Cheers to beer: Cedar Rapids Beer Nuts prepare for annual Homebrew Festival

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When fall hits and high school teacher Mark Jensen has a hard day at work, he comes home, picks a hops cone growing on a 16-foot trellis in his backyard and inhales its citrusy scent.

“What makes me happy? Coming home in early fall and crushing a hops cone in my hand — I’m better,” he said.

He grows the hops to supply his weekend hobby, brewing beer in his garage. A member of the Cedar Rapids Beer Nuts, a local club of amateur brewers, he is one of a growing number of homebrewing enthusiasts both in the Corridor and nationwide.

As craft beer’s popularity has exploded across the country, so has homebrewing. According to the American Homebrewers Association, there are an estimated 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States, two-thirds of whom started brewing in 2005 or later. They produce an estimated 2 million barrels of beer a year, about 1 percent of total U.S. beer production.

The Beer Nuts formed in 2006 and grew out of a long-established but small group called CR Brew. These days, the club has 40 to 50 active participants, up from the handful of founding members.

Matt Franklin is the club’s president. In his basement, several small gleaming tanks fill a room he specifically designed for them when he and his wife built their Cedar Rapids home. A boil kettle, hot liquor tank, mashtun and a homemade grain miller are just some of the equipment he uses to turn water, malt and hops into IPAs, stouts and lagers. He finishes the fermentation process in a specially retrofitted refrigerator.

All of this equipment feeds his passion, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

“You can just use a little pot on your stove and still make awesome beer,” he said. “There’s a lot of science and there’s a lot of art to it.”

Many craft brewers got their start as homebrewers, such as Lion Bridge Brewing Company co-owner Quinton McClain. Now, the Beer Nuts meet monthly in McClain’s brewery for its public happy hour, when members of the public are welcome to come by to chat about brewing and taste members’ concoctions.

The public also can get a taste of what the homebrewers are creating at the club’s upcoming Homebrew Festival on Aug. 19. Club members will pour more than 100 of their beers, and other clubs from around Eastern Iowa will bring beers as well. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Pints for Prostates.

Jensen is coordinating the festival. He said he expects to see some unique beers that won’t be found on store shelves anytime soon. Last year, for example, he tried a creeping Charlie beer, brewed from weeds growing in the brewer’s backyard.

While he enjoys the act of brewing — he gets to use skills learned while studying biology and chemistry in college — the social aspect of the festival and the club are other big motivators.

“It’s a lot of fun to pour beer for people,” he said. “People love talking about beer.”

Franklin agreed.

“It’s just a fun, social thing. Beer has always been a way to bring people together,” he said.

More info

What: Beer Nuts Homebrew Festival

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 19

Where: Benz Beverage Depot, 501 Seventh Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids

Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door; http://bit.ly/2w6MFLw

What: Beer Nuts Happy Hour

When: 3 to 5 p.m. on the third Sunday of every month except December; Next event is Aug. 27

Where: Lion Bridge Brewing Company, 59 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

More information: www.facebook.com/CedarRapids

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