Mark Alston, owner and chef of The Bayou (see Dining, p. 36), is also the longtime owner of The Beer Nut homebrew supply store in Salt Lake City. I spoke to Mark about brewing beer at home.
City Weekly: It seems like almost everyone I talk to has tried brewing beer at home.
Mark Alston: More and more people give homebrewing a go every year. It continues to be a very popular hobby. Of course, being in Utah there is more motivation to brew than there is in many other places in the United States.
CW: What’s the legal status of homebrewing in Utah? It’s hard to believe anything that enjoyable could possibly be legal here.
MA: Utah law makes no mention of homebrewing, though it does state that all manufacturers of alcohol are supposed to have a license to do so. The federal law states that you can make 100 gallons per adult in a household up to a maximum 200 gallons per year.
CW: Advertisements for homebrewing kits always mention the cost benefits of homebrewing. But by the time you buy all that fancy equipment, wouldn’t it just be cheaper to go buy a case of Bud at Albertson’s?
MA: Homebrewing is most certainly cheaper than buying beer, especially if you tend to buy the better microbrews. It’s way cheaper than buying beer at the liquor store at $2 to $3 per bottle. Yet I find that most people who brew do it for the pure love of homebrewing. Brewing your own beer to your own tastes has a joy that buying a six-pack off the shelf will never have.
CW: Brewers at places like Squatters, Uinta, Red Rock and Desert Edge spend years learning about beer making and they are continually tweaking and refining recipes. Is it possible for a rookie homebrewer to make something worth drinking, right out of the chute?
MA: Absolutely! In fact, I find that most homebrewers’ first batches are better than many microbreweries. As long as you make sure that you are brewing with top quality ingredients and good equipment and using good sanitation you will always make great beer.
CW: Most of the commercial beers made in Utah measure 3.2 percent alcohol or less. Do homebrewers have to brew their beers at that level?
MA: One of the joys of homebrewing is that you can brew the beer however you want!
CW: What kind of time commitment is involved in making beer at home?
MA: The actual brewing process will usually take two to three hours, depending on the kind of beer you are brewing. After brewing the beer you have to wait about a week until you can bottle it and another week after that until you can drink it.
CW: My guess is that almost every homebrewer starts with a good set of instructions or a recipe book. Are there any books you’d recommend to the beginner homebrewer?
MA: The one classic brewing text that every brewer MUST own is The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian. It’s considered the “homebrewers bible.”
CW: My own experience with homebrewing pretty much ruined my taste for beers like Miller and Budweiser. Does homebrewing turn people into beer snobs?
MA: I prefer to think of us as “tastebud enhanced” beer drinkers. Snobbery is too bad a rap to put on those among us who have been able to see past all the beer marketing and now drink what actually tastes good.