After one look in the garage of his Signal Mountain home, it's clear Tony Giannasi has a bit of a thing for brewing beer.
Even if the six-tap system built into his refrigerator and a freezer stuffed with different kinds of hops didn't raise a red flag, the massive custom-built brewery taking up half a wall might.
"I'm a big beer nerd," Mr. Giannasi said, laughing. "When you see my garage, it's like, 'Oh my goodness, you have a problem, sir.' "
As president of the local Barley Mob brewers club with the capability to produce 15 gallons of beer at once (three times the typical home brew output), Mr. Giannasi may not qualify as a casual hobbyist, but he's far from alone in his interest in home brewing.
About 750,000 people brew beer at home in the United States, and national participation in the hobby has increased by about 20 percent every year since 2005, according to estimates by the American Homebrewers Association.
And the participants are starting younger. In the past, new brewers were usually in their 30s or 40s, but now, they're in their 20s, said Gary Glass, the director of the AHA and a 17-year veteran brewer.
"This generation seems very interested in self-expression, and home brewing is a good artistic outlet," Mr. Glass said. "With home brewing, you can create whatever flavor you want in beer."
That's why Mr. Giannasi, 33, began brewing when he was 28.
When he discovered local stores didn't carry a blonde ale and espresso stout he become enamored with at the 2005 Southern Brewers Fest, Mr. Giannasi said he grabbed a recipe book instead.
Since then, he's explored exotic flavors like Russian Imperial Stouts and German Maibachs among the two dozen different types of beer he's made in his garage.
As with most home brewers, Mr. Giannasi is more likely to give his beer away than drink it himself.
"The kind of person who wants to make their beer is not a heavy drinker," he said. "They're going for more flavor and quality."
Mr. Giannasi said he's hard pressed to find any downsides to the hobby, though he's quick to admit he's probably not the right one to ask.
"I'm sure my wife could come up with a couple," he said, laughing. "I think the time consuming thing would be her biggest complaint.
"You also run the risk of talking about beer constantly and annoying your spouse."
Here's a much-simplified outline of how to make beer at home.
1. Beer begins by steeping malted barley to release the sugars. This substance is called the "wort." Most beginning brewers can purchase a wort extract at homebrew supply stores but must still reconstitute it in water. (Time: 1 hour.)
2. At this point, hops are added to the wort. Many recipes will use several varieties of hops, but the same strain of hops can affect the beer's bitterness, flavor and aroma, depending on when it's added. (Time: 1-1 1/2 hours.)
3. The boiling mixture must be cooled and transferred to a specially sealed, sanitized container called a fermenter. The brew must be brought to below 100 degrees (most beers do well at 45-68 degrees). This is done using a process called immersion chilling where a copper coil connected to a hose circulates cool water through the brew. (Time: 45 minutes to an hour.)
4. Now, yeast must be added to the brew in the fermenter, a process known as "pitching." This is done quickly to ensure as little exposure to air as possible. Fermenting containers have special seals that releasese gas inside but keeps outside air from getting in. (Time: Two weeks.)
5. Eventually the yeast in the fermenter will die, at which point the beer must be siphoned into a secondary fermenter to preserve the flavor. After the beer has rested there for about two weeks, it is transferred again to either bottles or a keg to age. Generally, the higher the final alcohol content, the longer this last step takes. (Time: Two weeks to three years.)
Want to learn more about brewing beer at home? Here are some resources
* Web: The American Homebrewers Association Homebrewopedia (wiki.homebrewersassociation.org).
* Books: "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing" by Charlie Papazian and "How to Brew" by John Palmer.
* Local groups: The Barley Mob local brewers club's next meeting is 3 p.m. Saturday at Moccasin Bend Brewing (4015 Tennessee Ave.). Brewers of all levels are welcome.
According to Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewing Association, homebrewers in every state where brewing is legal are allowed to brew as much as 100 gallons annually or 200 gallons in households with multiple brewers.
Homebrewing is legal in all but three states (Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma). In Alabama, the AHA is currently pushing for support of a piece of legislation, SB153, which would legalize homebrewing.
PAYING YOUR TAB
An all-in-one homebrewing kit is the way to go when getting started, said local brewer Tony Giannasi, who in April will be teaching a brewing class at Signal Mountain's Mountain Arts Community Center. The kits typically cost $60-$140 and include all the necessary equipment to brew. Some kits also include ingredients for one or two batches. Ingredients for extra batches typically cost between $20-$40, depending on the requirements of the recipe.