Ann Arbor is home to a large foodie population, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that students are brewing their own beer. These students share a subtle passion for the art of brewery as well as for its final product. Just ask around — you’ve probably met a closet brewer.

The beauty of home brewing is that you can adjust the ingredients — and alcohol content — to your tastes. Even on a bad day, your home brew will likely be better and less expensive than anything you’d find at Campus Corner. The delicate process, which often involves a simmering concoction of obscure ingredients and a couple good friends, is just a cauldron away from Macbeth’s witches’ brew.

A second pleasure of home brewing is developing a keen understanding and appreciation of where your drink actually comes from. This was immediately apparent when I met LSA junior James Graessle. While his roommate prepared a loaf of honey wheat bread, James explained how he put cherry concentrate in his latest concoction.

Commenting on his previous batch, he mentions, “I like it, it’s good beer … to go out and buy nice beer, it’s a lot of money.” He calculates that this batch, which yielded about two cases of “good beer,” only cost about $30.

James brews with two of his roommates and mentions that they taught themselves to brew using online resources. He uses malt extract, which is quicker than traditional all-grain “mash” brewing. In this process, the final brew must sit in the dark for a week before adding sugar, bottling it and waiting about two to six more weeks.

For those interested in brewing, he has three key recommendations: regulate the temperature closely, sterilize carefully and avoid exposure to light during fermentation. James recommends Ann Arbor’s Beer Depot and mentions that brewers will need a kitchen and some room — or at least a closet — to brew and ferment beer.

Home brewing is also an excellent means of developing your palate. Foodie Oren Brandvain, LSA junior, also brews with his roommates. He enjoys it because of the beer’s quality and comments that he has developed a taste for better brews as a result. Oren brews by the “all-grain” brewing process, which combines steeped grains, “the mash,” hops and yeast after cooling. The mixture is fermented for two weeks in a carboy before adding sugar and bottling for seven to 10 more days.

Oren advises any aspiring brewer who wants to refine his or her palate to keep a very detailed journal and record minutiae like temperature readings throughout the process. That way they can account for different tastes between batches. He also stressed the importance of sanitation: “If it’s not completely sanitized, it might taste sour.”

If the timing and strict temperature regulation involved in beer brewing are too daunting, there are a few other options for those interested in knocking back a homemade brew. In addition to brewing beer, Juan Leon, Music, Theatre & Dance junior, makes his own hard cider.

Juan’s enthusiasm for brewing was immediately apparent when he gave me a tour of his brewing stations. Beside fermenting cider, Juan also makes ginger beer; both were capped with a carboy bung. A third kind of brew, strawberry wheat lager, rested in the cool, dark basement.

Unlike beer, cider doesn’t need to be heated during brewing. After prepping, Juan introduces his own yeast from U-Brew in Ypsilanti, which he recommends because the staffers are very helpful and knowledgeable about the beer-brewing process. He has tried both champagne and ale yeast, and he recommends champagne yeast for hard cider. Juan stores the cider in a covered carboy at room temperature for two to three weeks before bottling.

With three diversified drinks in the making, Juan demonstrates his commitment to curiosity and the art of brewery. For those who are interested in brewing beer or hard cider, Juan recommends that students buy a kit to get started on a project of their own.

“Really,” he said, “it’s all about experimenting.

Few can match the excitement of first-year Rackham student Tim Friese as he explains his mead-brewing process. Mead, as Tim explains, is a 20-40 proof honey wine. He started brewing the drink several years ago because the only mead he could find was watery and expensive.

Brewing mead requires a few more ingredients than cider, but it uses a very similar process. Tim uses Bryan Acton and Peter Duncan’s book “Making Mead” as a guide. He pours gently heated honey and water into a 6.5 gallon carboy before adding the remaining ingredients, which include citric acid, tannins and champagne yeast. In a slightly arduous process, Tim shakes the large bottle before filling it to the top with water and letting it ferment for two to three months.

Revealing his love for the art of brewery, Tim described how he experiments by adding fruit like lemons or peach concentrate. The addition of the peach juice was his most recent success. He has also tried adding different types of honey, like clover and wildflower varieties. Tim does not, however, recommend eucalyptus tree honey, saying that his last eucalyptus brew “smelled like dirty socks — but actually had the most character.”

Tim zealously encourages anyone who’s interested in brewing to at least try it. He stresses the importance of documenting the process and labeling the carboys so it’s easier to see how different ingredients affect the final brew.

Apart from a love of brewing and the brew itself, the most common theme I found during my home-brewed inquisitions was the sharing of the spoils. So, if you’ve been craving a good brew at a pauper’s price, grab a few good friends and take a trip to The Beer Depot.

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