The Darien Library was hopping last Wednesday. Seriously.
As part of its ongoing adult programming series, the library hosted an evening with Maltose Express, a Monroe-based business that caters to home brewers of wine and beer. The event, which was held April 10, was essentially a crash course in beer brewing that drew about 25 people, many of whom have already had experience brewing at home and were looking for tips from experts in the trade.
"It's an interesting time for craft brewers," said Mark Szamatulski, who, with his wife Tess, have made home brewing their career and run the Maltose Express. "The market for commercial beers is actually shrinking, and we're just at a point where there will be more local beers."
He estimated that there are about 500 new craft brewers waiting to enter the market in the United States, and that currently, small craft brewers make up about 60 to 70 percent of the beer market. And they don't follow the rules, he said. Brewers are coming up with new ingredients flavor their beer, including coconut, s'mores and fruits.
Wednesday night's event included a demonstration of home brewing, complete with hops and grains cooking on a hot plate, and plenty of brewed beer was available for sampling. Szamatulski passed around several samples of hops, grains, and malts for the audience to smell to get a sense of where the flavors come from in their beers. There also were plenty of opportunities for audience members to ask questions.
"You want a perfect marriage of hops and malts, and that's what makes a good beer," Tess said, as she stirred a pot full of "wort," or boiling grains that will eventually make up the base for a batch of beer. She explained facts, such as how 150 degrees is the perfect temperature for a batch of beer, and that good water will make or break a batch.
"Water is what elevates a good beer to a great beer," she said. "In some parts of the world it is treated with salts or gypsum. Water is 80 to 90 percent of the beer so it's very important to treat your water if you are brewing at home."
A taste for the unique has led to an explosion of folks looking to home brew their own batches, and that has made for quite a business for the Szamatulskis. While they aren't technically a brewery, their store sells just about everything needed for the home brewery, including distilling equipment and ingredients such as hops, malts, and other brewing equipment.
"This is very rewarding to do," Tess said. "Sometimes on a cold day there's nothing better than a good batch of beer brewing. If there's a beer you like, you can make it. The difference is that it will be fresher because you made it at home."
She knows what she is talking about. She and her husband are the authors of two homebrewing books, "Clonebrews," which is a book that recreates the recipes of some of the best beers on the market, including Long Trail and Guinness. Another book, "Beer Captured," is a title dedicated to teaching amateurs how to brew some of the most popular types of beers, such as lagers, ales and stouts.
"I love beer, and after taking a class on home brewing I knew I wanted to bring one to the library," Erin Shea, head of adult programming at the library, said. "I feel the community responds well to things that involve learning to do things with their hands such as fixing a bike, growing your own garden or brewing your own beer."
Among the audience members was Darien resident John Davis, who said he has experimented with brewing a drink called "Apple Jack," an alcoholic derivative of apple cider that was made by earlier American colonists by freezing apple cider and adding molasses. When the mixture froze, the ice floated to the top and the alcohol sunk to the bottom, creating a drink similar to apple brandy.
"I've been drinking beer ever since I was `legal' and I wanted to see what the process was for this," he said.