Without the expansive homebrewing industry in West Michigan, it’s unlikely the Grand Rapids brewing scene would be as robust and internationally known as it is today.
Perhaps the biggest celebration of home-brewers is May 5 with Siciliano’s Market’s Big Brew Day at Trail Point Brewing Co. in Allendale, so GRMag.com chatted with owner Steve Siciliano about his place in the brewing industry and also called up author Joshua Bernstein, who recently released the book Homebrew World, which details the practices of homebrewers across the globe.
Siciliano said homebrewing is no longer experiencing exponential growth like it was several years ago, but there are 28 teams with more than 100 brewers signed up for the homebrew day and Siciliano’s 15thAnnual Homebrew Contest last month had 132 entries — down from 170 four years ago. Desire to compete, along with participation in the hobby is down a bit, but that’s likely because so many breweries have popped up in the past decade.
Many of the West Michigan breweries got their start shopping for brewing supplies at Siciliano’s, including: Trail Point, Mitten Brewing Co., Brewery Vivant, Rockford Brewing, Thornapple Brewing, 2 Guys Brewing, Osgood Brewing Co., Railtown Brewing, Unruly Brewing, Pigeon Hill Brewing and Kitzingen Brewing, among others.
“It’s nice going into a brewery and knowing there’s a possibility of running into these folks who we have known for years,” Siciliano said.
For Bernstein, a New York City resident, he built much of his personal brand on leading homebrew tours around the city. Those tours became a hit, bringing together people for a sense of community in a giant city and offering a sense of voyeurism and inebriation while hanging out in a kitchen or backyard.
“For me, the homebrew tours resonated by bringing people together and getting a peak behind the curtain of people’s lives,” Bernstein said. “For New Yorkers, it’s hard to find commonalities and getting 30 people together in a strange neighborhood is not easy.”
After several years of offering the tour, Bernstein has now seen multiple brewers grow beyond their kitchen stoves and into their own businesses. Breweries now lauded on a national scale once were a glimmer in a closet fermenter. Bernstein once included the brewers who went on to start breweries like Finback Brewery, Transmitter Brewing and Kings County Brewers Collective.
“The homebrewer to brewer story is clichéd, but to see it up close and personal is wild,” he said. “Normally you only meet them when they’ve completed their journey, but to see them when they’re workshopping the recipes and on a stove is much cooler and you feel intimately connected to them.”
When Bernstein was working with his publisher on his latest book idea — he’s also published “The Complete Beer Course,” “Complete IPA” and “Brewed Awakening”— they decided on telling stories of homebrewers across the globe, from places like Mexico, Poland and Thailand.
In Poland, he found a brewer using smoked plums; in Thailand, an army colonel running an illegal homebrew academy and in Mexico City a homebrewer who drives across the border and hauls back ingredients not available in the country. Bernstein, who’s not a great brewer himself, said he also included recipes from all the brewers and stories of professional brewers, like Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman, about their starts in the industry.
“It was just going around finding these stories,” said Bernstein, who also included “exciting” homebrewers in America. “There’s the pursuit of better beer no matter the cost or effort.”