Home brewing is not a new concept. In fact, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid home brewers in their heyday. But recently, the popularity of this hopping hobby has skyrocketed as people aspire to quench their thirst with their own creations.
Beer. Some call it the nectar of the gods; others view it as just another refreshing drink option perfect for any occasion. Nevertheless, whether you are a “lager lover” or an “ale addict,” beer is considered one of the oldest beverages known to mankind and has been enjoyed by Americans since the Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock.
But in recent years, a new beer trend has been on the rise. Beer aficionados are taking their passion to the next level by delving into the increasingly popular world of home brewing. No folks, this isn’t the bathtub brew of prohibition days; it has become an art, an art two Lake County men treat as a constant labor of love and never-ending quest to craft the perfect beer.
For 15 years, Leesburg mayor David Knowles (left) has been an avid home brewer. It began with his wife buying him a beer brewing kit for Christmas one year. “I thought it would be fun,” Knowles says. “Plus, this beer doesn’t have any additives or preservatives so it’s real beer.”
A fan of robust, flavorful stout beers, Knowles says he typically brews a light stout and a dark stout that he describes as similar to Guinness, but thicker. “I also make a variety of light beers to try out, but I like my stout. My stout is actually quite good.”
On the other hand, fellow longtime local brewer Dr. Richard Held (right) is more experimental with his beers. “I’ve made beers with chocolate, chili peppers, limes, and oatmeal. I’m always trying new things,” he says. “I’ve also tried to replicate commercial brands, but I still enjoy doing my own recipes.”
Dr. Held began brewing in 1999 when he lived in Long Island, New York — a place he says seriously lacked good, quality beer. After two failed batches, he called on a friend and found a good beer-brewing store that helped make his third batch a success. “And from then on I was hooked,” he says.
When it comes to keeping a constant supply of homemade beer, Knowles brews five-gallon batches about two to four times a year at his Leesburg home. He then stores the finished product inside stainless steel Pepsi or Coke containers. “The hardest thing is deciding how you will contain your beer,” he says.
Dr. Held, who started out storing his beer in bottles, decided to build his own dispensing kegerator when he moved to Florida, though he still uses bottles for special occasions. He then later had a commercial-grade draft dispenser installed in his home, which is great for entertaining friends and family.
But before both men can enjoy their handiwork, they have to brew it first. Knowles says a typical brew can take about two to three hours. Then after cooling the wort (the mixture of malt, hops, and water), adding yeast for fermentation, and bottling it, Dr. Held says brewers should wait six to 12 weeks before drinking.
For those thinking of taking up home brewing as a hobby, Knowles says people should know it is an inexpensive one. “The good kits will come with instructions and cost between $20 and $40,” he says. “Then to get all the things you need like a big pot, bottles, and other apparatuses, you could easily get everything for under $100.”
It’s also a very rewarding hobby, Dr. Held adds. “Like cooking or baking, you are making something special from raw materials,” he says. “Then with a little bit of patience, you are able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and share it with others.”
Written by Shemir Wiles Photos by Fred Lopez