A Hoppy Hobby: Tales of a Home Brewer

written by Cliff Lummus

792A9986The practice of brewing beverages is as old as cereal agriculture itself. In fact, some historians believe humans were brewing beer before they were baking bread. Flash forward 12,000 years or so, and here in the Atlanta area, the home brewing of craft beer is as popular as ever. Throughout North Georgia and across the country, these basement brewmasters have turned a niche hobby into a thriving subculture.

Home brewer James Grosso has been refining his craft for more than 20 years, shaping his own take on beers ranging from English-style pale ales and Indian pale ales to Belgian beers and barley wines. In that time, Grosso has seen the craft brewing community expand and change at an exponential rate.

“When I first started, there weren’t as many people brewing and the resources weren’t there,” Grosso said. “I had to rely on my local home brew shop and some experimentation. With the Internet and the explosion of people being able to share ideas, processes and recipes, it has really opened up. It’s come a long way to simplifying and making brewing a lot less scary for people to try.”

When he’s not at home working on a new batch, this sound technician by day works part-time at Beer & Wine Craft in Sandy Springs. From there, he’s seen the start of many home brewers’ passion for beer.

“During the holidays, it’s amazing how we get flooded with women that are buying equipment and ingredients to get their boyfriends or husbands started brewing beer. That’s exactly how I got into it. My wife at the time bought me a little kit for Christmas and I started brewing, and the rest is history. I would say that’s how a fairly large portion of men get started brewing beer, from the women in their lives.”

While the pieces, parts, components and recipes are endless, Grosso’s primary advice to first-time brewers is to learn from the ground up: “Start off simple. Don’t try to overthink it, and don’t think that you’re going to be a brewmaster right away. Even after 20 years, my brewing techniques are decidedly low tech. Keeping it simple keeps it enjoyable for me.”

In addition to being a fun and creative hobby, many brewers have turned their personal passion into a sustaining business. There are dozens of active craft breweries here in Georgia, and according to the Brewers Association, those businesses produced more than 283,000 barrels of beer last year.

Looking to add to that total is Kathy Davis, owner of Abbey of the Holy Goats, an up-and-coming craft brewery in Roswell. Slated to roll out the first batch from its 6,000-square-foot facility this fall, Davis’ unusual company name has an equally unique origin. The ‘Abbey’ comes from an earlier, unrequited career choice.

“I almost became a nun,” Davis explained. “I was supposed to go to Nova Scotia to join a nunnery and my best friend talked me out of it…[She] took me to a pub and I drank quite a bit of beer and she said, ‘You can’t do this in Nova Scotia,’ so I quickly decided that I wasn’t going.”

Nine years ago, Davis had shifted her ambition to seriously considering purchasing a goat farm in Maine. For her birthday that year, though, instead of the herd of goats she might have hoped for, her parents gave her a brew kit. After diving into her new hobby, the first beer Davis ever brewed won first place in its category in a brewing competition. From there, “it was really love at first sight.” Combining her previous two passions, Abbey of the Holy Goats was born.

The transition to forming a full-time business out of the brewery was a natural progression for Davis. “I think for anyone that home brews, [starting a business] comes across their mind at some point,” she said. “For me, I was at a turning point in my life where I decided that I could stay in corporate America and do something with that, or I could work for myself. I decided to go the entrepreneurial route.”

Having worked in a financial planning firm, Davis knew it would take a great deal of ground-up planning to bring her business to life.

“Starting your own brewery is not just about your passion for brewing beer. That’s a huge part of it, but if you want to open a brewery, you better know something about business. I went back to business school specifically for starting this business, so the entire time I was there, I was writing my business plan, traveling the country and talking to other brewers,” she said.

As if great beer isn’t enough incentive to get started, the home brewing culture in Atlanta is also a thriving, inclusive community of brewers and enthusiasts.

“All of the home brewers I’ve ever known or [have] been involved with here in metro Atlanta, [are] so giving,” Davis said. “There are parties every weekend if you want to home brew with someone and have a really good time.”

At the heart of the social atmosphere is the beer itself. Professional and home brewers alike are always anxious to advance the craft, which is a big part of what keeps people like James Grosso so active in the community.

“So many [professionals] came from the home brewing market, craft brewers and brewmasters are willing to share with one another as well as with home brewers. It really behooves the people in the stores and the industry to make people successful right out of the gate,” he said.

For those curious about home brewing, there are several stores, groups and societies such as the Brewers Association that are great starting points. And, as Grosso put it, “For less than probably a couple hundred bucks, you could have all the equipment you need to start. Jump in and do it. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to experiment.”


Craving Local Craft?

If the current list from the Brewers Association is any indication, opportunities abound in our busy state for sampling local craft beer with 14 more breweries in planning (one in Atlanta, two in Roswell, one in Johns Creek, two in Woodstock and the rest in outlying cities). brewersassociation.org/tag/georgia

 5 Seasons Brewing CO.
Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, Atlanta

Abbey of the Holy Goats
Roswell, abbeyoftheholygoats.com

Abide Brewing CO.
Newnan, abidebrewing.com

BlueTarp Brewing CO.
Decatur, bluetarpbrew.com

Blue Ridge Brewing
Blue Ridge, blueridgebrewing.com

Burnt Hickory Brewery
Kennesaw, burnthickorybrewery.com

Coastal Empire Beer CO.
Savannah, coastalempirebeer.com

Copper Creek
Brewing CO.

Creature Comforts
Brewing CO.
Athens, creaturecomfortsbeer.com

Dockside Brewery
Savannah, docksidebrewery.com

Eagle Creek
Brewing CO.

Eventide Brewing CO.
Atlanta, eventidebrewing.com

Fannin Brewing
Blue Ridge

Gate City Brewing
Roswell, gatecitybrewingco.com

Grumpy Old Men Brewing
Blue Ridge

Hop Alley Brewing CO.
Alpharetta, hopvalleybrew.com

Ironwood Creek

Jailhouse Brewing CO.
Hampton, jailhousebrewing.com

Jekyll Brewing
Alpharetta. jekyllbrewing.com

Left Nut Brewing CO.
Cumming, leftnutbrewing.com

Macon Beer CO.
Macon, maconbeercompany.com

Magic Rooster Brews
Peachtree City

Max Lager’s Wood Fired Grill & Brewery
Atlanta, maxlagers.com

Monday Night Brewing
Atlanta, mondaynightbrewing.com

Monkey Wrench
Brewing CO. LLC

Moon River Brewing CO.
Savannah, moonriverbrewing.com

Artisinal Beers
Athens, normaltowncraftbeers.com

O’Dempsey’s Brewing CO.
Atlanta, odempseys.com

Omaha Brewing CO.

Orpheus Brewing
Atlanta, orpheusbrewing.com

Park Tavern Brewery
Atlanta, parktavern.com

Piedmont Brewery
and Kitchen
Macon, piedmontbrewery.com

Pontoon Brewing
Atlanta, pontoonbrewing.com

Red Brick Brewing CO. / Atlanta Brewing CO.
Atlanta, atlantabrewing.com

Red Hare Brewing CO.
Marietta, redharebrewing.com

Reformation Brewery
Woodstock, reformationbrewery.com

Rick Tanner’s Grille & Bar/Cherry Street Brewing
Cumming, rtanners.com

Second Self Brewing
Atlanta, secondselfbeer.com

Service Brewing CO.
Savannah, servicebrewing.com

Southbound Brewing CO.

Southern Brewing CO.
Athens, sobrewco.com

Southern Sky Brewing CO.
Kennesaw, southernskybrewing.com

Strawn Brewing CO.
Fairburn, strawnbrewing.com

SweetWater Brewing CO.
Atlanta, sweetwaterbrew.com

Terrapin Beer CO.
Athens, terrapinbeer.com

The Lost Druid
Atlanta, facebook.com/lostdruid

The Village Corner
Stone Mountain

The Wrecking Bar Brewpub
Atlanta, wreckingbarbrewpub.com

Three Taverns Brewery
Decatur, threetavernsbrewery.com

Twain’s Billiards and Tap
Decatur, twains.net

Wild Heaven Craft Beers
Decatur, wildheavencraftbeers.com

Yes Face Beer
Sun City Peachtree,