Who knew that there was such a widespread culture and fandom for homebrewing? It took me until last year to discover that brewing your own beer, ale or mead isn't difficult at all, and you can get started without a burdensome investment of time or equipment. Equally delightful has been the discovery that I already know quite a few homebrewers; the hobby seems to be a natural fit among those of us who enjoy fantasy, gaming, roleplaying, and related revelry.
I knew all things ale would be a natural fit for Well Fed Buff, but I also knew I wouldn't have room here for a homebrewing play-by-play. Instead, we can cover how to get started with homebrewing, review some seasonal craft brews, and talk about cooking with beer -- amusingly enough, an accurate reflection of the reasons you might want to pursue the Way of the Brew in Azeroth. "Note that unlike the other ways, this one doesn't provide a specific stat and the only thing that gives stats are the banquets," writes Wowhead commenter Bardiches. "It's honestly for anyone who loves being drunk or wants to make some cheap banquets." ... Umm, we're all a bunch of WoW: Mists of Pandaria fans who love to cook, eat, enjoy a brew, and game around here. Perfect!
What I've got for you this week, then, is a basic roadmap for anyone interested in learning more about homebrewing. Once we get that ball rolling, I'll share a few seasonal brews worth investigating this fall and divulge my not-so-secret secret of savory slow cooking. Join us in the comments afterwards to discuss your own favorite homebrew advice and share your favorite ale-augmented recipes.
Way of the brew
So how doable is this whole homebrewing thing, anyway? Will you enjoy the process, or will it end up being more trouble than it's worth? Will buckets and tubes take over your kitchen and your life? What you need is this article from Drink Craft Beer that breaks it all down, making homebrewing seem like a doable proposition for just about anybody. Is this the hobby you've been searching for? I can't answer that for you -– but this article may be the read you need.
Homebrewing is one of those things people take sides on over whether it's more of an art or a science. (My vote: both!) Either way you approach it, once you've decided to give homebrewing a try, you'll need reliable support and advice.
- Start with a kit. Especially if you're hesitant to jump in with both feet, set yourself up with a kit that gives you what you need to try things out at the simplest level. Try these starter kits at price points for every budget.
- Read a magazine. What can I say? I'm a publication addict. There's nothing I like better than a magazine like Brew Your Own that dives headlong into the topic at hand. Of course there's a magazine for homebrewing!
- Join an organization. I'm also a fan of organizations that offer forums and local groups and events and ways to connect with other aficionados. At the American Homebrewers Association, you'll find solid advice, a discussion forum, supply directories, and a calendar of events and competitions.
Get in saison
The next thing I'd like to bring to the attention of avid followers of the Way of the Brew is the saison. Named for the French word for "season," a saison is a seasonal craft brew created during the winter and meant to be enjoyed during the hot summer months. It may still be warm enough where you live to enjoy a saison in season. But if you're already hankering for fall, you're probably better off looking for a dark ale or something with fresh hops or even a pumpkin flavor. Think Oktoberfest, and investigate this brand new crop of suggestions from CraftBeer.com.
The not-so-secret secret of savory slow cooking
Everything's better with beer –- really. These days see me pouring a little wine or beer into whatever's simmering on the stove more often than not, and the dish always turns out more savory for it. Even those who screech in horror at the mere scent of beer will adore what I simply call Juicy Chicken.
Juicy Chicken Get out your trusty slow cooker and load up a package of chicken breasts or thighs. Pour in one bottle of beer or ale. I've used just about anything I had on hand, but a darker ale will add a zestier taste. Then sprinkle on a half a teaspoon or so each of whatever spices you like; I typically use kosher salt, black pepper, basil, and paprika. Throw some onion strips and a little chopped garlic in there if you're ambitious.
Cooking times will vary broadly depending on your crock pot size and the cut and amount of chicken, but you can generally gauge at something like three to four hours on high or seven to eight hours on low for fresh, unfrozen chicken (four to five hours on high or eight to 10 hours on low for frozen). Just fix side dishes that can hold easily if things run slow the first time, and check to make sure the largest piece is thoroughly cooked throughout before you serve it up.
Once you see how savory and simple this is, you can experiment with substituting beer for water or broth in other recipes. In my experience, substitution failures are phenomenally rare. Easiest cooking achievement ever!
Homebrew and ale aficionados, represent: Let's talk more in the comments about the Way of the Brew -- your best homebrew tips, your favorite craft brews, and your best beer-based recipes. Gan Bei!
[Image sources: gina pina; thermionics; Caitlinator; rexipe]