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Home Brew

Don Shaffer has brewed his own beer for 25 years but wouldn't call himself a connoisseur.

"I make it and drink it."

With malted barley, yeast cultures and home-grown hops, the 62-year-old Jacksonville resident brews a 5-gallon batch every five weeks or so. If he's catering to the palates of family and friends, Shaffer may forgo his typical India pale ale and cook up a stout, porter or Belgian-style white to have on tap.

"That keeps me in beer," Shaffer says.

Participants can learn the ins and outs of keeping themselves in beer at a Saturday class at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. Shaffer and fellow home brewer Bill Dietz will demonstrate the all-grain and extract methods of brewing ales.

"It's the best way to see how to do it," Shaffer says. "You can read all you want."

Or would-be brewers can consult the DVD included in a start-up kit sold at Grains, Beans & Things on Medford's Crater Lake Avenue. Basic brewing equipment can be purchased for less than $100, says co-owner Bob Bacolas.

"It is a lot cheaper to brew your own beer," Bacolas says.

Economy is one driving factor behind the growing interest in home brewing, as well as home winemaking, cheesemaking, preserving, raising chickens and propagating seeds, says Bacolas, who sells instructional materials on those food-related endeavors for the do-it-youselfer. A dearth of specialty home-brewing supplies in Jackson County led Bacolas to open Grains, Beans & Things in the Cedar Mall about eight months ago.

Since setting up shop, Bacolas says he has signed up 1,000 customers who receive his brewing and winemaking newsletter via e-mail. The store also sponsors five local brewing clubs, including some in Josephine and Siskiyou counties, Bacolas says. Home brewing as a hobby transcends all social and income levels, he says, adding that 88 percent of home brewers, however, are men.

Although most micro-breweries were founded by home brewers, the proliferation and popularity of craft beers has only encouraged more people to make their own, Bacolas says. He learned the trade 14 years ago from employees of Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau, Alaska.

"The stuff you make at home is probably closer to a microbrewery," Shaffer says. "I really don't care for Bud, Miller, Coors."

Using the all-grain method, Shaffer crushes barley in warm water to make a mash. After the mixture steeps for an hour or so, Shaffer strains off the liquid, which is then boiled to concentrate it. Beer-making of this type is best done outside on a portable-propane burner, Shaffer says, but most home brewers start with an extract easily handled in the home kitchen.

"That's the advantage: You can do it on a stove top," he says.

"If you can boil water, you can brew beer," Bacolas says.

The resulting wort ferments for about two weeks before bottling, the method most novice brewers use to store their beer, Shaffer says. For a little extra money, home brewers can purchase equipment to transfer their product to kegs, Shaffer says, adding that, as with any hobby, enthusiastic brewers can negate any savings on the product by purchasing the fanciest equpiment.

"What it's costing per bottle is really secondary to the challenge," he says.

While beer may improve up to a few months after brewing, aging isn't an important step in the process, unlike winemaking.

"A home brewing actually is better because it's fresher," Bacolas says. "It's easy and it's fun."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Home brewer Don Shaffer samples his India pale ale. - Bob Pennell photo illustration