Since college, I've been more of a wine-drinker than a beer-drinker. I never liked the usual cheap fare - Budweiser, Miller, Coors. Even the micro-brews weren't as good as a nice Shiraz. That is, until my husband got aboard the Peak Oil train with his new home-brewing hobby.
Homebrew Zen (See the yin-yang?)
My husband got a beer-brewing kit for Christmas, 2007. I think the equipment cost about $100. He saved up Sam Adams bottles for his brew for a few months, then received an awesome gift of some German beer bottles that have built-in, re-usable caps. At that point, he started brewing his first batch. Since then, he has brewed five batches of brew at about 50 beers each. Each time, he tries something new. A porter, a peach wheat beer, a nut brown ale. Each one seems better than the last, but each one is unique and delicious. I still have fond memories of that first porter.
Beer has a long and interesting history, having been brewed for over 9000 years. The Mesopotamians worshipped Ninkasi, the goddess of brewing. The monasteries of Europe brewed (and still brew) beer. Breweries in America originally brewed beer as strong as the beer common in Europe. When Prohibition in America forced most breweries into bankruptcy, bootleggers began watering down beer to increase profits, resulting in the much weaker beers that are popular in America today.
We have been buying beer "kits" from a local brew shop. The kits have everything but the tools and the bottles - including the malt extract, hops, priming sugar, and bottle caps. They cost about $33 - $40 each, to make about 50 beers. Less than a dollar each - I think it's a reasonable price for top quality beer. We joke about how many kits we need to stock to have enough beer when TSHTF. Maybe we're not joking.
The local brew shops make it very easy to get started. The proprietors are usually very helpful, sometimes even holding classes for beginners. When first reading a beer making book, the process looks complicated. But if you just take it step by step, following the instructions in a kit, it isn't hard. The process takes three or four hours one day to brew the beer, then about an hour to transfer the beer on another day, then finally another hour or two to bottle the beer. Four to six weeks later, we have bodacious beer.
Eventually we'd like to start making beer from scratch - using real wheat and home grown hops (which were already planted last fall!). Until then, I think home brewing is an economical and ecological winner, even using the kits. First of all, you re-use the bottles over and over, instead of sending them off to be recycled. Much better to re-use than re-cycle. Secondly, although the kits do have to be shipped in from who knows where, the shipping weight is much less than the equivalent of 50 beers. Third, we CAN store the kits, whereas beer stored for very long would go bad and take up a lot of room. And finally, it's a distributed and local process, so it builds resilience and self-reliance. Way to go, husband!