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Something Is Brewing

Beer is bubbling in these homes

It all started when I tasted real English ale at the Lamb & Flag pub in Covent Garden and thought it was the nectar of the gods. Then I bought a hand-pump from a pub that was going out of business. But what to pump—fizzy American beer in kegs? Given my name, not for me.

Then my son Jordan and his friend Chris Ahlberg presented me with beer they had made in their basement. It was fabulously tasty and fresh. So I trundled up to Maltose Express Home Brew & Wine Supplies, in Monroe, one of several such sites in Connecticut and online. What I found was Tess and Mark Szamatulski’s shop, stocked with everything for home brewing. The couple, who’ve written books on the subject, also clone famous beers—more than 200 recipes, like Windhoek Special, from Namibia; Harp Irish lager; and the one I was after, Old Speckled Hen, made by Morland in Bury St. Edmunds, England.

Home brewing has been astir since winemaking was made legal after Prohibition. Beer was added to the list of allowable home brews in 1978; in Connecticut, a couple can brew up to 100 gallons for their private use.

For the Szamatulskis, a hobby that started in their basement is now a business with 2,000 customers worldwide and a 7,000-square-foot Mecca of all things brewable. For around $100, you get all the equipment necessary to brew your own beer—bottle caps included. For another $40 or so, Bud Hansell will clone your favorite recipe—measured proportions for stewing a five-gallon keg or two and a half cases of bottles.

Wilton resident Jonathon Foltz, who has been brewing his own beer for about 15 years, started with a kit given to him for Christmas. “I’d been making my own bread, which involves yeast, grains, and formulas, so beer seemed like the next logical step,” he says. Now he buys malt-extracts, powder, and syrups and adds whole grains for flavor, cooking the liquid on his stovetop. “It can make the house smell sickly-sweet before the beer ferments,” he says, “but I enjoy doing it.” He tends to brew porters and stouts, giving away the best batches as gifts. His wife designed the label for his finished product, which he calls Three Streams Brewery, for the three streams running in his backyard.

Geoff Kooris also enjoys using the kits. “When I first tried this a few years ago, you couldn’t find anything like the quality ingredients they have now. The kits make it extremely easy.”

Working with a kit is straightforward. Basically, you boil water in a very large pot, add the pre-measured ingredients, stir, and let boil for an hour. Add hops for flavor, more water, pour into a large pail, cool it, and add a little chimney thing that keeps bad bacteria out and allows fermenting gases to escape. Store for a week, then carefully pump the contents into a clear glass container called a carboy, cover for two weeks, then bottle it. The result is good beer you made yourself.

Then there are brewers like Jim Scalzi of Fairfield, who obtains his own grain and grows his own hops. “When I started, there were no microbreweries, and doing it yourself was a really cheap way to get good beer,” he says.

Complete head cases can be found through Underground Brewers of Connecticut. Tom Fenton, a member of Yahoos (Yankee Association of Homebrewers Objecting to Organized Society), joins fellow hopheads to swap beers and pick up tips. “Some of these guys can make beer that is just so good, I can’t come close,” Fenton admits.

Most home brewers tell the same tale. The moment they announce to a friend that they’ve made their own beer, the friend balks, prepared for his Uncle Emerson’s dandelion wine. A tentative sip, and then a mouthful. “Hey, this is really good,” the friend declares.

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