497 in 2009 to 28,176 in 2011.

With the passage of House Bill 51, Utah became one of 48 states that allow homebrewing of wine and beer without a license. The only states that do not currently allow such activities are Alabama and Mississippi. Homebrewing was first federally legalized in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that exempted homemade beer and wine for personal or family use from taxation. According to the American Homebrewing Association website, while homebrewing was federally legalized in 1978, the 21st Amendment essentially leaves liquor control laws to the states.

Restrictive legislation did not slow down homebrewing in Utah before 2009 and the current economy does not hamper brewers’ appetites for their favorite beverages either, Watson said. Homebrewing can be an expensive hobby to start up with brewing systems costing between $80-$300. This initial expense has not deterred determined brewers though.

“(The Beer Nut) is actually doing pretty well despite the economy,” Watson said. “There are some things people don’t give up on, beer is one of them.”

He went on to say many people are not going out to eat or drink as often because of the economy. In turn, more people are turning to homebrewing, he said.

McGinty said that taxes on alcohol are so high in Utah that homebrewing prices are “just pennies on the dollar compared to the liquor store.”

Watson said most of the customers at the Beer Nut are–like McGinty–men in their late 20s and early 30s, but that there are also a substantial number of women who also frequent the store. Of the 40 officials listed on the American Homebrewers Association’s contact page, 18 are women. Dirk Howard, web master for the Cache Brewing Society, said that while all the actual members of his organization are men, their female family members also regularly participate in brewing events. McGinty said homebrewing is popular hobby for couples.

“It was pretty entertaining to go up the canyon with my wife to pick berries for wine,” McGinty said.

Howard said he sees homebrewing becoming more popular among all demographics as the local food movement continues to grow.

“People are becoming more aware of what they are eating and want a hand in it,” Howard said, “with homebrewing you can see how it’s made and what goes into it. It’s like an artisan bread: you can either pick up a cheap loaf of Wonder bread at the supermarket, or you can get a quality good at Crumb Brothers.”

“(Homebrewing) in Utah will expand,” McGinty said, “I can’t say it will grow wildly but it will grow slowly and steadily.” McGinty himself has helped aid this expansion by introducing four of his friends to homebrewing.


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