Business is booming for Central New York microbreweries. In 2011, 14 new microbreweries opened their doors in New York state alone. This brings the total number up to 81, according to the State Liquor Authority.
This passion for beer is also reflected in the growth of homebrewing, where people create and ferment their own brews at home, often in five-gallon batches. In Syracuse, a home brewer's association called the Salt City Brew Club has seen a dramatic uptick in membership.
“I think craft beer is here to say,” said SCBC president and home brewing veteran Owen McLaughlin.
Many current and former members of the club are employed in local microbreweries. Some, like Tim Butler at Empire Brewery, credit the camaraderie and network of the SCBC for their success.
Member Andrew Schwartz is the brewmaster at the Syracuse Suds Factory in downtown Syracuse.
“I think it's a dream of a lot of homebrewers to sell their product,” he said. “I know it was mine.”
The art of craft brewing isn't something commonly taught in a classroom, so many brewers are self-taught. The American Homebrewer's Association makes an informal estimate that 90% of professional craft brewers began as homebrewers.
“Homebrewers tend to be some of the most creative people I know,” said Tim Butler, brewmaster at Empire Brewery.
Butler says that he once tried a mint chocolate stout that a home brewer brought to an SCBC meeting. With permission, he created a similar brew on a larger scale to sell at Empire.
“It might not have been something I would have tried if that home brewer hadn't gone for it,” he said.
Butler says the five-gallon batches created by homebrewers are perfect for experimenting. Even in a microbrewery, smaller batches are 440 gallons, making it too risky to make a large amount of something that might not sell.