How Quarantine Has Inspired a New Wave of Homebrewers

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be trying to open my own brewery.”

Sarah Flora
Sarah Flora
Sarah Flora
After spending time at a beer bar in college and discovering her love for Belgians and Stouts, Sarah Flora realized that beer is her passion. Though she works full-time at an art gallery in LA, her hobby for homebrewing has evolved from a homebrew kit and soup pot on the stove. Now Flora Brewing has amassed nearly 10,000 YouTube followers who tune in for recipe how-tos, canning tips, and tasting reviews. While COVID-19 has changed her career plans a bit, she says that it’s also inspired a second wave of homebrew enthusiasts and forced people to rethink how the brewing industry operates today. As told to Jess Mayhugh.

I’m the type of person that won’t let things sit around. I got my husband a homebrew kit for one of his birthdays and he never touched it. I always wanted to get into science -- my mom’s a science teacher, my dad’s an engineer -- but I went to school for art and now work for an art gallery full-time. Home brewing is an easy way to bridge creativity with science. I’ve always cooked, so it spoke to me in that same way. I’m not a huge baker because you have to be more rigid. I’m more of an experimenter and love being able to try something out, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s just a $30 project.

In the beginning, I got mansplained a lot. It’s typically super male-dominated, but it’s becoming way more accessible and you’re seeing more diverse home brewers every day. It used to be worse when I first started, especially on Instagram, when people used to be more sexist. Now people see my value as more than just a pretty face. I hold myself accountable and learn more every time I brew and post. I got started in the homebrew club SoCal Cerveceros because they were trying to diversify the gender of their club. People are making a major push to be more inclusive with BIPOC and gender. It’s been nice to see the change. I couldn’t imagine starting to homebrew back in the ’90s. Any question I have, I can Google. Back then, it was all white dudes just talking to each other in a bubble.

One of the first recipes I created was a tangerine wheat. I grew up drinking Lost Coast’s Tangerine Wheat -- it is to die for. We went to that brewery constantly, and they told us how they make their Great White Wheat beer, adding coriander and lime leaves to it, so I thought we have to try it. There is so much tangerine juice, zest, lime juice, coriander, and lime leaves. It was the first time I was like I can make a beer I can actually drink. My favorite beer I make is called Road Soadie, which is a Mosaic and Simcoe IPA. I also make a black IPA, Irish stout, and cherry saison that is super popular at festivals. All the beers I started doing early on are beers I’d want to drink. It’s so rewarding, which is why it’s addicting. You wait around two weeks to a month before you can try it and it’s honestly magic how it happens.

Sarah Flora
Sarah Flora

On the flipside, I’ve made a ton of IPAs that ferment too hot because we live in an apartment in LA and I didn’t know about temperature control yet. One way I fix an IPA is to add a bunch of fruit. I’ve made some real weird beers. I made a golden chai stout and used way too much smoked malt in it, so it just tasted like a campfire with no real substance. But it leveled out a year in -- that smoky taste dropped out. I always try to keep my mistakes around to see how they might evolve.

At the beginning of COVID, there was a huge spike in my YouTube views. Because there’s a lot of people who are new to home brewing. I’ve had multiple friends pick up the hobby, who never showed interest before and I’m mentoring them via text. Some of my neighbors got into it after taking a break for five years. It’s just like everyone baking bread -- everyone has more time at home and it’s an easy hobby to pick up. All the homebrew supply places are sold out of starter kits and I know a lot of homebrewers are having problems getting cans. But it’s great, in a time when a lot of businesses are struggling, homebrew shops are busier than ever. Two of the homebrew clubs I’m in have been doing calls on Zoom to keep the community going. They contact local liquor stores to create custom six packs that all the members can buy and discuss. It’s very innovative.

"You wait around two weeks to a month before you can try it and it’s honestly magic how it happens."

A lot of people I know who brew do have aspirations to open their own brewery, it just all depends on how satisfied you are with your day job. I’m personally a homebrewer trying to go pro. We’ve been in the works trying to figure out exactly what we’re going to do to open a brewery. Before quarantine, we were thinking of going big to start. But then all the breweries basically shut down and you can’t do a taproom now and be super profitable. We have property up in Washington State and we’ve always wanted to open there because we love the scene and vibe. We might now open just for distribution on the property, on a tiny nanoscale. I want to see if it’s viable. The funny thing is that alcohol consumption has actually increased even though bars and taprooms are closed. What used to be the taproom-dependent model will now have to lean more heavily into distribution. We are truly in an unprecedented time.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be trying to open my own brewery. It’s funny to start in a completely different industry: I was going to college to work in the art world, and I started brewing at 26. My dad has been a packaging engineer forever, making beer bottles since I was born. He was one of the first people to take me to breweries when I was young, so I guess it’s really always been a calling.

Flora has been inspired by these beers:

Tangerine Wheat from Lost Coast Brewing
This is what got me interested in craft beer. It basically tastes like orange juice, so I was a fan in college. I based my own tangerine wheat off a combination of this and Lost Coast’s Great White.
Phantom Bride from Belching Beaver
This is my go-to IPA. It has Simcoe and Mosaic, which is my favorite combination of hops. It’s a sweeter IPA and super easy to drink.
La Fin Du Monde from Unibroue
I started drinking this beer in college and have always had a special place in my heart for it. It’s a Belgian Tripel and just tastes fancy. It has a peppery/floral taste and aroma that I get from most Belgian Ales and it’s not overpowering in sweetness like some Tripels can be.
Recursion from Bottle Logic
This is my most recent absolute favorite. This is exactly what I want an IPA to taste like. It’s tropical, but I wouldn’t really call it juicy. It’s just a really well-balanced, expertly made beer.

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