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Speakers share history of beer, brewing process

By Staff | Apr 12, 2019

Eric Knibb offers samples of his home-brewed beer to community members, during the First Tuesday Speaker series at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ on April 2. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN – For many people, beer is merely an alcoholic beverage. But for a growing number of Americans, beer is becoming a way of life, as many people are learning about the brewing process to create their own home-made varieties.

During Christ Reformed United Church of Christ’s First Tuesday Speaker Series on April 2, community members learned about the history of beer and how to begin brewing beer of their own from a couple of seasoned home brewers.

“If you are thinking about brewing on your own, talk to other brewers, not equipment salesmen,” said Shepherdstown resident and home brewer of over a dozen years Courte Van Voorhees, mentioning salesmen often misdirect those who are new to brewing.

Another tip emphasized by Boonsboro resident and fellow home brewer of 25 years Eric Knibb, was keeping the process clean.

“When you’re doing home brewing, the absolute most important thing to remember is to keep our equipment clean and sterile. Cleanliness is absolutely important. Other than that, the differences between your beer and someone else’s, is how it’s brewed,” Knibb said, mentioning beer aging times, ingredients and storage products all influence the flavor of beer.

However, Voorhees said the reward of home brewing isn’t just drinking a unique product, but connecting with the past.

“When we talk about beer in civilization, that’s one of my main interests, learning how beer built societies,” Voorhees said. “There are three core reasons today why beer is brewed: the pleasure of the alcohol, the pleasure of the craft and the darkest reasons is because people become addicted to it. But that’s not why people got into it in the past. “We have resources now to refrigerate, to store grain, so grain won’t be infested by rodents. It was a way to continue to get the most of grain that will otherwise spoil during the winter. We don’t have such a large formation of people that we need to sustain with beer. But those are the reasons why beer was important,” Voorhees said. “We can go back and see recipes for beer that are thousands of years old, and we know they existed for many years before they were written down. We can see there’s this intervention between society moving from one with hunter-gatherers, to one with cultivation of crops.”

According to Voorhees, home brewing may only be a growing interest in the United States, but it is a long-held tradition from the other side of the globe. Micro-breweries have existed across the country of Germany for hundreds of years, and the home brewing process mirrors that tradition.

“If you travel around in Europe, you’ll find people are more likely to drink local beers,” Voorhees said. “When it comes down to it, micro-breweries allow brewing to become more experimental, which is a very American ideal.”