The Coast News Group
Paul Sangster brews beer in front of his home. Sangster, now owner of Rip Current Brewery in San Marcos, has been making his own beer for more than 20 years. Encinitas Brewfest is holding its first home-brewing contest at the MiraCosta College San Elijo Campus Aug. 3. Photo courtesy of Paul Sangster

Encinitas beer festival taps into trend of home brewing

ENCINITAS — Paul Sangster decided roughly two decades ago he wanted to make his own beer. 

At first, he was duplicating his favorite beers, but later moved on to perfecting original recipes.

After years of hard work, he’s one of San Diego’s most decorated home brewers, having won state and national contests.

“Home brewing engages both sides of the brain,” Sangster said. “You have to be creative to come up with good recipes. And you have to have a technical knowledge of the equipment and ingredients.”

Home brewing is coming to Encinitas Brewfest at the MiraCosta College San Elijo Campus Aug. 3.

Put on by the Encinitas Coastal Rotary Club to benefit local charities, Brewfest is known for showcasing local breweries and craft beer. In a nod to the growing trend of home brewing, this year’s event will also feature a new contest for those who make their own suds.

Sangster, one of the event’s judges, noted that home brewing has exploded in popularity since he started in the 1990s. He primarily attributes this to the Internet.

“It’s easier to learn and compare notes with other brewers,” Sangster said. “In the old days, you were in the dark if you wanted to learn.”

And a wider range of ingredients, including various grains and hops, can be purchased online or at local home-brewing stores. As a result, home brewers now have a greater palette to work with.

Also, he said San Diego has a strong home brewing community. Sangster is the vice president of the local QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity) — a group of nearly 200 people who meet once a month to share beer-making tips.

“There’s something about getting together with friends and sharing beers you’ve made,” Sangster said, adding that there’s much to be learned from other brewers’ critiques.

While many are happy making beer from the comfort of their own homes, some brewers choose to “go pro.”

For instance, Sangster and another brewer opened Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos last year. He noted it’s not uncommon for home brewers to take the plunge into professional brewing.

“It’s not a coincidence that a lot of people leading breweries were first home brewers,” Sangster said. “The best breweries put their passion for brewing first.”

Curtis Chism, who will be taking part in the Encinitas Brewfest contest, said craft beer and home brewing have a “symbiotic relationship.”

The best craft beers were born from tireless innovators experimenting with recipes in their garages, he said.

“They fuel each other,” said Chism, who produces everything from German to English-style beers and has earned first place ribbons during the San Diego County Fair.

And that’s translated into more equipment and ingredient sales for home-brewing stores, said Ryan Pistole from Home Brew Mart in San Diego.

“Everyone seems to want to brew their own beer these days,” Pistole said.

The trend is playing out across the country.

According to the American Homebrewers Association, gross revenue rose 29 percent in 2012 for home brewing supply shops throughout the nation. The growth percentage is 10 percent higher than the association’s first survey in 2009.

Also, 80 percent of the shops reported selling more home-brewing starter kits.

Pistole said a home-brewing starter kit runs $200, but could be less if the shopper already possesses some of the necessary items. From there, ingredients are extra.

For the home brewing contest, 28 judges, who are sanctioned by the Beer Judge Certification Program, will rate more than 100 entries, giving each participant a score card at the end.

Vembra Holnagel, who helped organize the event, said Brewfest is all about featuring the best of North County’s growing beer scene.

“Since North County is a mecca of new breweries, many of whom come from the home brew arena, what better way to tap into our unique place in the world than to include a sanctioned home brew competition,” she said.

The home brew competition will be held at noon; the rest of the event is from 4 to 7 p.m.

General admission to the event is $40 and includes 10 beer tastings; $75 for VIPs.

Designated drivers get in free. Tickets can be purchased at or call 858-354-5931.

Proceeds will go to charities like the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA, Military Outreach Ministry and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Craft breweries include Firestone, Green Flash, Lost Abbey and others.