Ken Grossman, who owned a home brew shop in Chico, Calif., was among the first generation of craft brewers who started out as home brewers.
As Grossman recounts in his book, “Beyond the Pale: The Story of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.” (Wiley, $24.95), he cobbled together recycled dairy equipment to launch Sierra Nevada in 1980, founding one of the first craft breweries in the U.S. And, of course, his boldly bitter Sierra Nevada Pale Ale helped define the American craft beer revolution.
More than 30 years later, the revolution has grown into a major business. Sierra is the second-biggest craft brewer in the U.S., based on sales volume, and the company is set to open a second brewery early this year in Mills River, N.C., near Asheville.
The pattern of homebrewers becoming professional brewers and opening breweries hasn’t changed much since Grossman’s early days.
In metro Atlanta, new breweries such as Monday Night, Three Taverns, Jekyll and Eventide are all products of the home-to-pro paradigm. And new homebrew shops such as Wine Workshop & Brew Center in Decatur continue to feed a hobby that gets more serious all the time.
According to the American Homebrewers Association, nearly 1 million Americans brew beer at home. Homebrew contests judged by Beer Judge Certification Program members have become a fixture of the craft beer scene. Though, recently, in Georgia there are new legal barriers to holding homebrew contests in places that are licensed for alcohol sales, production, consumption or distribution.
In other words, breweries, brew pubs, bars and restaurants that once hosted home brewers may now risk losing licenses if they host contests. In spite of that, many are still doing what they can to keep the home-brew-to-craft-beer connection going.
Atlanta’s Publik Draft House recently announced the Great Southern Craft Beer Competition, in partnership with Atlanta Magazine and Monday Night Brewing. The contest invites home brewers from across the Southeast to submit their original beers between January and March for a chance to win a grand prize of $1,000 and distribution at Publik Draft House for one year.
“We’re still dealing with the logistics of the contest,” Publik Draft House co-owner Eddie Johnson said. “But we wanted to do something on a grass-roots level to touch those people who enjoy brewing at home and give them a venue to compete or be involved.”
The Great Southern Craft Beer Competition launches Jan. 19 with a kickoff party at Monday Night Brewing featuring brewery tours and samples, Publik Draft House food pairings, prizes, such as tickets to Atlanta Beer Tours, homebrewing demonstrations and live entertainment. But to be clear, there will be no home-brewed beer at the event.
Johnson says the ultimate goal of the competition is to choose a winning home brewer’s recipe that will be produced by Monday Night and served at Publik Draft House alongside other local craft beers.
“We want to keep it on a local level because that’s what home brewing and craft brewing is all about,” Johnson said. “The competition is a wonderful opportunity for these amateur home brewers to get their beers on the map.”
The Great Southern Craft Beer Competition Kickoff Party. $25. 1-4 p.m. Jan. 19. Monday Night Brewing, 670 Trabert Ave. N.W., Atlanta, 404-352-7703, mondaynightbrewing.com. For more information on the competition: greatsouthernbeercompetition.com.
— By Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog.