PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Karen Bates pours grains at The Reno Homebrewer.

Once upon a time, all beer-brewing was homebrewing. In Sumerian and ancient Egyptian times, something beer-like might have even been considered a household staple.

Over time, beer became a commodity, and then it became an industrial product. Then things came full circle: Some drinkers, tired of mass-produced industrial beer, decided to make their own at home.

It doesn’t take much to learn the basics of taking grain, hops and yeast, and turning it into beer; the process and science has been documented for centuries. Karen Bates, proprietor of The Reno Homebrewer, at 535 E. Fourth St., quotes her father who founded the store: “There are three skills to homebrewing—boiling, sanitizing and waiting. If you can do those, you can make good beer.”

But now that all sorts of excellent beer is readily available literally almost everywhere, why go to the effort?

Mark Smith, president of local homebrew club Washoe Zephyr Zymurgists, describes the appeal: “I find that brewing beer combines both (art and science). It takes science to make beer, but homebrewing also allows me to incorporate artistic creativity in what I make. There are so many possibilities of flavor, profiles and combinations in making beer.”

As with any hobby, people tend to seek out their fellow practitioners; people are social animals, after all. In the world of homebrewing, the local supply stores and clubs are fundamental elements of the community—and Northern Nevada is no exception.

The Reno Homebrewer has been the Reno area’s main source for homebrew equipment, supplies and expertise for 37 years. Karen Bates, who handles the day-to-day operations of the shop, has grown up alongside the homebrewing scene in our area. Despite competition from online retailers, she continues to advocate for the value of a local brick-and-mortar store.

“You’re not going to ship a 50-pound bag of grain from Amazon and save any money,” she said. “Even if we can’t compete on prices of everything, it forces us to have tremendous inventory.”

The only local competition in recent memory, a homebrew supplier in Sparks called BrewChatter, closed suddenly in March. Carson City area homebrewers have been served by their own shop, Just Brew It, at 1214 N. Carson St., since 2010.

By the time The Reno Homebrewer was opening for business, there were enough local homebrewers to form a club, the aforementioned Washoe Zephyr Zymurgists. Homebrew clubs, besides offering opportunities for camaraderie and social gatherings with fellow brewers, are a valuable resource for ideas, feedback and constructive criticism.

The generation of beer-lovers that started homebrewing, because the market didn’t offer what they wanted, is starting to hang up their equipment.

“I think it’s very beneficial for homebrewers to be part of that social group,” Smith said. “… I enjoy sharing what I create in my brewing with others and getting their feedback … talking with them and listening to their ideas and tasting the wonderful concoctions that they have created.”

Recent years have seen the birth and growth of additional groups, including the High Desert Brewgade (primarily in Sparks) and 395 Brewers in Carson City.

Following typical homebrew-club practices, the Brewgade “meets at local craft breweries, tap rooms or members’ homes once a month,” said board member Buster Dumbleton. “We have people’s-choice club-brewer competitions, educational sessions, homebrew bottle sharing … and, at times, guest speakers.”

All three clubs primarily use Facebook to share information on meetings, becoming a member and events.

The real time to shine for any homebrewer is in competitions. While there is a large national competition, with a multitude of others around the country, in our area, Just Brew It holds an annual competition they call Thirsty Boy. The High Desert Brewgade alternates annual hosting duties with a Las Vegas club for the Nevada State Homebrew Championship. Experienced and certified judges blindly evaluate and score entries, and they award medals for the winning beers—a proud achievement for any homebrewer.

You might assume that an explosion in homebrewing has taken place along with the growth of craft beer, “foodie” culture and the Etsy/maker ethos. Sadly, Bates described the opposite; she says it’s been a hobby in decline for years now, both locally and nationally. The generation of beer-lovers that started homebrewing, because the market didn’t offer what they wanted, is starting to hang up their equipment, and many younger drinkers don’t see the need: With so much good beer available to purchase, why make your own?

Regardless, the brewing spirit lives on. The homebrewers’ mantra was coined by one of the founding fathers of American homebrewing, Charlie Papazian: “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” In the end, whether it’s a creative outlet, a science project or for fun, it’s just beer.

Marc Tiar has lived in Reno for most of his life. He is a semi-retired librarian, a family man and an occasional freelance writer. While practicing his beer geekiness, he enjoys home brewing, beer judging,...

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