BREW. DRINK. REPEAT.

Redstick Brewmasters keep brewing their own beer ‘til they get it right

Perfecting his first home-brewed beer recipe meant Ed Spiess had to endure several bad batches.

“We produced some that were drinkable,” says 72-year-old Spiess, “and some that we used to kill the grass under the fence.”

Less of his beer went under the fence once he joined the Redstick Brewmasters, a club of homebrewers who meet monthly to talk, drink and critique each other’s brews.

“Just the great knowledge base we have as a group, we just help each other out,” says Keith Primeaux, 44, the group’s president. “Everybody’s always trying to perfect their beers.”

One of three homebrewing clubs in Baton Rouge and one of 1,600 in the U.S., the Brewmasters began in 1987, about a decade after at-home brewing became legal.

As craft and specialty beers became more popular in bars and on supermarket shelves in recent years, homebrewing has exploded in popularity, with more than 1.5 million Americans now brewing their own beer, says Gary Glass, the director of the American Homebrewers Association. Homebrewing supply stores have seen revenue grow by almost a third the past two years, he says.

“Homebrewing is a means of artistic expression, and it is something that it is easily shared with friends,” Glass says. “That is something that makes it particularly appealing.”

Some brew at home to save money. Five gallons of homebrew costs around $40, Glass says.

The same amount of a premium beer would run about $60. But most home brewers enjoy customizing their own beers and learning the intricacies of their favorite beverage.

Charlie Milan started homebrewing a few years before a federal law passed in 1978 to repeal a Prohibition-era ban. Fewer options existed for beer aficionados then, Milan says. Mass-produced American lagers, such as Budweiser, dominated the market.

So Milan, 66, started making more exotic beers. “It might not have been great, but it was different,” says Milan, who has since become an award-winning brewer and beer judge.

When the club started, there were no easily accessible recipes on the Internet, and only a handful of books in print about the craft, says Tom Daigrepont, 54, a longtime homebrewer and now the brewmaster at Baton Rouge’s Tin Roof Brewing Co.

“Back then, we had the club,” he says. “That was where we learned.”

At meetings and in brewing sessions, Daigrepont learned the skills that led to his current career.

“It helps everything,” he says. “You get to bounce things off other members.”

Redstick Brewmasters brew every style of beer imaginable, and many prefer a strong injection of hops, a flower used for a bitter, tangy flavoring.

“Some of these guys, they’ll pop your eyes out,” says Spiess, who enjoys smoother, less hoppy beers.

For each meeting the club chooses a style of beer to highlight. They discuss that beer’s attributes — the aroma, color and lingering notes — and sample commercially produced beers. A few members will brew their own versions, too.

At the September meeting, three took the challenge of brewing a German pilsner, a difficult-to-produce style marked by a light color, slight sulphur aroma and strong flavor of hops.

Bruce Cornell’s creation earned raves from the club. While the members sampled his brew in 5-ounce pony glasses or small disposable plastic cups, Cornell read from the recipe he concocted, noting which grains he used, what kinds of hops and how he treated the water.

“Good job, Bruce!” one drinker shouted.

“I like the process,” says Cornell, 66, who has been brewing for 20 years. “And I like the result.”

It’s the successes that keep the homebrewers going, says Jason Lawler, 35. “After you brew your first really good beer,” he says, “you’re hooked.”