Maybe all that sterilizing and sanitizing steams your patience. Or clean-up is such a drag you’ve vowed to just sell the damn stove and get a new one every three months. Maybe your apartment is so small that every time you get a good boil going it sets off the sprinkler system. Or perhaps you’d just like to have someone there to help you through a new process—your first fruit beer, say.
If any of this sounds familiar, you should check out a “brew on premise,” the do-it-yourself operation that takes the “home” out of homebrewing.
After gaining popularity in Canada, brew-on-premise facilities, known as BOPs to regulars, are beginning to invade the US. A BOP is essentially a microbrewery where you are the brewer, brewing up a storm with their facilities and their ingredients.
Among the attractions of a BOP: expert on-site assistance, great equipment rarely found in a homebrewer’s kitchen, and a relief team that takes care of clean-up while you attend to more important things such as taste-testing and picking out labels.
BOPs are a good place for beginners to learn the brewing process, make good beer, and enjoy themselves at the same time, says Mark Hamelin, president of Custom Brew Beer Systems of Hamilton, Ontario. “The chances of making quality products are that much better for the individual not exposed to (brewing),” he notes. “It also becomes a real social event. People bring their friends; they trade beer and have a good time.”
The Canadian company now has three outlets open in the US—in Orchard Park, N.Y., Philadelphia, and San Jose, California—as well as 53 others in Canada, China, and the United Kingdom.
BOPs became popular in Canada in the late 1980s largely because people wanted to avoid the country’s 52 percent beer tax, according to Hamelin. Unlike beer purchased in stores, the suds brewed at BOPs are not taxed.
Another advantage to brewing on premise is avoiding any initial investment for the equipment. Because there is no start-up cost, a prospective brewer need not worry about being stuck with an array of brewing supplies if he loses interest. To an avid brewer this may seem incomprehensible, but it does happen.
Matt Allison, who was recently bottling a batch of beer he brewed with his friend Lori Meyers at San Francisco’s Brew City, said he bought brewing kit about a year earlier and brewed only once because he didn’t like the way it turned out. But with his equipment still sitting at home collecting dust, there he was paying $110 for the opportunity to brew a 13.5 gallon batch.
“It’s nice because you don’t have to deal with the clean-up and all the siphoning mess,” he said, operating the counter-pressure bottle filler and sipping his fresh beer from a tasting glass. “Then you come back in two weeks, and the beer’s all done. It’s a little pricey, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Along with the state-of-the-art equipment such as copper boiling vessels connected to a main line leading to a filter and heat exchanger, and novelties such as a selection of 20 label designs with any title printed on them, Brew City also guarantees the beer their customers make.
Allison and Meyers, pleased with the way their Rojas’ Righteous Ale turned out, said they will be back. “I’ll probably start (brewing) at home after a while, but I wanted to do this first to get back into it,” Allison said.
Brewing at Brew City takes about two hours, after which the beer is stored in a keg for two weeks in a temperature-controlled fermentation room and pressurized with carbon dioxide. It’s ready in two weeks. The customer then comes in, bottles the carbonated beer, and takes it home, ready to drink.
Brew City doesn’t use natural carbonation, says co-owner Richard Dietrich, because customers wouldn’t stand for it. “Most people don’t want to wait four weeks,” he laughs. “A lot of them come in after a week to check on (their beer).”
Using forced carbonation also allows customers to drink their beer while they bottle it, which often makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
Brew City offers a selection of about 40 different recipes, including both ales and lagers, but like most BOPs, the staff brewmasters will also work with the customer to develop a custom recipe.
This kind of flexibility may come in handy when someone wants to brew a creative concoction, but there is also a drawback to trying to make an experimental batch such as Mango Garlic Wheat Stout “If the recipe is too strange, I’m not sure we’ll guarantee it,” says Dietrich.
Brew City’s 13.5 gallon batches cost between $85 and $120. Prices at Custom Brew Beer Systems range from $80 to $110 for a 13.8 gallon batch. Both Dietrich and Hamelin say their businesses cater mostly to beginners, but “after a while these guys become virtual pros,” Hamelin adds.
Experienced brewers sometimes come in to try out the high-tech gear. “We definitely get homebrewers in here who are fascinated by our equipment,” says Dietrich.
While BOPs are still new south of the Canadian border, Hamelin thinks the future looks bright. “The response has been very good,” he says. “We’re very surprised at how fast we’re building a customer base, and we expect this to be a very good year.
“People always ask me how it will go in the US,” he adds. “There’s a renaissance going on with microbreweries, and this will go along with that. We certainly expect it to be here to stay.”