Philadelphia Inquirer November 27, 1984

Homegrown Brews Put to the Test

'The really good ones, you don't want to share'

By Walter F. Naedele

Something dark had been brewing for weeks in Charlie Brem's house.

It might once have been kept a secret, known only to Charlie and a few friends he could trust. But in these more enlightened times, he realized that he just had to get it out.

So last night, Charlie took that dark something – that bitter thing that had been fermenting within the bosom of his household – and brought it out into the moonlit night.

Charlie wasn't embarrassed about it, not now. Charlie wasn't secretive about it, wither. It was five year too late for that.

It was the first competition of privately brewed beers sponsored by Homebrewers of Phhiladelphia & Suburbs (HOPS). The event was held at the Rising Sun Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, on Martins Mill Road in the Lawndale section of Northeast Philadelphia.

“There's a little bit of you with it,” Brem said of the beers he had submitted for the competition. “And it cries when it's gone.”

“It's a paradox. The really good ones, you don't want to share.”

Homebrewing has been legal only since a federal law was enacted in 1979, Brem said.

Brem siad the dark beers, the bitter ones, are “the most loved brews of all.” Brem, an Abington landscape contractor, is treasurer of HOPS.

The darkest and bitterest of them all – Guinness stout, the uncrowned brew king of Ireland - “is probably the most copied home brew,” Brem said, because “Guinness is the ultimate dark beer.”

Why are dark beers attractive to home brewers?

Simply put, Brem said, who wants to set up a basement brewery and get nothing out of it but the sort of American beer that is not much more than flavored water?

“You can brew a stout complete from extracts, be drinking it in three to four weeks” after the ingredients were taken off the shelf, he said, “and the only work going into it is about an hour's worth.”

Jack and Bill Link, borthers from Fort Washington, had come to find out what folks were doing different from them.

“We're here to get some feedback,” Jack said, “to see what we're doing wrong and doing right.”

In their kitchen, Jack said, they like to brew “a German type of dark beer.” But when they hit the local tappie, he said, “we usually drink Schmidt's, because it's cheap.”

There is no count of Pennsylvania homes with bubbling spirits because, Brem said, “you don't have to register” with a governmental agency. It is legal, he said for a household to brew up to 200 gallons of beer a year.

Isn't it a bit dangerous? Can't a home brewery blow a basement to kingdom com?

“Not the whole cellar,” Brem laughed.”

“Occasionally it is possible for a few bottles to explode, he said, “if you make a mistake, if you bottle to early.”

Has it ever happened to a club member?

“I had one,” siad Rich Wagner of Hatboro, a public-school teacher. “I called it my MX Missle beer.”

“I cam in to watch the news on TV” at home about a year ago, he recalled, “and I heard explosions in the basement.”

“I had bottled it before it had fermented out,” he said.

Wagner went into his cellar with his brother and found the bottles going off like firecrackers.

“It's like a fire extinguisher – 15-foot squirts of light foam all over the basement,” he said.

“I never saw my brother laugh so hard in his life.”

Photo Caption: Judge Bruce Stewart examines an entry while another judge, Joel Muzik, writes down his comments about a beer.