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Brian Knobf | With beer, he brews good cheer

Brewing your own beer is as much of a cultural phenomenon in the Northwest as consuming it. That's good news to Brian Knobf, owner of The Cellar, an emporium for beer and winemaking aficionados in Shoreline.

From poor people to rich people, suburban dads to East African immigrants yearning to replicate the sua and tej of their homelands, "you get all types in here," says Knobf of his brewing store. " 'I'm teaching my friend how to make beer today' — I've heard that here a million times."

The attraction of home brewing is two-fold, he said: Some are looking to save money on beer; others find rewards in the process itself.

"Believe it or not, there are a lot of beer and wine makers who are engineers," says Knobf, himself a former mechanical engineer. "They want to know how beer's made, the mystery behind it. Why is it like this? How does it happen?"

No mystery. All you need are some stainless-steel kettles, a stove, a fermenting tank, hops, grain, yeast and about a month. Biology does most of the dirty work.

"Basically, it's yeast eating sugar — that's the big thing behind it," Knobf explains.

He says the most common question frustrated customers ask is: "My beer was going really good. It was fermenting. And then it stopped. What happened?"

Answer: The sugar's all gone. Expect swill.

Knobf, who's from Spokane, started making beer in college as a hobby to cure his boredom; he had no intention of building a career around it. Soon he was having brewing (and drinking) parties.

"It's like cooking," he says, "a little bit of this, a little bit of that."

Even today at 39, Knobf keeps cases of his own brew at The Cellar and at home so friends and customers can sample it. "That's a big thing — sharing, having people try your beer."

In the store, Knobf sells brewing manuals for beginners, including a book of recipes that replicate the flavors of popular beers. For many people, though, home brewing is more about creating a beer that the corner pub will never carry but tastes as if it could have come from there.

Experimenting is part of the fun. Just mind the stove.

"When you look away," Knobf jokes, "your pot always bubbles over."

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