Dann and I did a small tasting event at How Do You Brew in Newark last week, and to prepare, I dug into our cellar and pulled out a couple sour beers that we made back in 2017. They were still in their carboys, yeast and all. I tasted two (of the 8) and picked the more interesting of the pair and kegged it a few days prior so that it was properly carbonated.
As I was waiting for beer to transfer from carboy to keg (auto-siphon = slow), I was thinking back on all the brew days that went into making the beer we had in storage. There were a lot of great times hanging out in the garage, sharing epic beers, shooting the breeze with Dann, and keeping the dog away from the spent grain. Brewing beer at home is quite an amazing little hobby. And it’s quite an American hobby too.
The founding fathers really wanted America to produce badass wines like France and Spain. But this was not the fate of the New World. Jefferson and Washington both had grand plans for their vineyards, but this little guy continually thwarted all attempts at planting European grapes (and native American grapes make absolutely terrible wine). Phylloxera nymphs basically feed on the roots of grape vines eventually killing it. So even though the mid-Atlantic climate is decent for growing grapes, it just wasn’t an option.
And I’d like to think this is how America got off to such a good start. We were destined to be a beer producing country. And that’s about American as you can get.
Making wine is hard. And it’s expensive. First you need a nice large plot of land that’s well drained, gets a lot of sunlight, and preferably has “loamy” soil. Then you plant vines and tend to them for 3 years or so while they mature enough to produce grapes. While you are waiting, you purchase all your wine making tools and equipment - pickers, sorters, stainless vessels, barrels, etc. #costly
Then you need to find a badass winemaker (which could be you if fortunate enough to have grown up on said wine estate and had years of free training in the art), and these folks are rare because of the above point of wine making being expensive. It’s not something you get into easily like riding a bike or rooting for the Eagles, thus, there is a small pool of quality wine makers in the world (relative to say accountants or mechanics).
And then your wine is subject to the variability of the raw materials - the grapes! And there’s a lot of variability in grapes. In fact, this variability is so high from field to field that wine producers have coined a fancy term for this - terrior (pronouced terr a wah….French of course) and made it a selling point! Clever bastards!
And this is where a quality winemaker makes his or her bones - turning relatively poor grapes, with non-ideal terrior, into a decent wine is hard. Deep knowledge and experience is required to do this consistently. And that’s all I can say about it because I don’t know how they do it (but if you’ve had a great dry wine made with grapes from DE or PA, I assure you that there was an amazing winemaker behind it).
Wine = hard. Man and Nature are working against you succeeding in this endeavor.
Enter beer making. The largest raw material component, grain, is cheap, and relatively homogeneous (low variability) because it’s grown over massive areas of the US and Canada and sold in bulk. And unlike grapes, grain can be stored for years. Hops are fairly easy to grow as well (I have eight hop vines thriving in my backyard...coming to an Autumn Arch beer in August!).
The stainless equipment is still pricey, but the overall cost to start producing beer on a large scale is a fraction of producing wine. And it’s quite cheap to do at home, especially considering the high quality results an enthusiast novice brewer can achieve (I am not counting the time investment since its a hobby, and thus should not be monetized when trying to make a point about beer making).
We live in an egalitarian county, and I would hypothesize that beer is the egalitarian beverage. So put down that wine glass, find a buddy to share the experience, pick up the supplies at your local homebrew shop, and create your own American beer!