Drinking home-brewed alcohol in the back room of a store is no longer a thing of 1920s speakeasies.
On a Monday night in June, the Brandon Boot Leggers gathered in the back room of O'Brien's Irish Pub.
Beer flowed from recycled bottles and converted kegs. Conversation swirled between the merits of different types of honey as a brewing ingredient to the lack of craft beers in Florida. They tasted flavors like a blood orange IPA and a smoked chipotle pepper imperial porter.
"It tastes like an iced coffee or a nice espresso," one taster said of the chipotle beer.
Home brewing is on the rise across the nation in part because of the recession and the foodie revolution.
President Barack Obama made headlines in February when he served his White House home-brewed beer to his Super Bowl guests. The president is just one of the million home brewers in the United States to discover the appeal of crafting their own beverages.
Membership in the American Homebrewers Association has more than doubled in the past five years, said executive director Gary Glass.
"It can be cheaper to make beer yourself," Glass said. "The cost of ingredients is less. Typically more people are unemployed and have more time on their hands to donate to hobbies."
There's also more of an interest in do-it-yourself activities and buying local, Glass said.
Coupled with the lack of craft beers in Florida, many east Hillsborough residents have turned to their kitchens to create beer and wine.
Carol Faessler and Darcy Hermida had been making wine for years when they decided to open Bootleggers Beer and Wine Home Brewing Supplies on Oakfield Drive.
"Brandon was an untapped market," Hermida said. "Now we have 600 customers, and some people drive two hours to get here."
The setup costs can be steep, but it is a cheaper product in the long run, Glass said.
Basic brewing kits cost about $80 for beer and $100 for wine, Hermida said. Ingredients cost an additional $20 to $70 for a batch of two beer cases or $60 to $220 for 30 bottles of wine.
"It's a lot less expensive," Hermida said. "The biggest thing is you have control."
The store makes wine on site and supplies beermakers with the equipment, kits and ingredients needed to brew at home.
Beer brewing begins by cooking grains, malt and hops to create wort. The mixture combined with beer yeast then ferments for 10 to 14 days.
After the fermenting period ends, the wort has changed into beer and is poured into bottles or a keg. The beer then ages in the containers until it is ready to be served.
Wine follows a similar process of fermentation and aging, but begins with a wine produce that doesn't need to be cooked.
Beer takes four to five weeks to make, whereas wine can take three to six months, the store owners said.
Some brewers, like Hermida, began making their own wine for the health aspect. Home-brewed wine doesn't have the preservatives that can cause headaches and flushing, she said.
Eco-conscious consumers can also use all-natural ingredients to create an organic brew.
"It gives them something to do, especially in the recession," Hermida said. "People drink in the good times and in the bad times, but we seem to drink a little more in the bad times."
Home brewers often try to clone their favorite commercial beers or invent recipes.
Don Veasey started the Brandon Boot Leggers Home Brew Club with Shaun Goeckner in April 2009 so other enthusiasts could share recipes and brewing tips.
He had been a member of the Tampa Bay Beers brewing club, which is active in the competition circuit, and wanted to be in a smaller, closer-knit group that could brew together.
The result is a beer club made up of medical students, military members, accountants, couples and a beer distributor.
The club meets the third Monday of each month in the back room of O'Brien's. The home brewers sample each other's beers and talk about the different ways they brew.
Joseph Higgins brought his newest beer, a blood orange IPA, to the meeting for others to sample. He grated the orange peel to add a slightly bitter citrus taste to the beer.
"I figured out when I was 5 that I could take yeast, Kool-Aid and a balloon and make alcohol," Higgins said.
While Higgins started out like most home brewers, who only brew what they like to drink, he's now experimenting with flavors and creating recipes like the blood orange IPA and a snickerdoodle beer that uses 3 pounds of honey.
Biz Carson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2441.