Chico's craft beer scene dominated by the do-it-yourselfers

When it comes to choosing an alcoholic beverage of choice, I've always been partial to beer (though there were a few years there when I drank wine almost exclusively). Having grown up in St. Louis, my go-to at the bar is usually Bud Light, especially if I don't want to get too tipsy. I realize it's no connoisseur's brand, but it's super drinkable and it sort of tastes like home.

That said, I have gone through my craft-beer phases, tasting my fair share of IPAs (my personal fave), porters (not so much) and Belgian wheats. During my short stint living in Boulder County, Colo., I was astounded by the number of craft breweries there were nearby (enough to visit a different one every week for six months!). That included heavy hitters like New Belgium and Oskar Blues, but also a whole lot of no-names (at least around here) with some seriously individual flavors.

How has Chico not cultivated a more robust craft-beer scene? Look at the beer bars—there are plenty with tons of taps and bottles of various brews. It's strange, I tell you.

Maybe the local craft-beer scene is dominated by do-it-yourselfers. We certainly do have a large number of locals who enjoy creating their own beers. That's evidenced by the 60-strong member Chico Home Brew Club, of which Alex Lucero is president. “I always liked to cook, and I really like good beer. It was a natural progression for me,” Lucero told me of his intro to brewing. “I had a lot of weird ideas for beers, and when I couldn't find one, it left me with no other option than to try to make one of my own.”

That's the sign of a true innovator, and probably what gets a lot of people into the beermaking business to begin with. For Lucero and his fellow club members, though, brewing is more of a personal passion than it is a business venture. (But, who knows? Maybe a year from now we'll see Lucero's rootbeer porter or lime IPA on local store shelves.) They regularly get together and try each other's latest beers, discuss methods and ingredients and share successes and failures.

From what Lucero says, it's relatively inexpensive to begin brewing your own beer, too. His first kit, plus ingredients, set him back about $150 and it was “totally worth it.” And then you build from there. His advice to those looking to start out:

“Just do it. Read a lot and learn as much as you can about it. There are several little tricks you can learn from experience, but you can also avoid mishaps by doing your research first. And once you get into it, get into kegging as quickly as possible. Bottling sucks.”

Find the Chico Home Brew Club on Facebook or log onto chicohomebrewclub.com.