On Van Brunt Street on an overcast Saturday morning, first-year beer brewers Allison Hull and Ethan Fugate welcomed new faces into their spacious Red Hook home with pints of India Pale Ale (I.P.A.) and Leffe Blonde. After brief introductions to each beer, the crowd was free to mingle. A few inspected the couple’s brew setup and peppered them with requests for technical tips and suggestions.
"We have four beers for you all to try today. One we are kind of afraid to share with you that we decided to concoct," said Fugate. "I call it the Frankenpilsner."
In recent years, home beer tours like this one have become more popular in New York City, as has the number of beer enthusiasts who have pushed their dining room tables aside to make space for yeast-fermenting carboys in their tiny living rooms. It is legal to brew beer in your home as long as each brewer abides by the annual limit of 100 gallons of beer per person. In households where at least two people over the age of 21 reside, the maximum limit is 200 gallons of brew. It used to be common for a local brewery to open its doors to the public, but less often did beerheads get the opportunity to witness small-time brewers at work -- or drink pints in the brewers' homes. Until now.
Tour guide Joshua Bernstein now takes beer lovers tasting in brewers' homes throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn every other month. Last year, the organizers of NYC Craft Beer Week asked him to put together a homebrew tour for the first time. He says his tours really got into tasting beer where it was made.
"There is a kind of voyeuristic thrill that accompanies entering a stranger's home. There is their toothbrush, their laundry basket,” said Bernstein (pictured right). “Initially, attendees are awkward until the second or third beer. The homey setting creates the kind of casual intimacy I wish existed at every bar."
Groups like the New York City Homebrewers Guild, formed in 1988, have made it easier to become a home brewer. The guild helps brewers connect with each other to share tips and new recipes.
But it wasn't so easy ten years ago.
"When I walked into my first meeting in 2002, there were only 15 people gathered in Brewsky's under President Phil Clarke's lead," said Chris Cuzme, the president of the New York City Homebrewers Guild.
Now, Cuzme has never seen his association so busy. Guild numbers have more than doubled in the past year and more than 400 active members are involved in the group's online discussion.
New local businesses have helped the movement grow as well. When Cuzme started brewing in 2001, he had to travel over an hour to buy the equipment necessary for his hobby.
"There was only one homebrew store in New York City — in Queens — called East Coast Hydroponics and Homebrew Too,” he said. “And it was hard to get to. The commute simply wasn’t worth it.”
Instead of making the trek to Queens, Cuzme, who lived in South Brooklyn at the time, ordered his supplies online. But today, new specialty beer stores like Brooklyn Homebrew, The Brooklyn Kitchen, The Brooklyn Brewshop and Bowery Whole Foods in Manhattan has made information and equipment accessible to even the slightly curious.
After the I.P.A. and Leffe Blonde on Van Brunt Street, Bernstein's tour headed to the home of Rich Armstrong in Park Slope. That’s where Armstrong and his brewing partner Michael Haskell impressed the crowd with their pints of German Alt and other brewing experiments concocted in Armstrong's basement.
Saturday's tour wrapped up in Greenpoint where Kyler Serfass (pictured below) treated the (then tipsy) crew to a bevy of each of his award-winning brews: a California Common, his own I.P.A. and a milk stout.
The beer did not disappoint, which was not a surprise to tour guide Joshua Bernstein.
“Imagine hosting a dinner party. Every brewer wants to make their best impression and put their best foot forward,” he said.
The next Homebrew Tour kicks off on Saturday June 11th in Park Slope at 1 P.M.
Click below to hear what these brewers had to say about their hobby.