A home brewer with over 20 years of experience is helping people brew their own beer.
Craft beer may overfloweth now, but in the early 1990s its availability was at somber levels.
“We were getting Sam Smiths, thinking that was the coolest thing ever,” said Tony Ammendolia, longtime beer drinker, home brewer, and owner of home-brewing supply store Original Gravity. “Nowadays that’s pretty much considered boring. But back then it was like, ‘Wow check this out. Imported from England!'”
The seemingly nonexistent craft beer market, coupled with Ammendolia’s do-it-yourself fondness, inspired him to give home brewing a try in 1993 to “sort of learn a little bit more, I guess, about the mystery of beer and how it’s created by doing it yourself,” he said. He’s been doing it since.
But in the last decade, many others are doing it too. “The growth of the industry has happened quite a bit over the last ten years or so,” he said. Beer and home brewing have been his loves for several years, and the increased interest on the part of others got him thinking: why not start a business around home brewing?
“They always say ‘Do what you love and the money will come’…so that’s one side of it,” Ammendolia said. “Whenever someone found out I was a home brewer, they’d start asking questions. And I never got tired of answering the basic questions about how beer is made.”
Not only did he have the interest and love for a business but a strong retail background to go with it, having assistant managed Ellwood Thompson’s and Whole Foods in Short Pump.
But why do people take the time to create beer when it’s readily available? Ammendolia said the rise in the popularity of craft beer has contributed to the interest, but so has a broader change in culture. “There was a time when people were just happy to have everything done for them, packaged and given to them,” he said. “It seems like, in general, there are a lot more people doing things from scratch.”
Many of his customers are brewing newbies. “It’s a growing hobby, so I’m seeing a lot of brand new brewers for sure,” he said. Many of those new brewers are already educated on the basic elements of home brewing from reading articles and blogs on the internet. “I’d say that 50 percent of the people who start it stick with it, to a degree.”
Ammendolia said new brewers can gather all of the equipment they need to begin home brewing for about $200, which includes ingredients to make the first five-gallon batch.2 Subsequent batches will cost about $40 for each five-gallon batch. Ammendolia said most beer takes about four weeks to finish brewing, with some lasting up to eight weeks.
One of the most important pieces of advice he imparts to new brewers is to tone down their zeal. “Don’t start right out of the gate trying to add all these different flavors to your beer,” he said. “A lot of beginner brewers just want to go crazy and throw all kinds of flavoring things into their beer.”
“Pick a recipe that you think looks good and just brew it as is,” he said. “And do several of those before you start throwing everything in there.”
But once brewers do feel comfortable experimenting with ingredients, Original Gravity stocks many to throw in. There’s the peated malt that creates a smokey, Scottish Ale flavor; dark munich that creates a malty, German Bock flavor; and the chocolate rye malt that creates sweetness; among other available varietals.
Original Gravity also stocks supplies to make homemade wine. Ammendolia said he’d also like to host classes sometime in the future, as well as create a nanobrewery.
Ultimately, Ammendolia wants other people to get as excited about brewing beer, and to appreciate the mystery of beer, as he still does even after over 20 years of home brewing experience. “It’s always exciting for me even though I do everything that I can to make sure I have a good beer in the end, there’s still this sort of unpredictability of it,” he said. But the wait is nearly always worth it.
“Not only then can you enjoy the thing that you made, but you can share it with others and they can enjoy it too,” he said.
Original Gravity is located at 6920 Lakeside Drive.