So you’re King Henry VIII, and you can’t get it out of your head that your favorite Scottish ale would be the ideal beverage to wash down that enormous drumstick you’re always gnawing on. Sure, getting the recipe for your brewers won’t be easy. But you’re the king, and the brew is to die for. So you dispatch the navy for the recipe, and six months later your messenger returns with a copy — about the time you’re hit with an irrepressible craving for a good German hefe-weizen.
Of course for those homebrewers not living in the past, this isn’t a problem. With little more than computer and modem at your disposal, you can have a boatload of hefe-weizen recipes and ingredients speeding to your door in minutes — without ever having to pull up anchor on the royal fleet. The Internet is loaded with resources that can make life a little easier for homebrewers of all levels. From expert advice to recipe databases to on-line mail-order catalogs packed with obscure ingredients and recipes, the ’Net can greatly expand one’s ability to produce top-quality brew.
But digging up the best sites can be almost as challenging as navigating the high seas on a rubber duck. A search for the word “homebrew” brings up 14,943 sites containing that word. Obviously, surfing through the entire batch would take enough beer to float the king’s fleet.
Finding sites that prize information over self-promotion is part of the trick. “There are a lot of commercial sites that are really little more than billboards, which I have little use for,” says Mark Stevens, co-founder of The Brewery, one of the best homebrew sites out there. “It’s kind of a mixed bag. There are not a lot of great sites going up.”
BYO was happy to do the heavy surfing for you. We sorted through a slew of Web sites (okay, not all 14,943) and found a few that are liable to put a twinkle in any homebrewer’s eyes.
The Brewery (http://www.brewery.org/) grew up around the noble goal of a group of homebrewers. They wanted to offer an on-line homebrew recipe list, The Cat’s Meow. The easy-to-use database now offers 1,009 recipes and remains the most popular part of the site, averaging about 30,000 hits a day.
But that’s only part of the story. The site also offers an excellent section of how-to articles serving homebrewers ranging from those who don’t know a carboy from a car alarm to those advanced enough to follow plans for building their own two-tiered brewing system.
The site also offers links to other sites, a list of suppliers, and various other treats — all sans advertising. And Stevens says they try to maintain the quality of the links and other information, excluding those they don’t deem worthy.
Homebrewer’s Digest, a listserv that sends messages from the group to your e-mail address, is another great resource, though sometimes a bit technical for your average homebrewer. One memorable series of postings, for instance, provided a minutely detailed breakdown of the chemical composition of the water in various famous brewing cities. So if for some reason you wanted to brew your own Old Milwaukee, let’s say, you could have a good head start on the makeup of the water used by the brewery.
Or if you don’t want to sift through the barrage of correspondence this list generates on a daily basis, the aforementioned Brewery site offers a great alternative: a searchable database of past Homebrew Digest issues. A great way to get instant advice on
an enormous array of possible homebrewing situations.
The Real Beer Page
Saying that the owners of the Real Beer Page (http://realbeer.com) are aggressively adding content to the site is “like saying the ocean is damp,” as CEO Mark Silva puts it. Silva’s team is striving to put together the spot for beer and homebrewing enthusiasts. “People won’t necessarily remember us as the innovator but as librarians for the industry,” Silva says. “And I’d be very pleased with that.”
A stroll through the site brings home his point. Never mind that the site is the on-line home to 15 beer and brewing magazines, including BYO’s site (www.byo.com), or that it has excellent searchable databases for beer events and breweries. Within a few months the site will give rise to Homebrewer.com, incorporating The Brewery and another excellent site, Spencer’s Brew Page (http://realbeer.com/spencer/), along with dozens of other resources found on the existing site.
“We’re giving people homes to park stuff if they have real good information that we don’t want to go away,” Silva says. The brewery/event search engines are particularly nifty. Say you’re planning a road trip to San Francisco and you intend to be thirsty when you get there. The site will give you addresses and phone numbers of the city’s breweries, brewpubs, and beer events, and link you to their Web sites when possible.
The Hop Page
Glenn Tinseth’s Hop Page (http://realbeer.com/hops), which occupies a chunk of space in the Real Beer universe, proclaims itself the most complete hop resource on the Web. Who are we to disagree? The site is loaded with goodies about hops, including a bitterness calculator, which will tell you how many bittering units your beer will have, given a variety of factors. The author also provides what he considers reputable sources for fresh hops and even offers an article on how to grow your own, including a mail-order source of hops seedlings.
For those not familiar with newsgroups, they are sort of like the listservs described above. The difference is that correspondence is posted at the newsgroup site, not conducted through e-mail. And messages are broken down by topic, making this voluminous group a little easier to handle. But the effect is the same: If you want to discuss the merits of aluminum versus enamel-coated brew kettles, just post an inquiry. Chances are a few dozen people will want to weigh in with their take on the matter.
American Homebrewer’s Association
AHA’s site (http://www.beertown.org) has loads of useful information, including information on dozens of homebrewing books. It also has a list of laws for each state governing homebrewing. According to the list, 13 states don’t permit homebrewing and several others are listed under “possibly permitted.” It could come in handy, especially if you live in one of those 13. The site also provides information on becoming a certified beer judge.
UK Homebrew Page:
This site is part of BreWorld (http://www.breworld.com), which claims the prize for being the largest on-line brew resource in Europe. Its homebrew page offers instructions for subscribing to a discussion group that focuses on UK beer styles and issues.
If you’re a lover of the concoctions produced in that part of the world, this would be the place to rap about them. The site also has a small recipe section.
These sites will give you a good start on where to study up before your next homebrewing session. Brewers with more specialized interests, such as lambic and mead brewing, will find links from several of the sites discussed above. But for those who are using the home computer for little more than e-mail and Doom, this is your chance to bring your homebrewing out of the dark ages.