Lake Superior has always been a dominating feature of Duluth, much like its water is in the beers created on its shores. In recent years, more and more microbreweries have started to appear in Duluth as a result of the great brewing conditions.
“With more of the local microbrews that are popping up, that really piques peoples’ interest," said Chris Vatne, who owns Wine Creations in Hermantown with her husband, Neil. "It has been more and more people wanting to make their own wine and beer."
For the last 12 years, Wine Creations has catered to homebrewers by selling brewing equipment and ingredients as well as Brewer's Best kits, which include all of the ingredients needed to make a 5-gallon batch of beer. Wine Creations also provides on-site wine making where they help customers make the wine, store it, bottle it, and label it.
“I think it’s a fun hobby,” Vatne said. “People like to make their own things, and you can make some really good beers and some really good wine.”
Ron Hohman, a regular at Wine Creations, has been home brewing wine and beer for the past two years.
“My wife bought me a kit for Christmas…and once I started, I guess I didn’t stop,” Hohman said.
This is definitely true for Hohman, as he will soon be brewing his 25th batch of beer.
“I have made a lot of good beers, and I experiment a lot," Hohman said. "Some of my beers don’t taste the best."
Home brewing offers many opportunities for people to experiment with flavor profiles. Just like any other chef, brewers use their ingredients to create the perfect balance.
“You have control over the taste and everything," Vatne said. "You can tweak the recipes to however you want it."
Both Vatne and Hohman say they have noticed increased interest in home brewing in Duluth.
“A lot of the people that I come into contact with at work are starting to brew," Hohman said. "A lot of them are getting into it more with the all-grain brewing."
All-grain brewing uses raw malted barley as the primary source of malt sugars. It is considered a sort of “advanced” home brewing. With more advanced brewing, many brewers decide to start entering their beers into competitions.
According to the American Homebrewers Association website, in 2012 there were over 300 homebrew competitions scheduled by the more than 1,000 homebrew clubs in the United States. The American Homebrewers Association has 46 different homebrew clubs registered in Minnesota alone.
One such competition was held in Duluth on Feb. 8 and 9. The Northern Ale Stars, a local home brewing club, held the 7th annual Great Northern Brew-Ha-Ha. According to the event page for the competition, there were 317 entries for the competition, making it their largest yet.
Homebrew competitions aren't created just so people can win awards, but they also provide valuable feedback on beer.
Entering competitions can ultimately make for better brewing by providing information about sanitation procedures, ingredients, brewing processes, and recipes.
These competitions also provide another opportunity to use the beer. State and Federal laws do not allow for home brewed beer to be sold, only consumed in the home. To help prevent the sale of this beer, there are restrictions on how much beer can be brewed at home in a calendar year. For a household of one adult, it is 100 gallons, and for a household of two or more adults, it is 200 gallons. This is often not reached, as most batches of beer are only 5 gallons.
For people like Hohman and Vatne, brewing is more than just a hobby, but rather a way of life.
“I hate buying any beer. I like making my own," Hohman said. "It’s just not the same."