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21st Century Beer: From the Kitchens of CABREW

Mar 01, 2016 08:30AM ● Published by Jason Huddle

“He is a wise man who invented beer.” - Plato

And inventing continues with the burgeoning craft beer industry. Craft beer is categorized by its being produced in smaller batches than mass-produced beers. Independent craft brewers make no more than six million barrels per year. Additionally, they utilize original ingredients, flavors and fermentation to create one-of-a-kind combinations.  

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed House Resolution 1337 into law, which legalized home brewing. Individual states then took on the responsibility of clarifying and enforcing their own laws.

According to ncsl.org, in North Carolina, “An individual may make, possess and transport native wines and malt beverages for his own use and for the use of his family and guests. Native wines shall be made principally from honey, grapes or other fruit or grain grown in this state, or from wine kits containing honey, grapes or other fruit or grain concentrates, and shall have only that alcoholic content produced by natural fermentation. Malt beverages may be made by use of malt beverage kits containing grain extracts or concentrates. Wine kits and malt beverage kits may be sold in this state. No ABC permit is required to make beverages pursuant to this section.”

Thus began the wave of would-be brewing professionals developing their own recipes in their kitchens.

“A democratization of beer began in earnest during the late 1970s by homebrewers,” craftbeer.com says. “It was then that better beer began its journey, championed by individuals and not corporate strategies. Homebrewers began learning how to make the beer types they could no longer buy. A few homebrewers started their own small breweries, the first new breweries to open since prohibition began in 1923.”

State governments were urged to legalize brewpubs – establishments that brew their beer on-site and often include a restaurant. Washington, California and Oregon are credited for being the pioneers in this endeavor, which prompted the craft beer craze.

One reason for the movement was the dissatisfaction with the macrobreweries – the big manufacturers that may not have shared the same enthusiasm for further experimentation. But beer lovers yearned for something besides the low-calorie light lager.

“By the end of the decade (1970s), the beer industry had consolidated to only 44 brewing companies,” brewersassociation.org says. “Industry experts predicted that soon there would only be five brewing companies in the United States.”

What began as a hobby took on a life of its own and microbrewers of the 1980s introduced their concoctions within their own communities. This evolved into what is now termed the craft brewing industry; however, real recognition didn’t take place until the early- to mid-1990s. That recognition came in the form of hard numbers.

By 1995, the volume of craft brewers had increased by 58 percent. Numbers waivered through the decade, but “2004 saw an acceleration of craft brewer sales with annual growth percentages for the craft segment of between six and 12 percent each year from 2004 through 2008, as beer drinkers increasingly connected with small and independent breweries and local breweries,” according to brewersassociation.org.

While figures for 2015 haven’t been released yet, 2014 saw $55.7 million pumped into the U.S. economy by the craft brewing industry’s breweries, wholesalers and retailers. This translates into 424,000-plus jobs, more than 115,000 of which were tied directly to breweries and brewpubs.

Large brewers – like Anheuser-Busch – have taken notice of the craft trend; they’re buying craft breweries. Seattle-based Elysian Brewing and Oregon-based 10 barrel are examples. Others, like Southern Tier and SweetWater, are looking at initial public offerings (IPOs) and private investors.

While not everyone strives for national recognition and distribution, the more serious craft brewers – or those wanting to become educated on the topic – can attend this year’s Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America. Taking place from May 3-6 in Philadelphia, activities include a trade show, wholesalers symposiums, brewery tours and seminars. Visit  www.craftbrewersconference.com for more information.

There are currently about 1,829 small and independent craft brewers in the U.S. Experts agree that more are likely to experience success in an “underserved market.” It’s the “build it (or brew it) and they will come” mentality that sees local economies and tourism benefit, and the beer lover finding something original and of high quality. Numbers talk.

 

At a Local Level

Ford Craven is probably best known in Cabarrus County for his role in his family’s real estate business as well as his altruistic endeavors in the community. Off the clock, however, he can be found experimenting with home brew.

In 2009, Craven and his good friend, Chip Clark, each received a homebrew starter kit for Christmas. Admittedly, they had little brewing knowledge to go on, so they started attending meetings at Charlotte’s homebrew club, Carolina Brewmasters.

Craven has been homebrewing ever since and says that an individual can get started making beer for less than $200. It’s a matter of starting out small and seeing if you like the art of brewing or not. If so, you can move forward and buy more equipment.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a local homebrew shop that calls Cabarrus County home but there are some great shops not too far away, like House of Brews and Seven Jars (Charlotte), and Alternative Beverage (Mooresville and Belmont). All of these locations have a wide assortment of ingredients and staff to help you out with your brewing questions,” Craven says. “If you are looking for pre-made kits, then Alternative Beverage probably has the largest selection in stock.”

After a few months of attending Carolina Brewmasters, Craven and Clark wondered if there were people in Cabarrus County that could share their knowledge of homebrewing with them. “Our motivation was finding other area homebrewers that we could learn from without having to go to Charlotte,” Craven says. 

Realizing the untapped numbers of local, like-minded beer lovers, he and Clark founded the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society (CABREW). Its website describes it as, “A social group to collaborate with local homebrewers, learn new brewing techniques and promote craft beer literacy.”

The group meets monthly – every second Thursday – from 7:00 to 9:00pm upstairs at 21 Union Street S., next door to Lil’ Robert’s Place. “Our club only has one goal, and that is making our members better brewers. This year we want to do this by ramping up our participation in homebrew competitions, locally and regionally, where our members can receive valuable and constructive feedback on their beers. We also want to have more structured educational topics for our monthly meetings,” Craven says.

“A lot of CABREWers are the DIY types, so you can learn some cool tricks from them that will help you avoid costly upgrades. CABREW hosts monthly brew sessions at various member’s homes where you can see, firsthand, various homebrew set-ups and different kinds of equipment and gadgets,” he adds.

As part of its efforts, the Homebrewers Society has gotten involved with the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm. Located off Atando Road in Concord, these 30-plus acres came by way of a partnership between Cabarrus County and the NC Cooperative Extension-Cabarrus Center. The certified-organic operation allows individuals to become educated in farming and initiate their own farm-based business.

What the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society has done is planted its own hops – a main ingredient in beer – at the Lomax Incubator Farm. “In 2015, we added two additional hop poles and hope to do the same every year going forward,” Craven explains.

Each perennial hop plant yields about one-half to two pounds of dried flowers annually, and vines can reach 25 feet in height. Additionally, the Society partnered with Lenny Boy Brewing in January 2015. This all-organic brewery in Charlotte helped Cabarrus Homebrewers Society produce a beer called the CABREW Common. 

“We had a release party at the brewery with the aim to bring awareness to Elma C. Lomax and all the great things they do for our community,” Craven shares. “We also collaborated with D9 Brewing in Cornelius this past Thanksgiving to produce a beer called Wish List in which a portion of the taproom sales benefitted the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We continue to plan local events, such as hosting a homebrewing demonstration in front of Lil’ Robert’s Place this May for Downtown Concord’s Spring Into Arts Festival.”

Craven calls the increasing popularity of craft beer “a revelation that has turned into a revolution. Once you are introduced to a craft beer, you have a personal revelation. You start looking around and realizing that beer isn’t just beer anymore. Then you realize you can make just about any beer that you want. It satisfies an inner desire for sustainability and creates an outlet for creativity. And it works on many levels. It’s just as much a social hobby as it is a practice in meditation. It’s also an art that can be shared with all your friends once it’s completed because after you put in all your hard work, you have a keg of beer as a reward!

While Craven enjoys experimenting with fruits and vegetables in his homebrews, he knows taste is personal but the effort is grassroots, saying, “I always say that the best thing about homebrewing is the community that surrounds it. Every homebrewer wants every other homebrewer to brew the best beer possible. This creates an accepting community that nurtures positivity and rewards accomplishment. It may just be something in the homebrew, but everyone involved always seem to be in such good spirits!”

Article Written By: Kim Cassell

Photos By: Michael A. Anderson Photography

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