With fall in the air we find our minds turning to beer, glorious beer. But sometimes getting a beer from a bar or your deli just is too easy, y'know? Sometimes you really just want to spend a good month or so watching your beer brew to perfection and then drink it. And for those times, you can always turn your tiny New York apartment into a brewery. No, really! The Brooklyn Kitchen offers twice-monthly classes on the topic. To give you a tipple of what to expect, we talked to Ray Girard, who teaches one of them, about what it takes to brew at home, how homebrewing differs from making wine in your basement and what you actually need to get started (spoiler alert: The Brooklyn Kitchen has a starter package you can buy).

So beer making! How long have you been teaching homebrewing classes? I've been teaching the class for about a year. We have two teachers here, myself and my friend Dan Pizzillo, who is a local guy, who was one of the first homebrew customers as well. We take turns teaching it twice a month here at the store.

How much knowledge of homebrewing do people normally walk into that class with? We see a fair range of knowledge, but it's mostly an introductory course so you don't really have to know anything. I would say almost everyone who takes the class is at least a fan of flavorful beers, craft beers, local or from the west coast. They understand styles of beer at least to a certain extent.

So I know nothing about brewing beer. What does it take to start brewing on your own? Well you need a little bit of equipment, which is one of the concerns for people in New York, having smaller apartments. They look like the larger paint buckets that you see at Home Depot or the hardware store. Around six gallons, and you typically need two of those. One of those is going to ferment your beer and the other is to transfer to and has the spigot on it for bottling. Various tubing. You need a capper to put caps on bottles. You need a stock pot...and bottles. The class that we teach, included in the price is a kit which has the two buckets that I described, the capper, and some of the various tubing that you need. But then you would obviously need ingredients for your recipe.

Luckily you guys also sell the ingredients for making the beer too, I assume? We do! We have a full line of ingredients for people to make beer. We have a lot of customers that have already been home brewing and are just coming in to buy ingredients from us, it's part of our store. When the Brooklyn Kitchen moved to this space and joined hands with the Meat Hook, it was November 2009. Harry, one of the owners, had been brewing since college and wanted to incorporate that into his business. When they took on this space they had a lot more room to do that.

How long does it normally take to actually get drinkable beer when you're making it yourself? Well, with homebrewing, we usually start people out with ales, say a typical pale ale, somewhere around 5% ABV. It's going to take somewhere around two weeks for it to ferment and rest. Then you bottle it and then it takes about another two weeks for it to carbonate naturally in the bottle. So somewhere around a month for a typical ale that's not very strong. Lagers, some Belgian beers and stronger ales might take more time to age before you'd actually want to consume them. To mellow out a little bit.

What are the advantages of brewing your own? Being able to have complete control over the process. Having fun with your friends. I've made a lot of good relationships in New York City and places that I've traveled just by being a homebrewer. It's a really great sense of community. I'm sure there's people out there who are brewing beer to save money, and it's possible to do that, but that's not one of the reasons I do it. I do it because I really enjoy it. I can get really fresh beer.

Like I said, you can turn around a beer in a month where, if you've got beer shipped from the West Coast or overseas you sometimes don't know how long it's been in the bottle and it might not be as fresh as you'd like it to be. Those are some of the advantages for me. A friend brought me a beer from Minnesota that we don't get here in New York and I really loved it. I did some research online and tried to do what they call a "clone" of it. That's pretty fun, paying homage to a beer that you really like, trying to copy it is another fun thing that you can do.

When you do something like that, how do you go about trying to copy it? How many trials and errors does it normally take? It can take several tries. One of the good things about the brewing community is a sharing of knowledge. I don't think you could really go look at a high end restaurant's website and get a recipe for their best dishes. If you go onto a beer site, a lot of times you're going to see what ingredients are used in a beer and they'll tell you exactly. You might not know the proportions but you'll at least know what hops they're using, what malts they're using, so you have a starting point. Homebrewers themselves are great sharers of information. Most of the stuff about homebrewing that I learned was on the Internet. Like anything else, there's good and bad information out there, but there are also people who've had similar experiences, who tried to make beer, and can walk you through it. Just looking at old posts on message boards you can come out with really good information.

Are there homebrew sites that you recommend? Yeah, absolutely. I recommend The Brewing Network, which has brewing podcasts, it has a really great forum. They have a couple of different shows, in fact one of them is a show on cloning beers. They've been around for a while and they were a great resource for me when I first started. I also encourage people to who are learning homebrewing to check out The American Homebrewers Association. It's a small membership fee but you get their magazine, Zymurgy, and they also have a great forum on the internet as well.

How did you get into homebrewing? Probably for the last ten years I've always been interested in drinking more flavorful beer than just light, mass-marketed beers. So I was always on the lookout for that. I started looking up breweries and more beer information online to learn more and started seeing that people were making their own beer at home on pretty big scales. And, from what I was reading, being successful with it. I got some ingredients from an online company and started doing it here in Brooklyn about four years ago.

So, again excuse me ignorance, I had a friend in college who made some wine in some buckets. How does homebrewing beer differ from, say, the process of making wine at home. It depends, I guess. When you're making wine, the traditional method is to actually harvest the grapes, then crush them, and then ferment the juice. Where, nowadays, you can just get a juice concentrate and ferment it in a bucket. With beer, you actually have to do mash, you have to infuse the malt around 150 degrees and then the enzymes in the malt will convert the starch into sugars. Grapes already have that sugar potential there. When you're doing the more advanced methods of homebrewing, you actually need to convert the starches into sugars yourself. Generally, like I said, making ales, the turnaround time is going to be a lot shorter making beer than it is making wine. I do think that both hobbies, making any kind of fermented beverage at home, it takes a lot more patience than someone who...you're doing other things. Not to knock them, but if you bake some brownies and they didn't come out right, you can try another batch and have results in a half hour. Whereas beer and wine, mead and cider, it takes a little bit more time to realize what you need to do differently. It can be a little daunting for people but we feel confident here that with the right instruction and attention to detail, people can make really good beer at home.

Do you guys do classes on hard ciders and meads specifically as well? Or are they just part of the hombrewing class? This October we're actually going to be offereing one or two cider-making classes with the cider maker from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire. That's going to be a first for us and we're really excited to have them on board, we're big fans of their products. We've made some cider here at the store but this is the first time we're offering a class. I think it's really special because it's actually a professional teaching the class who's been doing it for a long time. We feel it's going to be a unique experience for people.

How big are your classes generally? The homebrew classes maxes out at 12 people normally. That way, everybody gets to take home a couple bottles of beer that we bottle in class. The class is a little disjointed and non-linear because you see a batch that's already been fermented from the last class but it gives us the ability to show people how to bottle the beer, which normally you wouldn't be able to do everything in one step because, like I said, the beer has to ferment for two weeks. To make it easy for people to come out just for one class, we show them the bottling process from the last class.

Without taking away from your business, do you have any big tips that you can share with our readers? I would say definitely do some research beforehand. Check out some books on homebrewing. Join a friend who's brewing for a brew day. But I definitely recommend taking our class!

What are your favorite beers in general? To brew? To brew, to drink...both! I definitely love most styles of beer! [laughs] But I do really enjoy brewing hoppier American beers. I also love pale ales and IPAs. I also love lower alcohol British ales such as bitters and ESBs and I also love brewing Belgian beers like tripels and saisons.

How many beers do you have going at any given point? It sounds like you do a lot of brewing. I do, I do try to do a lot. At some times I'll have four different things going. I think at home right now I have four different beers that are at various stages. Some I have in my kegerator that are drinkable right now. Other ones are just finishing up fermentation and I'll get those soon and have those to drink as well.

Does homebrewed beer make a good gift? Yeah, absolutely. I've definitely given it as gifts lots of time. I know a lot of people who have some talent with graphic design love to do homemade labels, which are fun for gifts. I typically don't, if I'm bottling something, I typically don't label it but if the occasion is right it is cool to do a label if you're going to give it out as a gift.

Here, just for fun, is Ray talking about Summer beers: