In a region with a rich history of wine making, it's no surprise that beer brewers have also cropped up.
Until last year, area residents had the choice of local micro brew, domestic or import when it came to selecting a favorite beer. However, a new option has arisen: homebrew.
According to Rich Starks, owner of Grains & Grapes Homebrew Supply, for a beer lover there's nothing more rewarding than crafting and drinking your own creations.
Rich Starks, of Ashville’s Grains & Grapes, is pictured with his son, Thomas. A home-brewed beer and some of the ingredients used to create it, such as hops, barley, yeast and malt, are pictured below.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
P-J file photo
"Homebrewers are very passionate about what they do - they really enjoy doing it," Starks said. "Once they are really into it they are particular about their methods, ingredients and recipes. They are always tinkering and playing to make their beer better."
To foster an interest in homebrewing, Starks hosts a brew club on the second Wednesday of each month. The concept behind the club is to discuss and taste the creations of local homebrewers.
"It's a way for people that are into home brewing to get together with other people who enjoy the hobby," Starks said. "We get together once a month and make a batch of beer. We let it ferment, and then at the next month's meeting we have that one on tap to sample. People also bring beer that they've made to the meeting for us to sample. We share ideas, recipes and try to learn from one another."
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Starks' brew partner is his brother Michael Starks, of Mayville. The two won "Best of Show" at the Dunkirk Fair in 2011. They were awarded a bronze medal in 2012 at the Amber Waves of Grain competition in Buffalo, but this year they brought home a silver medal from the event.
"We're trying to get a gold in that competition because it's the biggest one in New York state, but we still feel like we need to do a little bit more," Rich Starks said. "There were several people from our club who entered the contest, and we also brewed some beers together as a club to enter. One of the members of our club won two awards."
For the first time, Starks plans to participate in the American Homebrewers Association's "Big Brew." The event is a celebration of National Homebrew Day, which is set for Saturday, May 3.
"During 'Big Brew' different homebrew shops and clubs get together to brew a batch of beer at the same time," Rich Starks said. "Last year there were a total of 383 events, and 8,500 participants who made 2,200 batches of beer.
"I'm open to any event that helps promote the hobby I'm into," Rich Starks continued. "I love teaching people who have never done it before how to do it. Some people are a little hesitant, but it's actually a simple process and it's a lot of fun."
Starks will host a class on brewing beginning at 11 a.m. on May 3 at his Ashville store. Preregistration is required to participate in the event, and can be made by calling 526-1121. For more information, visit www.homebrewersassociation.org.
Starks tries to source locally as much as possible, but there currently aren't many farmers who grow hops, he said. However, that could soon change as local producers develop an interest in supplying microbreweries and homebrewers.
Grains & Grapes Homebrew Supply is located at 2334 W. Lake Road in Ashville. For more information, call 526-1121, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.grainsgrapeshomebrew.com or search for "Grains & Grapes Homebrew Supply" on Facebook.
The do-it-yourself spirit of the region starts in the ground rather than the bottle.
Known as part of Lake Erie wine country, Chautauqua County is home to more than 21 vineyards and thousands of acres of grapes. For both the aspiring and professional wine maker, the area can serve as inspiration. Yet, there is also a growing interest in nurturing the crops required to make beer as well.
Jack Voelker, of Chautauqua Institution, started an experimental row of four varieties of hops on 15-foot trellises in 2012, and the project has blossomed. Three of the four varieties did well, so he continued to grow them the next year. He now has five, 120-foot rows of 40 hop plants each on 18-foot trellises Two additional varieties were also added. The project covers about one-third of an acre. Voelker calls the project "Hawthorne Hill Hops," and he sees of a future for the crop in New York state, he said.
"You see not only homebrewers but all of the microbreweries that are beginning in Western New York and throughout New York state," Voelker said. "So, to meet that demand for local materials, the brewer needs certain things, and one of the ingredients is hops. Since New York state has an incredibly rich history of growing hops that dates back well over 100 years - it seems like a way to rekindle that interest.
"I'm enjoying being a part of what seems to be an exciting trend in local farming and production of beer," Voelker continued. "I'm doing it largely as a hobby and not as a major business. There is considerable investment involved in putting in a hop yard - but I'm not in it to lose money."
Tim Weigle, statewide grape IPM specialist for the Lake Erie Regional Grape Program based in Portland, also hopes to help develop the interest of hops in the area. Last year Weigle hosted a conference on hops production in the Lake Erie Region, and more than 125 people attended. The event will be held again this year at Brocton Central School, 138 W. Main St. in Brocton, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. For more information, visit lergp.cce.cornell.edu.