Home brew revolution

Making beers and ciders at home is a growing trend in Chico

People who know me know I’m a beer-lover. If you see me at the bars, however, you likely consider my taste buds questionable. I do, after all, usually find myself enjoying a cold pint of Bud Light. But just because I go to my old standby (I’m from St. Louis, Budweiser country, so back off!) to avoid getting toasted before 10 p.m. doesn’t mean I can’t throw back a flavorful IPA or Belgian wheat with the best of ’em. And some of the best craft beers I’ve tasted have come out of home kitchens.

In preparation for Chico Beer Week, I decided to head over to the Chico Home Brew Shop (at 1570 Nord Ave.) to find out what’s happening in the world of home brewing. Turns out, there’s quite a lot.

“People are using a lot more creativity than in the past,” owner Dawn Letner told me as she showed me around the shop, which is filled with everything a home brewer would need, from large metal pots and growlers to cider-making kits to coconut extract. “It’s been fun for me, too. I’ve started carrying ingredients I never needed to have before—it keeps me on my toes.”

Letner credits the greater craft-beer boom with the surge in creativity among home beer-makers. People often find a new beer they like at the store or bar, then come out to see her to find the ingredients to try to replicate the recipe. She also looks to all the popular cooking shows and the focus on exploring the world of food as part of the push toward more interesting beers.

“Making beer is similar to cooking,” Letner said. “I see a lot of people creating new recipes based on old standards.”

All this is great news for Letner and the Chico Home Brew Shop. She has expanded her inventory and regularly sees new, young faces walking through her doors. As someone who has never made beer, my first two questions for Letner were: How much does it cost to get started? And, how difficult is the process? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that neither should get in the way of an aspiring home brewer.

“You don’t have to stick your neck out too far,” she said.

The shop sells starter kits for beginners to ensure they have all the tools they need to brew that first batch. The most basic goes for about $70. Then there are the ingredient kits—you can choose between beer styles, make a clone brew or branch out even further to a cider—that start at $35. Not bad when they yield up to 6 gallons of liquid yumminess (or so you hope!).

My trip was almost enough for me to give in and start my own home brewing operation. I’ve tried some creations made by friends that were not only drinkable, but actually really good. The ciders—pear-flavored, apple or even berry—are intriguing, especially considering the instructions include just four steps. So, who wants to go in on the starter kit with me?