Craft brewing has been exceedingly popular in recent years. It seems like there is a new specialty brew or brewer every time you turn around. You may have noticed a proliferation of kits for home brewing as well. Is it really possible to make beer at home? Is it legal? The answer is "yes" and "in Illinois, yes".
I learned about home brewing in of all places, as an undergraduate student taking a microbiology lab course at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. Brewing beer was one exercise in our syllabus called "Applied Microbiology Lab" that also included making sauerkraut and pickles. People usually chuckle a bit when I say I learned how to brew beer in college, especially at a Catholic college, but it captured our attention like no other lab exercise did.
I have fond memories of my class working together to tend the boiling pot of wort, which is the mixture of grains and hops that is later transformed into beer by yeast fermenting the sugars into alcohol. After the wort had fermented into (flat) beer and was ready for bottling, I remember my organic chemistry professor excitedly taking samples to analyze in his lab to determine the alcohol content. Suddenly the techniques we learned in organic chemistry had real life application too! It was one college semester where science was much more than just facts, reactions and procedures to memorize.
At the end of the semester, those of us over 21 were able to taste the beer we made-- it was good! I ended up diving into the world of home brewing after my experience in microbiology class, and purchased my own basic starter kit of equipment from what was then one of the only brewing supply stores in the area. (Remember this was in the dark ages before we had the internet and online shopping).
I started brewing with kits assembled from that local brew supply shop and was content to keep doing that. The results were consistently good, and it was affordable to me as a poor college student. I brought my brewing equipment with me to graduate school at the U of I in Champaign, and had many a fun night making and drinking home brew!
Flash forward to meeting my husband Chris-- he had never done home brewing before he met me, and thankfully he loved the process as much as I did-- maybe even more, considering how he loves to experiment with recipes and styles of beer. When we started planning our first Home Brewing class here at the Extension office last year, it was natural for me to include Chris. The class was so popular we are offering it again this year.
The two part, hands-on class meets on Saturday, January 23, 2016 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and Saturday, February 6, 2016 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. There is also an optional tour of a local commercial brewer on February 6th after the class concludes. For details and to register look here. Sign up now while space is still available!