Something’s brewing

MARSHALL – The parking lot just outside the front doors of the Brau Brothers brewery in Marshall was a lot more crowded than usual for a Saturday morning. People sat on folding chairs or gathered around boiling 5-gallon kettles, stirring in hops or wort – a syrupy ingredient of beer – with wooden paddles. Nearby, coils of copper and plastic tubing, coolers and other equipment were spread out on tables. The whole setup had the air of a do-it-yourself chemistry lab, and in one sense, that’s exactly what it was.

One of the best things about home-brewed beer, Tom Reynolds said, is the ability to make your own custom flavors. “I want to make the kind of beer that I want to drink,” he said.

The only “catch” is that sometimes you have to drink your mistakes.

The gathering Saturday was a meet-up of the Southwest Minnesota Academic Society of Homebrewers (SMASH), a fairly new area club for people interested in brewing their own craft beer. Club members celebrated National Homebrew Day by demonstrating the brewing process and answering questions from the public.

Area resident Martin Boucek said he and Alex Ourada formed SMASH to help bring together area homebrewers, and share what they’ve learned about making beer. The group meets every other Tuesday evening.

“We have 26 active members,” Boucek said.

Having the chance to come together and meet other homebrewers is one of the best things about the club, said SMASH member Tim Dale. Dale said he’s been brewing since the late 1980s, “But up until probably about two years ago, I thought I was one of the only homebrewers in the area.”

People from Tyler all the way to Worthington showed up for the brew day on Saturday.

The basic process of brewing beer, as described by SMASH members, goes like this: First, grain is mashed together with hot water to turn the grain’s starch into sugar. The sugar, in the form of wort, acts as fuel for fermentation, Reynolds said. The wort is cooked in a kettle with more hot water, and flavoring ingredients like hops are added in. Then the mixture is cooled, brewer’s yeast is added, and it’s left to ferment into beer.

“Then, a couple weeks later the magic will happen,” Stefan Brekke said.

Some of the SMASH members brewing on Saturday said they got into homebrewing after trying out beer-making kits they had received as gifts. Scott and Carol Myhre said they’ve been making homebrew for about a year now.

“My kids got me a Mr. Beer kit,” Scott Myhre said, and things just grew from there. “I do like the craft beer taste,” he said, and there are all kinds of homebrewing supplies and ingredients that can be ordered online.

You didn’t have to be a brewer to take part in the brew day, however. Some of the people at the gathering simply enjoyed craft beer. And although Steve Linstrom doesn’t brew beer, he has gotten into growing one of the key ingredients. Linstrom said he’s raising hop vines, on a framework made of old telephone poles that were taken out of commission by storms in July 2011.

“I have about 200 plants out by Lake Marshall,” Linstrom said. He joked that it was way too much for a hobby, but not quite enough for a business. Still, he hoped to sell some of his crop to area brewers.

SMASH members and members of the Brau Brothers Brewing Company voiced some mutual appreciation for each other Saturday.

“I think we’re really fortunate that Brau Brothers is so supportive,” Linstrom said of the event’s hosts. Encouraging home brewing, he said, “helps the whole craft beer industry.”

“In a way, (homebrewing) is the farm system for the industry,” said Dustin Brau of Brau Brothers. Brau said he was glad to have groups like SMASH around, because it helps spread new brewing ideas and build up a craft beer culture in the area.

Boucek encouraged prospective club members to check SMASH out on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/smashmarshallmn.