Don Osby began brewing his own beer back in the 1980s. “Then I dropped it,” he says, “until about three years ago, when I took some brewer-certification classes at Blue Ridge Community College.”
The led to the organization of a local ultra-microbrewer group. Today it consists of “The Brew Crew,” which is Don and his wife Mary Ann, plus their friends Jeffrey Lilly and Kenny Jenkins.
One pint led to another, and now the group holds informal beer tastings about once a month.
“We usually offer a beer tasting to the Brew Crew and friends and neighbors,” explains Don, a graphic designer for several Hendersonville publications. “People who are interested in home brewing can give me a call. We are trying to expand, but we’re looking for folks who are truly interested in brewing and not just drinking beer. There are other beer clubs that are more into tasting than brewing.”
As Osby’s passion for brew craft increased, so did the fringe benefits. “Now I have an all-electric brewery in my basement,” he says. “Don Osby Ales” even has its own printed labels. About a year ago, his wife joined in the fun.
“I realized that unless I at least made an effort to understand his love for brewing,” she says, “I would be alone for hours at a time on a Saturday afternoon.”
More and more women are involved in the craft-brew industry as brewers in Western North Carolina and other regions.
Asked if she considers this is an emerging trend, Mary Ann quips, “I don’t think it’s a trend, it’s a fact. Women can brew good beer.”
She backs it up with a lesson in ancient history. “Clay tablets unearthed in ancient Mesopotamia indicate that women were probably the brewers — the time frame being as early as 2500 BC.”
The beer produced by the Osbys isn’t for sale, though — at least not at this stage. For them to legally sell their ale to the public, both state and federal permits are required, and the paperwork can take several months to process.
Instead, the couple produces non-distributed home brews to be given away or consumed. Production is limited to 100 gallons per person, or 200 gallons per household per year. That translates into 40 5-gallon batches per year. This scale of brewing is referred to as “ultra-micro” or “nano,” and is typically done using a 3-barrel or smaller system. By contrast, a “micro brewery” is a facility that produces fewer than six million barrels per year, and each barrel holds 31 gallons.
“Once you hone your skills and tweak your recipes,” says Don Osby, “there’s not a lot of difference between five gallons and three barrels. They both take about the same amount of time.” The guys he took classes with who are starting brewpubs are Joe Dinan and Josh Chambers. Dinan is co-owner of Sanctuary Brewery in Hendersonville, and Chambers is getting ready to open two locations for his Drift Brewing Company. The first is scheduled to open early next year on Main Street in Brevard, and the second location will be at the entrance to Pisgah Forest.
Kenny Jenkins believes the group has been a huge help. “I’ve learned enough to avoid most rookie mistakes and continue trying new things to gain more confidence. Now I am in the process of brewing an IPA with grapefruit.” (The Osbys, meanwhile, are proud of their seasonal “Dark Sweet with Heat” chocolate-oatmeal stout with hints of habañero.)
Jeff Lilly agrees. “Having a community of home brewers to share experiences, recipes, and talk about processes is a huge benefit. The craft-brewing community is very open and transparent, and there is an energy to share — at every experience level. Having friends that share my passion for craft beer has made me a better brewer.”
“Every time you brew, it’s a creative process,” Mary Ann emphasizes. “Brewing beer is a connection to the past. This is a beverage that has been part of the human experience for thousands and thousands of years. The process follows a ritual that has been done time and again.
“The grinding of the grain, the mashing, the boiling, the hop additions. The aroma of beer wafting through the house is wonderful. And the tasting is always exciting. You smell it, then look at the color, then sip it a little and a little more.
“Then, yeah, you look at one another and smile.”
Saturday November 7 is “Learn to Homebrew Day.” Don Osby will be doing an in-home demonstration; contact him at email@example.com. Find out more about Blue Ridge Community College’s Craft Beer Academy at www.blueridge.edu or by calling 828-694-1800.