Home Is Where the Brew Is

Chippewa Valley Better Brewers work on electronic brewing system, ways to make better beers

Amelia Kimball, photos by Andrea Paulseth


Bob Schraufnagel wandered into a homebrew shop on Water Street and bought a book that started a journey. That was in the early 1990s.

Schraufnagel has been president of the Chippewa Valley Better Brewers group for at least 15 years. Group members’ passion for beers brings them together to talk, savor, and learn about the beverage. It’s a fun and enjoyable way to gain insight from each other, Schraufnagel said.

“I’m always looking for ways to improve brewing,” he said. “You can share knowledge of how to make your beer better or the process easier.”

Among homebrewers, Schraufnagel said there is typically an interest in craft beers. By homebrewing, you can save money and tweak recipes to make them fit your taste. People also enjoy the process and learning experiences involved. Groups such as the Chippewa Valley Better Brewers are helpful in determining what certain flavors will do to your beer.

“If you really like a commercial beer, but there isn’t something you quite like, you can brew it to get it more towards your taste,” Schraufnagel said.

There are a lot more beer options in liquor stores today compared to when Schraufnagel was starting out, but homebrewing allows enthusiasts to brew beers for about 50 cents a bottle, which helps explains its increasing popularity. Many groups, such as the Menomonie chapter of Better Brewers, are driven towards the technology and money-saving strategies of brewing, Schraufnagel said. Electronic brewing systems offer both convenience and savings because they aren’t as expensive as they were previously, and they allow for brewing inside a home instead of outside. Brewing outside is great on a nice day, but not so nice in the dead of a Wisconsin winter.

The electronic system Schraufnagel created is not only convenient for its location, but also for its pumping system. Instead of lifting liquids and potentially burning yourself, the machine easily pumps around the brew. Brewing 10 gallons of award-winning beer suddenly doesn’t take as long, especially when using all grain instead of extract. Schraufnagel’s Belgian honey ale won best of show at an Eau Claire 4-H competition.

Another popular brewing method is microbrewing. It’s a great fit in the trend of urban/apartment living, Schraufnagel said. A decent amount of space is still needed, but something the size of a closet is usually sufficient. Beer can be brewed in one-gallon batches. It’s more expensive, but it’s easy and useful for those who want to try traditional homebrewing. Getting started isn’t too hard or expensive. It takes patience, and the labor of bottling the beer can be tiresome. Joining a group is a good idea whether it’s your first time brewing or your millionth. The process can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding, he said.

On Oct. 1, the Chippewa Valley Better Brewers will celebrate Zwanze Day, a festival that originated at a brewery in Brussels, Belgium. The event begins at noon in Brussels (that’s 5am Eau Claire time). And on Nov. 5, the group will mark International Learn to Homebrew Day.

After all this time, Schraufnagel said he learns from newcomers and uses his knowledge to improve his skills and the group. As president, he schedules meetings and finds locations for group use. He sees a lot of people come in as young professionals with both time and interest. Then they have families, and that part of their life often fades. But it eventually comes full circle: When they get older, he says, brewing calls them back.

Learn more at www.meetup.com/Chippewa-Valley-Better-Brewers/.