When Brett Mullin needed a career change, he might have quaffed a pint or two of lager, looked at everyone else doing the same and found his niche.
Mullin realized his carpentry craft was done because of lingering shoulder damage, while the craft beer phase was ripe for his expertise. Mullin, 28, brewed his first batch of beer when he was 18, not even old enough to drink it out of the house.
“My parents wouldn't touch it. They thought it would make them sick,” he says now, perched on a padded stool at the counter of Brew Your Own Bottle, at 162 Haddon Ave., in the Westmont section of Haddon Township. The shop has drawn rave reviews from beer fans who are involved in home brewing.
It's neat, clean and bright, and almost any time you stop there's a customer or two, exchanging recipes or picking up supplies. You can't buy beer here, but Mullin offers a taste of at least three different brews on tap. Last week, it was a drop-off point for a contest for home-brewed pumpkin beer, a drink that has swept through the area with new fans but is almost at the end of its season.
Beer-brewing requires a whole new vocabulary, especially for people who feel they're adventurous if they order a pint of a flavor new to the local pub. Mullin can help with that and patiently walks newcomers through terms like wort (unfermented beer) as well as basic differences between beer and ale.
“You need grain and yeast and hops, if doing a beer flavored with hops. You can flavor it with all sorts of things. Try raspberry. Hops make it smell like grass, like a mowed lawn,” he explains.
(Already this Rolling Rock fan is lost, and just as I learned PBR isn't a variation on peanut butter and jelly.)
Beer has no alcohol until the yeast is added, says Mullin—a good point to know when the alcohol content of beer by volume can range from 3.2 to 14 percent. Most home brews are around 5 percent, but those higher numbers explain why many craft beers not only cost a lot at the bar, but why two of them will make it dangerous to drive home.
“Most people like an alcohol content of 6 to 8 percent. You have two and you'll feel warm and fuzzy,” Mullin notes.
A lot of things can go wrong with home-brewing, says Mullin, and all of them are tied to bacteria in the mix. A contaminated batch won't make you ill. It will just taste off. “You have to sterilize all the containers and tools,” he notes.
Ian Blood of Princeton stopped in Mullin's shop recently with a friend, Carlos Cavalie of Camden. Both work for Educational Testing Service, the college boards company.
“I just came in to look over what's here,” says Blood, who has shared the brewing duty for one batch of beer with Cavalie. “It took about a month until we could drink it. My girlfriend's dad has made beer, through trial and error, and he's gotten good.”
Once you have the equipment and some know-how, home brewing is cheaper than buying a six-pack. Mullin's business is a favorite stop of the local home brew club, which has about 250 members.
“People really help one another with ideas,” he says. One of his customers has won a national competition and another won a trip to Prague.
“There are no known pathogens in beer or wine,” Mullin adds. “The only problem is if you imbibe too much.”
He sells a starter kit, including a glass fermentation jug and thermometer as well as ingredients, for $120. There's a trend to making session beers, about 4.5 gallons.
Mullin also offers small classes in beer brewing for $140 to $160. He's booked through December for Saturday and Sunday classes. Groups in the class will brew 5 gallons of beer, which goes into recycled bottles.
“You'll brew it in class and it will sit here for a month and you'll come back and bottle it. It's ready to drink that day. It's really not very hard. There's a lot of science involved but you really don't have to know the science, just know what to do,” the brewer explains.
All types of holiday brews are on the horizon. One of Mullin's favorites is a tomato and basil beer and he's also brewed beers flavored with persimmon, chocolate and cherry and pineapple.
The shop has adequate off-street parking and has been welcomed by other merchants. “I really wanted to go to Collingswood, but they wouldn't hear of it because it's a dry town,” Mullin adds.
Brew Your Own Bottle is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The shop is closed on Mondays. The website, brewyourownbottle.com, lists ongoing events and sales.