In Hong Kong I had an American craft beer subscription that brought two six packs of miscellaneous American imports, mostly from the west coast or Hawaii, to my door once a month. This saved me from the monotony of cases of Carlsberg or PBR or Tsing Tao at the grocery store, and was less expensive than buying the fancy imported beer at the high end grocers. Many pubs around town had great imported bottles from all over the world, but they were always more expensive. There had been a brewpub, but it stopped brewing before I moved to the country. This was still an improvement over drinking in Turkey which was mostly Efes. All the beer I drank was imported, whether from China, Thailand, England or America.
Then I bought home-brewing supplies for my then boyfriend for Christmas. We began to brew occasional 1 gallon batches. The local brew shop, one of two in HK, delivered both materials and pre-measured recipes for our brewing and drinking pleasure. A whole new world of enjoyment opened up.
It was messy, it was smelly, it took up square footage, but it was great. We shipped our supplies to follow us when we moved to Chicago, rather than buy a new set (which, let’s face it, would have probably been cheaper), and recently found a place to furnish out ingredients. It was not difficult. We go to Brew Camp for our brewing needs now and mix our own blend of wheats.
However, it took us a while to get started in our brewing here. Chiefly because there are so many other ways to get good, fresh beer. Unlike Hong Kong, there are microbreweries and not-so-microbreweries all over the city: Goose Island, Dry Hop, Arcade Brewing, Half Acre, Revolution, to name a few. We have local beer anytime we want it, and an incredibly easily accessible retail market. Binny’s even has beer from Mr Waters’ hometown in England.
American beer culture is so saturated that there is no struggle to find good beer. Some people may stick to their Bud Light, but it is so easy to find good, flavorful ale. Obviously this is not a new trend, great local breweries are everywhere, and they are growing.
So what is the benefit to brewing beer at home?
- It’s fun and your house smells of beer. There is nothing like boiling wheat on your stove for an hour, and getting to know the mechanisms that make your beer taste like beer. As a bonus to the learning the smell is glorious.
- You get to personalize your flavors and carbonation. I love under-carbonated beer and cask ales that you find more often in the UK. Americans in general prefer their beer bubbly. Who knows why. When I’m making it myself, I get to use just a little sugar to carbonate to give it the pressurization but not so much that all you taste is fizz. You also can control the malt, the hoppiness, the added flavors–I personally love adding a hint of grapefruit. Whatever kind of beer you like, you can tailor it to your own tastes, and you may learn why you like it.
- Fresh beer is better.
- Recycling. You use the same bottles over and over, you can reuse the spent grains in homemade breads, and thus everything in your home benefits from the process. You don’t have to go buy more beer, you create less waste, and your food tastes better.
I am enjoying the richness of American beer drinking culture, and the enthusiasm evident in the proliferation of breweries. It is so great to be in a place that really enjoys its beer. This is one aspect of reverse culture shock that was really just quite nice.