“Drink the local beer,” Jon Connolly, Director of Brewery Operations at Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, North Carolina, told beer enthusiasts on Saturday, November 12, 2011, at the first Homebrew For Hunger festival. Those in attendance did not have much of a choice because the beer being poured inside West End Public in Chapel Hill that afternoon could not have been more local. Evident from the continuously excited and often loud chatter, however, the people sampling the beer, which was all brewed within 200 miles, would not have wanted it any other way.
Janel “J” Beckham and Ethan Johnston, organizers of Homebrew For Hunger, wanted to “bring together North Carolina’s vibrant homebrewing community to benefit The Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina.” For a $20 entry ticket, which “provide[d] 80 meals to area families in need,” attendees received a sampling glass, an opportunity to ask professional brewers about making the leap from homebrewing, and the chance to sample some of the best homebrewed beer in the area.
The event began at noon, and attendees were able to start tasting beer as soon as they walked through the door. At 12:30 p.m., Beckham rounded up four professionals in the brewing industry and moderated a panel discussion about the professional brewing world. Erik Lars Myers from Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, Connolly from Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, and Sean Lilly Wilson and Chris Davis from Fullsteam Brewery in Durham were the featured panelists of the event.
After brief introductions, Beckham started the discussion with a question about each panelist’s favorite beer or style of beer to brew. While Connolly said it was difficult for him to pick one style because he “treats his beers like his children,” Myers was quick to respond with stouts because there is a “big difference, from beginning to end” during the brewing process. Wilson and Davis both said they enjoyed brewing Fullsteam’s latest release, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout named IGOR.
Beckham next asked the panelist if they had any advice to offer the aspiring homebrewer who wants to move to the next level. Davis and Myers responded with technical answers, stating “temp control, temp control, temp control” and “clean everything,” respectively. Wilson and Connolly provided “big picture” advice. “Love your beer,” said Connolly, alluding to his previous comment about treating his beers like this children. “Keep pushing the envelope. Ten years from now, what may seem weird now will probably not be so weird,” said Wilson.
Beckham then turned to the crowd and gave enthusiasts the opportunity to ask the professionals some questions. Roger Putnam, a graduate student in geology at UNC, asked the four men about their favorite craft breweries other then their own. All four panelists responded that North Carolina beer is their favorite beer, but they also had a few favorites outside of the state. ”Sierra Nevada is my Budweiser,” said Connolly, but he advised that a person should “drink the local beer wherever you go.” Wilston “totally agree[d]” with Connolly and added that with respect to non-North Carolina beer, he appreciated the “large but creative and innovative” nature of Bell’s, Dogfish Head, Victory, Stone, Boston Beer Company, and Sierra Nevada. Davis responded that he enjoys Jolly Pumpkin out of Dexter, Michigan, and The Bruery in California.
After the panel discussion ended, homebrewers’ tables replaced the panelists on stage, and attendees sampled for the rest of the afternoon. Crowd favorites included Chris and Katy Creech’s Winter Spiced Ale and Tim Jacobs and Mark Letteney’s Pumpkin Spice Ale, both from Chapel Hill. Katy Creech contributed to her husband’s homebrew by choosing the added spices that resulted in the beer “tasting like Christmas,” according to Chris Creech. In addition to their Pumpkin Spice Ale, Jacobs and Letteny provided a few bottles of their Double IPA and Brown Sour homebrews that went so fast that only a few people in attendance had the opportunity to sample them.
With over 200 gallons of homebrew at the event, however, every beer fan found something to his or her liking. Several attendees commented on Zachary Pfeiffer & Justin Kearney’s American Brown Ale from Saxapahaw, saying that they would not think twice about buying a six-pack of the beer off of the shelf if it were in stores. Lynda-Marie Taurasi, a brewmate with homebrewer Chela Tu from Chapel Hill, brought a Belgian Beet Strong Ale for attendees to sample. She noted that people “are surprised by the color because it’s very pink, which comes from the roasted beets. And they are surprised by the sweetness of the flavor.”
In addition to the chance to taste local brew, attendees had the chance to bring canned food items for the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina to earn free raffle tickets for prizes donated by area businesses. Approximately 200 pounds of food was collected, and the event raised just under $6,000 with over 360 people attending. Beckham arrived at this number because she purchased only 360 sampling glasses, which ran out toward the end of the event. Needless to say, she and Johnston were pleased with the outcome of their planning, and those in attendance were equally happy on Saturday afternoon as they were able to enjoy, with other members of the North Carolina beer community, “craft beer with a conscience.”
preBREW: Homebrew for Hunger to use beer to feed mouths