Hoppy Hour at the Library: A Homebrew 101 Workshop

This April, we turned our Conference Room into a brewery. The community of Darien, Connecticut, is full of “lifelong learners”: those with the strong desire to tinker, dabble, and dip their toes into all kinds of experiences. With this conviction in mind, I organized a Homebrew 101 workshop right here at Darien Library.

I began planning this program back in November after attending a homebrew workshop at Brooklyn Homebrew. One of the advantages to being an extreme commuter (Brooklyn to Connecticut!) is that I have access to all of the resources New York City has to offer. I do admit I was interested in learning to homebrew as a personal hobby, but I approached this class as I do many of my extracurriculars: curious as to whether it could be adapted within the walls of my library.

I strive to plan programs that are not only educational and entertaining, but also empower the patron with a tangible skill to take home. The workshop I attended surpassed these standards, and I suspected it would attract a different demographic than our other library programs. Finding the right brewers to conduct the workshop was difficult at first. I had a Brooklyn homebrewer commit then bow out, and my request to the teacher from the Brooklyn Homebrew class went unanswered. I finally found what I was looking for by contacting a beer geek who conducts classes out of his townhouse in Brooklyn. While he declined my offer, he did recommend a wonderful husband-and-wife team who own a home brewing supply company in Connecticut. This is how I found Tess and Mark Szamatulski of Maltose Express in Monroe.

After speaking with them on the phone and via email, I was confident I had found the right fit for the workshop. I scheduled the class to go from 6:30–9 p.m. to allow time to complete all the steps in the brewing process. Because beer has to ferment for several weeks before it is drinkable, the instructors brought ready-to-drink samples with them so the class could taste homebrew beer during the demonstration. They encouraged us to visit their shop in six to eight weeks, when our own batch would be ready. They even named it “Library Lager” in our honor!

Step by step, Tess and Mark walked us through steeping the wort, adding the malt extract, adding the hops, chilling the wort, and sanitizing the fermenter. They brought samples of all the ingredients for us to touch and smell as they explained the difference between lager and India pale ale. The workshop had a hands-on flavor as Tess and Mark invited students to stir the mixture and take in the smells wafting from the giant pot. Our conference room smelled like freshly baked bread. Attendees were a mix of beer enthusiasts who were curious to know a little more about where their favorite libation comes from, and patrons ready to take the plunge and purchase their own homebrew kits.

In the end, the program was very low maintenance. Tess and Mark brought all of their own equipment; we provided a comfortable space for the workshop and convenient access to a water source. I also capped the registration at twenty-five so it would feel like a classroom discussion rather than a seminar. Patrons left in high spirits with a better understanding of where beer comes from. Cheers!