Get Hoppy

Brent Macaloney clutches a cold one in his beer-brewing basement.

Brent MacAloney really wants you to like beer. Specifically, he really wants you to like his beer, but he’ll settle for a general affection for the hoppy beverage.

Put it this way: Imagine your pop culture- obsessed friend opening a hole-in-the-wall bar decorated with record album covers, horror movie posters and various brewery paraphernalia—that’s MacAloney’s basement.

Standing behind the small bar in his Elkridge home, he fills a tasting glass from one of three taps. That’s right: he has three beers on tap, beers of his own making. And get this: That rack of mugs that hangs behind him? All belong to friends, left behind to use whenever they visit.

So it comes as no great surprise to learn that MacAloney, 39, has harnessed his passion for beer and homebrewing into helping organize the upcoming National Homebrewers Conference, scheduled for the Baltimore Convention Center June 9-11. Now in its 38th year, the event has steadily grown in popularity. Five years ago, it drew only 2,000 people in San Diego. This year, that many registered in just the first 24 hours.

Homebrewing’s appeal starts with a love of beer, of course, but, as a hobby, it also involves creativity, patience and innovation. “Homebrewers are amateurs, so they’re not trying to sell their beer,” says Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association. “They’re always trying new things.”

That includes experimenting with old beer recipes or brewing techniques to see what happens, which, in turn, can result in something of a resurrection. For example, Glass points to gose, a mid-alcohol-content German beer known for its tartness and saltiness. After catching on with homebrewers, it attracted the attention of commercial craft breweries.

“The idea of brewing something no one else has brewed before, or even brewing something that hasn’t been brewed for centuries, is exciting,” Glass says. Part of the fun of homebrewing, he adds, is having something—in this case, beer—that is tangibly yours.

For MacAloney, a homebrewer for almost 10 years, this personalization comes across in his “brewery” name: Atomic Church Brewing Company. (Most homebrewers brainstorm a signature tag for their operation.) Its logo mimics the iconic one used for decades by the rock band AC/DC, except it’s AC/BC, with a spatula replacing the group’s distinctive lightning bolt (brewers often use a spatula to stir grains and hot water).

Additionally, MacAloney names his beers after songs, giving their titles clever twists. The three currently on tap: “Hot for Peacher,” a wheat beer fermented with Maryland peaches; “Silent Night, Drunken Night,” his dark Christmas beer; and “Woodpecker from Mars” (from a Faith No More song), a porter.

An unabashed homebrewing evangelist, MacAloney co-chairs the local committee organizing the national conference; he persuaded the Columbia store Maryland Homebrew to donate a homebrewing starter kit for his daughter’s preschool’s fundraiser; and he makes an annual Halloween beer to hand out to parents trick-or-treating with their kids (not surprisingly, his house has become an extremely popular stop).

It’s easier than ever to become a homebrewer, he says, with starter kits often costing less than $100. Plus, local homebrewing clubs have proliferated, where newcomers can pick the minds of experienced hands. In fact, MacAloney belongs to the Cross Street Irregulars Homebrew Club, originally launched by Hugh Sisson, who later founded Heavy Seas Beer.

MacAloney urges interested parties to attend June’s homebrewing conference. “It’s a lot of fun,” he says, “whether you’re very new or whether you’ve been brewing for 20 to 30 years.”




The article appears in the May/June 2016 issue of STYLE. 

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