Home Sweet Homebrew serves as a Center City homebrewing mecca, with the supplies needed for every step of the process.
As Philadelphians have tapped into the craft-brew scene in the last decade, the popularity of homebrewing has grown, too. For those looking to get acclimated to the process or perfect their brews, Home Sweet Homebrew at 20th and Sansom streets is a one-stop-shop.
“[Homebrewing] has a lot of benefits, and it’s also a part of the way people like to live,” store co-owner George Hummel said.
Hummel and his wife, Nancy Rigberg, bought the store in the early ‘90s.
“People make their own breads, their own foods from scratch, and if you’re living that aspect in other areas of your life it kind of comes right into play,” Hummel said.
The shop opened in 1986 and Hummel said that a lack of good beer available on the market at the time was the catalyst for the homebrewing trend in the mid-‘80s.
“People would travel and taste the burgeoning craft brew scene on the West Coast, in Europe, and what you could find in terms of imports at the time on the market was often stale,” Hummel said. “So people interested in different kinds of beer would often end up making it.”
Today, while many craft brands and imports beyond mainstream staples flow freely through the city, Hummel said there’s still a place for homebrewing, beyond acting as the sole source of quality beer.
“Now, it’s more of an aspect of appreciation of beer rather than being driven by a lack of product,” Hummel said. “Just because I brew my own beer doesn’t mean every drop I consume is something that another homebrewer makes, because I like good beer and that’s what brought me here in the first place – it’s great that it’s out there now.”
Home Sweet Homebrew has supplies for every step of the process, both equipment and ingredients, from barley to bottle. It also stocks some wine-making products, and both beverages come in prepackaged kits for novices.
Hummel said customers come from a fair mix of expertise levels – from “people with grocery lists,” to first-timers looking for boxed kits, to people looking to build their own recipe based on the parameters of what they like to drink.
Hummel is happy to explain and discuss the process with everyone because in addition to the products they sell, homebrewing guidance comes free. And both he and Rigberg are certainly the people to talk to on the subject – their credentials span further than the strand of ribbons won from years of competitive brewing that hangs in their shop.
In 2009, Hummel’s recipe won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival. Although he said he no longer aggressively enters competitions, both his and Rigberg’s role as educators have been confirmed more formally. Their writings have appeared in publications including “Beer Philadelphia” and “Mid-Atlantic Brewing News,” and they’ve frequently spoken publicly on the subject. They received the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award in 2008. Hummel has taught beermaking classes at Temple and Drexel.
Past clients include now-established microwbreweries, both local and national, including Victory, Flying Fish, Yards and West Coast establishments like Taps in Brea, Calif.
Hummel asserts that the opportunity to pass on his guru-like knowledge and interact with customers both plays into and is a result of the way the business operates. His knowledge, and eagerness and ability to share it is aptly a reflection of the delicacy behind the homebrewing process itself.
“One thing we’ve really liked over the years is that we’ve kept it intimate,” Hummel said. “When people come in to talk, Nancy or I are usually here. Anybody can get the same products we sell, and other than keeping prices fair and competitive, there’s really nothing else we can sell but the skill and expertise we try to back our products with.”
A number of new fads regarding alcohol emerge in every generation whether it’s bootlegging, the rise of 40-ounces, or the sudden popularity of Four Lokos, however, this generation has discovered that the benefits of homebrewing can also include saving money and avoiding the frustrations of being underage.
Thanks to directions fed through books, the Internet and easily purchased beer-brewing supplies, many students have taken to brewing in their own homes instead of paying high prices for a small amount of beer. Others, though, decide to self-brew for different reasons.
“I started when I was 16 and I couldn’t buy it,” said Jake Daly, a 21-year-old junior business major. “It’s easier than you think,” he added as he sipped his own self-brewed Jalapeño lager. “About the same as baking a cake.”
Daly has been brewing since high school and started off with simple beers before moving up to more creatively flavored ones including his aforementioned Jalapeño lager.
“I do it in my kitchen and it takes about six weeks to finish it,” Daly said. “From the pot to the fermenter about six hours, from the fermenter to the bottle about four weeks, then the bottle to the mouth about two.”
Junior biology major Gabe Bartlett also acknowledged the simplicity of the process.
“I do it in my basement and in my opinion, the longest part is waiting for it to carbonate,” Bartlett said. “It sucks sitting there watching it in bottles, but not being able to drink it.”
Bartlett only began brewing about a year ago, but unlike Daly, he did not start doing it because of young age.
“I really didn’t start until after I turned 21 and my friend taught me,” Bartlett said. “I was just tired of spending $10 on a good six pack when I could just brew a bunch on my own.”
Daly said he’s purchased supplies at Home Sweet Homebrew in the past, as well as the online store Midwest Brewing Supplies. He spoke highly of his experiences at Home Sweet Homebrew.
“They help you figure out to make everything and how to do so cheaply,” Bartlett said. “That was the first place my friends told me to check out when I started brewing and they were real helpful.”
Both Bartlett and Daly mentioned brewing attempts turned failed experiments, and Daly spoke to the importance of keeping brewing equipment clean.
“It really all depends on if you follow the recipe right, because you could mess up one thing and ruin the entire batch of beer you’re brewing,” Bartlett said.
Daly said that he’s still a fan of other microwbreweries’ creations, especially strong IPAs, which he dubbed “a lot better than mine.”
They both said that when the process goes smoothly it couldn’t be more satisfying.
“It’s really cool to drink something you made and better when you have a party and everyone’s drinking your beer,” Daly said.
“There’s nothing like sitting in a room with your friends and having them comment on how good your stuff is – it’s the best feeling,” Bartlett said.
Alexsia Brown and Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.