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The homebrewing subculture: A passion and a hobby

Dan Berger of Libertyville and Matt King of Mundelein, members of the North Urban Brewing Society, put grains into hot water to make a mash March 3 as they brew beer at Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville.
Dan Berger of Libertyville and Matt King of Mundelein, members of the North Urban Brewing Society, put grains into hot water to make a mash March 3 as they brew beer at Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville.

LIBERTYVILLE – On Aug. 25, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed House Resolution 1337.

The resolution stated, in part, that “… any adult (formerly only heads of families) to produce wine and beer for personal and family use and not for sale without incurring the wine or beer excise taxes or any penalties for quantities per calendar year of: (1) 200 gallons if there are two or more adults in the household and (2) 100 gallons if there is only one adult in the household.”

Effectively, it legalized homebrewing. 

Forty years later, homebrewing has become a booming industry and a thriving subculture. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the American Homebrewers Association, there are more than 1 million homebrewers in the United States, responsible for crafting an estimated 1.4 million barrels of homemade beer. 

According to the same survey, the Midwest is home to the largest concentration of homebrewers in the country. 

Volo resident Trevor Patric said he began homebrewing about five or six years ago, blossoming from an interest in craft beer and a love of cooking. Since his first homebrew, created in a “simple” stovetop setup, Patric’s hobby has evolved into something more complex. 

“[My friend and I] started out really simple, nothing elaborate at all,” he said in a telephone interview. “Then we just kind of built it up from ground zero, and that’s where we’re at now after so many years. We’ve pushed it harder and harder. We’ve gotten more technical. We’ve upgraded our equipment.”

For his supplies, Patric would shop at a local Libertyville homebrew supply shop, Perfect Brewing Supply. One day, owner Andy Denton mentioned to him a large community of homebrewers in the area and an idea began to take shape for Patric. In 2015, he founded the North Urban Brewing Society, a homebrewing club open to all homebrewers in Lake County. 

Today, NUBS has more than 40 members, running the gamut from novice brewers to those who have competed in (and won) national homebrewing competitions. Since its inception, NUBS has become a place for brewers to trade tips and tricks, share recipes and – most important – sample members’ homebrews.

“That’s the fun and the spirit of the club and the organization and the whole homebrew industry, quite frankly,” he said. “How do we help each other grow? How do we help each other get better?”

In addition to its monthly meetings, which are held at Perfect Brewing Supply, NUBS hosts several other events for its members, including outings to local craft breweries, club charity events and educational sessions hosted by guest speakers.

One of the main goals for the organization, Patric said, is for each member to enjoy each homebrew they sample at their monthly meetings. Should a brew get passed around that wasn’t quite where it should be, Patric said members will often work together with the brewer, providing feedback and suggestions for the brewer to improve the quality of his or her beer. 

“And quite frankly, since 2015, we’ve absolutely seen that,” he said. “Just the sheer quality of beer that’s coming out of everybody – everybody’s process has greatly improved and it’s actually quite impressive.”

Perfect Brewing Supply owner Denton said NUBS – and other clubs like it – have “been great because there’s a collective of knowledge that people wanna share and contribute and learn from each other.”

A NUBS member himself, Denton was initially attracted to homebrewing because it combined his passions of science and cooking. 

“I love the biology, the microbiology, the chemistry, the physics and the things you get to do,” he said in a telephone interview. “The building of things, the creating something that you can share with somebody else and they can say, ‘Wow this is great’ or ‘Wow, this is terrible. You should not ever do this again.’”

Patric emphasized that NUBS welcomes people just getting their feet wet in the homebrewing scene, and its monthly meetings are open to nonmembers looking for information about the hobby. 

“Learn about the process, learn what it takes, get a feel. Make sure it’s something you’re interested in first,” he said. “[Then] check out NUBS. We certainly allow people to show up that aren’t members at our monthly meetings to get a feel for what it’s all about. I think the best way is just experiencing it firsthand. So we highly encourage people to do that. Just immersing yourself in the homebrew scene is a very valuable experience. It’s a very rewarding experience.”

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