US. Whipping Up a Brew That Is True to You

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CHRIS Patafio and her husband, John, visited Cask and Kettle Home Brew in Boonton recently to pick up some beer — beer they had made themselves.

Joe Verzi, the company’s owner, poured the All Centennial Hop IPA from a plastic fermenter into a five-gallon stainless steel soda keg.

Three weeks earlier, under Mr. Verzi’s supervision, the Patafios had steeped Munich and caramel malts in water, heated it, added malt extract and then added hops. After boiling the mixture for an hour and adding more hops, they chilled the resulting wort and began the fermentation process with the introduction of yeast. They did the work in the shop’s so-called brew-on-premise, a modern workroom resembling a kitchenette and outfitted with brewing equipment.

They were taking their ale home, but for larger groups there is also another option, as Mrs. Patafio, 54, of Ringwood, pointed out.

“You can have a home-brew party here — it’s like adult Chuck E. Cheese’s,” she said.

As novice brewers, they had plenty of guidance.

“I help them as much or as little as they’d like,” Mr. Verzi, 29, said of his customers. He turned his hobby of home brewing into his profession a year ago when he opened this specialty shop. Besides having beermaking equipment for customers’ use, he sells kits, grains, kettles and other necessities for making beer (as well as wine, cider and mead).

The brew-on-premise experience — which costs $140 to $160 for a group of up to four people making five gallons — is as much social as it is educational. (Larger groups can be accommodated.)

The shop has a pubby atmosphere, with a high-top table where customers can sit and eat food that they bring in or order out from a book of menus. There’s a tap, too, that dispenses samples of various beers for customers to sip.

Shops like Cask and Kettle are capitalizing on the growing trend of home brewing. (Even the White House has been making beer.) “It’s definitely on the upswing,” said Jo Ellen Ford, 54, an owner of the Brewer’s Apprentice, a family-run shop in Freehold, which also has a space where customers can make their own beer. The company opened in 1996 in a 3,000-square-foot space, then moved to a 5,000-square-foot location two years ago.

According to the American Homebrewers Association, an organization based in Boulder, Colo., that promotes home brewing, the number of home-brewing shops has increased nationwide, as has revenue at these stores, up 24 percent in 2011 over the previous year. In New Jersey, more shops catering to home brewers have opened recently, and older ones have expanded.

“It’s not about consuming a lot,” Ms. Ford said. Home brewers are more interested in appreciating the flavors of their products, she said. “Also, there’s the challenge of ‘How do I do this?’ ”

Scott Begraft, 40, who opened North Jersey Homebrew in Sparta in 2011, said homemade beer “tends to be better than what you can get commercially.”

Mr. Begraft’s shop does not have a place for customers to make their own beer, but he stocks the ingredients they need for home brewing: fresh yeast, flavorings, sugars and raw honey, among other ingredients.

When Mr. Begraft began home brewing a little over two years ago, he turned to the Internet for ingredients to make the Belgian- and blond-style beers he is fond of. “There was nothing around here,” he said. “If you broke something or needed something, you had to wait at least over a week and pay shipping fees.”

The home-brew stores cater to customers who want to talk shop.

“Every day we have somebody come in and we explain the process,” Mr. Begraft said. He can also point them to local clubs in Sussex County, like Sussex County United Brewers and Alchemists, where they can meet other home brewers.

Mr. Begraft, along with his colleague Mike Pippitt, often gives brewing demonstrations. On Nov. 3, when the American Homebrewers Association sponsors its national Learn to Homebrew Day, his shop and many others, as well as some home-brew clubs, will hold events.

For home brewers like Bobby Mierzejwski, the opening of more shops catering to the hobby is a welcome trend.

Mr. Mierzejwski, 36, of Piscataway, said that when he first started home brewing about six years ago, he bought most of his materials online or made them (something he still does; he also sells equipment he makes on his Web site, But now Mr. Mierzejwski, who is the president of the Woodbridge Homebrewers Ale and Lager Enthusiast Society, can go to shops nearby like love2brew, a warehouse-style store that opened last year in North Brunswick, for supplies. He often runs into other club members there, he said.

While love2brew sells much of its merchandise online, the 2,500-square-foot store, with shelves of supplies and materials, has its homey aspects. The owners, Ron Witkowski and Mark Spezio, who started out as home brewers, bring a personal touch to the business.

“All of our kits have instructions that we write ourselves,” said Mr. Witkowski, 28, of North Brunswick, adding that they write the recipes, too, for their own concoctions, like a crisp and lemony Sorachi saison and a malty-sweet vanilla cream ale, among dozens of others.

On the shop’s Web site, they post content from a variety of contributors on topics like pairing beer with food and how to brew with fruit. At the front of the shop, behind the checkout counter, bottles of beers made by customers are displayed. They are also building a brew-on-premise center, which they hope to open by the end of November.

Turning their hobby into a business has not dimmed the partners’ enthusiasm for making their own beer at home. “We brewed 40 gallons this month,” Mr. Witkowski said, for Mr. Spezio’s coming wedding.