We meet several award-winning home brewers in southern Illinois who are creating craft beers that rival the quality of commercially-made beer, including Ryan Tockstein of Benton, Ill., president of the Southern Illinois Brewers club and co-owner of Scratch Brewing Company, in Ava, Ill. Tockstein shows us how easy it is to brew beer at home from scratch using a method called “all grain” brewing. We also visit with other club members to compare and contrast their operations to those used by Tockstein’s.
Home brewing systems can be fairly elaborate, as InFocus learns when we examine a heat-controlled mash tun (pronounced “tune”) built by Sam Davis of rural Du Quoin, Ill. Davis says he built this device in order to have complete control over his mash temperature during the process of steeping barley malts into wort (pronounced “wirt,” as in “dirt”). Wort is the starchy essence of barley malts steeped in hot water, to which yeast is then added to cause fermentation.
We also discover that brewing can be very simple, as well. Marika Josephson of Carbondale is vice-president of the Southern Illinois Brewers club, co-owner with Tockstein of Scratch Brewing Company, and an SIU graduate student who built her basic brewing system on a college student budget. Josephson says she uses special ingredients, such as dandelions, to augment the hops she adds to her wort as a bittering and flavoring agent.
InFocus also introduces home brewers Matt McCarroll and his wife, Jen, who are the owners of Windy Hill Hops Farm in rural Murphysboro, Ill., where they grow and sell organic hops for local brewers and offer specialty brewing supplies and ingredients.
As the home brewing trend gains popularity around the country, even non-brewers are jumping on the craft beer bandwagon. Brands never before imported are showing up on store shelves and an explosion of domestic microbreweries and brew pubs is taking place as people develop a thirst to explore hundreds of new styles of beer.Â
Shawn Connelly of Carbondale, Ill., a local beer expert known as the Beer Philosopher, blogs about this trend on his site at beerphilosopher.blogspot.com. Connelly’s expertise about beers and flair for writing about them led to his position as the style writer for the national publication Beer Connoisseur.Â In order to help develop local appreciation for hand-crafted beer, Connellyconducts regular tastings open to the public at Kindling in Carterville, Ill.
The growing number of home brewers in southern Illinois is one of the reasons why Ryan Tockstein founded the Southern Illinois Brewers beer club. Home brewers are constantly seeking to improve their skills and need feedback about the quality of their handcrafted beers, which many people believe exceeds the quality and originality of commercially-produced beer. Club members sample each other’s beers at meetings, prepare for contests, and share the best they have to offer at regional festivals, such as the Big Muddy Monster Brew Fest at Riverside Park in Murphysboro, Ill.
As the excitement for locally-brewed craft beers continues to grow, club members hope to follow in the footsteps of local vintners and open a network of local breweries as an adjunct to the region’s successful wine industry. Dubbed the “Beer Path” by Matt McCarroll, this new regional industry hopes to add to the long list of reasons why so many people consider Southern Illinois a great place to visit, live, work, and play.
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