Craft beer lovers take on home brewing in Long Beach

BY: AUDREY LABENZ

If you enjoy an ice-cold pint, chances are you’ve delved at least a little bit into the craft beer world - a flourishing industry that has taken root in Southern California. Long Beach has embraced the passion for this ancient art. Beer is generally made up of four ingredients: water, yeast, malt and hops. During fermentation, yeast eats the sugar and the source of sugar is malted barley. This process produces carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. Hops lend bitterness and often carry a bright and citrusy finish (think of the India Pale Ales [IPAs] that abound during the summer). Other ingredients may include chocolate, fruit, coffee and honey. For many true beer lovers, home brewing is the next logical step into craft brew culture.

Those who are at least 21 years old and are serious about starting a home brew system should talk to the experts at Stein Fillers. The shop, located at 4160 Norse Way, Long Beach, offers demonstrations, classes and a vast stock of equipment and ingredients. Here, the Long Beach Home Brewers Association (LBHB) holds their monthly meetings, where more than 80 members share recipes and conduct tastings.

“When beer was first brewed, there were no rules,” club member Greg Jackson said. “You’ve just got to try different things and see what happens.”

In fact, beer has been around for more than 9,000 years.

“When somebody fell asleep and the barn burnt down, you’d have toasted grains, and people decided they liked that,” said home brewer Tom Parker, who is active in the club and has worked at Stein Fillers for about two years.

Member experience ranges from novice to veteran. Many bring in their own batches and the group samples each batch in 1-ounce doses. Advice is sought and recipes are traded in a relaxed, supportive environment. The club also hosts parties and travels with a 20-tap trailer made to participate in events like the Southern California Homebrew Festival in Lake Casitas every spring.

Cal State Long Beach music instructor, Steve Trapani, won the September 2012 contest for the Best Light Hybrid Beer with his Kolsch, which he brewed at the Orange County Fair. Trapani has been brewing seriously since 2008 in his own 15-gallon setup at home.

“A lot of times you just want to see it done first,” Trapani said.

The beer lover teaches trombone on campus and has been instructing basic home brew classes at Stein Fillers for about two years. Trapani and his wife began brewing together before he started instructing brew classes.

“I brew for a lot of friends and family,” Trapani said. “When I first started, I was making a lot more than I could drink, but now that people know I brew, it usually doesn’t last long.”

Each meeting has a “style of the month” such as Saison, Porter or IPA and members submit their

own craft beer for judgment. Then, a blind taste test is conducted and other group members rank the beers for a winner.

LBHB members bring a wide range of styles to share with each other, from classic Schwartzbiers to pungent pale ales made for a true hop hound. There are also some one-off brews, like Russian Imperial Stout infused with beneficial herbs. These herbs include toasted dandelion, a liver detoxifier that is highly warranted as the brew pushes 10 percent alcohol by volume, and a PB&J ale made with boysenberry jam and dehydrated peanut butter.

Chris Walowski, biochemistry masters student at CSULB and head brewer at Ohana Brewing Company in Los Angeles, loves to make his own beer.

“I currently brew on a 5-gallon system from home,” Walowski said.

At work, he manages a 216-gallon setup. He also teaches classes and sometimes does demonstrations for Stein Fillers.

LBHB members often can be seen sipping on craft brews at Beachwood BBQ on 3rd Street in downtown Long Beach, where many of the beers are brewed on site. Here beer drinkers can sit at the bar and look through a glass wall at the system of 12-foot-tall tanks, gauges and tubes that eventually bring the beer right to a cold glass. On Beachwood BBQ’s website, the HopCam provides a live feed of their keg list, which changes almost daily. They also carry one cask-aged brew at all times and boast an impressive list of bottled beers.

LBHB supports craft brew culture locally while offering a friendly and constructive venue for beer makers to mingle and share.

“We’re here to provide feedback for those who are of age and love to make good beer,” Vice President Josh Smith said. “That’s what this club is about.”