While some students head to the bars on weekends for drinks, some of their peers are involved in the beer-making process from the beginning.
Anthony Moorehead, from Wilkes-Barre, Penn., and Ryan Cox, from Ottawa, met through the geology graduate student program and said they have been brewing beer together for a little more than a year. Moorehead said he has been crafting beer for about three years, while Cox said he has been brewing for about two and half years.
Both said they are excited about the possibilities home-brewing can open up.
“Home-brewing has a pretty rich culture to it,” Moorehead said. “The history of beer, the history of wine is deep, and it has been around for thousands of years.”
Moorehead said there is a basic recipe for beer, but he has the ability as a home-brewer to add in different flavors beyond the recipe to try something new. The freedom to not be stuck to the manufacturer’s bottled flavors is one of the biggest draws of home-brewing, he said.
As their first handcrafted beers on their own, both Moorehead and Cox tried an Irish stout. Cox used a kit for his first brew and said he was very happy with it, while Moorehead said he was not quite pleased with his own.
“It came out horrible,” Moorehead said. “But because it was my first beer, I pretended that it tasted good. Me and my buddy forced down every last one.”
Moorehead said the process is a lot of repetition, and he fixes a flaw when he finds one.
“I can look back three years ago at what I was doing and look at what I’m doing now, and see there has been a significant learning curve, an improvement,” he said.
Moorehead said while it is great to be able to take pride in his work, another benefit of home-brewing is the lessened cost. While it costs more upfront to buy the supplies, he said the material is cheap.
Cox said basic setup would cost a person around $100, but eventually the brewing pays for itself. The team has knocked the cost per brew down to about $4, he said.
In addition to cheaper supplies, Moorehead said homebrewers often choose to buy supplies from within the immediate area.
“We are in an agricultural area, an agricultural state,” he said. “Sometimes that does play in your favor.”
When asked about their favorite beers, Cox first mentioned peat-smoked porter, a strong black beer. The porter was also the first beer the two brewed together. Moorehead said drinking the porter was akin to having a beer next to a campfire becuase of its smokey taste.
However, Cox said his overall favorite was saison, a Belgian beer.
“The flavors in that beer were incredible,” he said. “They were spicy and funky.”
When the beer is finished, brewers can choose to enter their it into competitions. Cox said he once entered a beer into a festival in St. Charles and came in second place.
“I had been brewing for three months, so that was a major surprise to me,” Cox said. “All these people were talking about their systems, and they had been brewing for years.”
SIU has a history of its students continuing on in the brewing field. Chuck Stuhrenberg, owner and operator of Big Muddy Brewery in Murphysboro, attended the university in the ’80s, according to the Big Muddy website. After his paper-filter distributing business was affected by the economy’s downturn, Stuhrenberg said he liquidated his IRA and purchased brewing equipment. He opened up the brewery in 2009.
While the brewery once self-distributed its own beer, Stuhrenberg said the brewery now uses outside distributors. Big Muddy’s brew is distributed as far as New Jersey, and last week the brewery expanded its market to southern Missouri, Stuhrenberg said.
Laws prohibit Moorehead from selling his own beer, but he said home-brewing is a rewarding hobby.
“If nothing else, it will make you appreciate what beer is,” Moorehead said. “It will give you more respect rather than just going to the bar, having a beer and not thinking anything of it. It will give you a lot more understanding of how that beer was made.”