RACINE — When Jim Payne set out to brew his own beer back in 1995 it was because he had grown tired of the “drinking the standard nine to five,” referring to brands like Miller and Budweiser.
In the nearly 20 years since his first batch, the popularity of craft beers and home brewing has continued to grow in popularity, carving out a distinct niche in American culture. On Saturday, Payne and some of his latest concoctions were joined by a large crowd of people who filed into Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St., for the Belle City Brewfest.
This year’s event featured beer seminars, live music, craft beer samplings and home brew competitions.
Payne, 48, said Saturday’s scene was something he couldn’t have imagined when he first got started or years later when he helped found the Belle City Home Brewers club in Racine. And increased popularity has resulted in not only a higher quantity but also a higher quality.
“The quality of beer has gone up dramatically even over the last five years,” Payne said. “The quality of the average home brewer has really increased a lot and as more and more people brew there’s more and more information available to brewers via the internet, via clubs and events like this and that only makes beer better.”
Dan Smith, 32, a home brewer from Racine, said he’s been making his own beer for about three years and enjoys taking batches to competitions throughout Wisconsin.
“I started brewing for completely different reasons,” said Smith in comparison to Payne’s beginning as a home brewer. “It’s much like cooking good food. You go to the restaurant and want to try that at home. I’d have a good beer and say, ‘We should try making that at home.’”
It’s the same mentality that Smith said has led to similar do-it-himself approaches to wine and meats.
Both Payne and Smith share a similar passion for making beer but also delight in the “community” that the hobby creates.
“It’s not just about the beer,” Smith said on Saturday, explaining the camaraderie among brewers and showing a willingness to help even the most novice get involved in the hobby.
The biggest piece of advice for beginners, according to Smith, is to avoid department store home brew kits because he said they don’t provide adequate knowledge or quality ingredients. Instead, he advises a trip to a local home brew shop where one could get brewing right for about $100.
“Hopefully, the hobby just continues to grow,” Payne said. “And I think it will as more and more people get exposed to it, especially through events like this.”