Saturday, July 21, 2018
Bars & Spirits

HiFi Homebrew in Clearwater lets you make your own beer

Every serious beer drinker should try their hand at brewing beer.

I know it's a lot to ask, but I can think of few ways more effective for building a solid foundation of beer knowledge and appreciation than brewing some of the stuff yourself. Do you know any foodies who don't cook?

I understand the hesitation: There's a lot of equipment (often expensive and bulky); it's time-consuming (a typical bottle-conditioned batch takes close to a month to be finished); and the process is admittedly slightly more complex than "making soup," as I've heard suggested in the past. And, of course, there's the cleanup, which is the worst part of every brew day.

The solution? Outsource all of the inconvenient stuff.

HiFi Homebrew and BBQ Supply — yes, both — is a Clearwater shop tucked into a nondescript office block that specializes in "brew on premise." It's just like it sounds: you brew beer right there in the shop, from the brew day itself, to temperature-controlled fermentation, to bottling. No need to buy equipment, and no need to mop any floors that have inexplicably collected large puddles of liquid over the course of a typical brew day.

Owner Robb Larson began home brewing in 1995 while going to college in Mankato, Minn. In 2003 his partner, Lisa Colburn, brought him to Vine Park Brewing, a brew-on-premise facility in St. Paul that gave the couple the idea to eventually open a brew-on-premise facility of their own.

A decade after moving to Florida and getting involved in the local beer scene — including co-founding Tampa's Coppertail Brewing with current president Kent Bailey — Larson and Colburn opened HiFi, one of only two homebrew shops in Florida that specialize in brew on premise.

The first step is to choose from 15 house recipes, which include styles ranging from cream ales and IPAs to hefeweizens and chocolate stouts. Up to four people can brew, with a typical batch yielding 5 gallons of beer (about a case of 22-ounce bombers, once fermentation and bottling is complete) for a cost of $100 to $125. That includes ingredients, supplies, use of the facility and brewing assistance.

Most of Larson's clients are new brewers, which means that their level of involvement will be more limited than some of the repeat visitors. The process can be as hands-on or hands-off as you'd like, though of course I'd recommend you get as involved as possible for maximum appreciation. One of the best aspects of the brew-on-premise model is direction, which will prevent the occurrence of the awful first batch. I've powered through gallons of aggressively gross homebrew; rite-of-passage purposes aside, if you can skip this step, it's not a bad idea.

After the brew day is complete — around four hours, on average — the beer-to-be is left to ferment in a temperature-controlled chamber for a couple of weeks, at which point it's ready to be bottled, a separate process that takes about two hours and is actually kind of fun.

Beers brewed at HiFi are bottle-conditioned, which means that they are carbonated as a result of additional fermentation that takes place in the bottle. Just take the bottles home, keep them at room temperature for two weeks (this is when the bottle conditioning happens), and toss them in the fridge. You're a brewer now.

HiFi also offers small group brew sessions that are cheaper than a dedicated brew session, making them good choices for individuals or couples who want to learn to brew without committing to 5 gallons of the stuff themselves. According to Larson, these make for great "date nights." If your date is not impressed by the fact that you're brewing actual beer, then you can safely cancel any follow-up dates.

Homebrewing is a deep rabbit hole that can offer a lifetime of fun, enjoyment, expense and headache. While everyone can improve their understanding and appreciation of the beer they drink through homebrewing, it's not a bad idea to try it out before sinking money into a brew kit.

The worst that could happen is that you'll wind up with 5 gallons of beer you brewed yourself without sad, unused brewing gear collecting dust in the garage. On the other hand, you may just find a new lifelong hobby.

[email protected]; @WordsWithJG.

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