Philip Billoni, M.D., discovered two great loves while living in Oregon: hospital medicine and craft beer.
“The Pacific Northwest has great craft brews and good hops,” he said. “The homebrew movement was really starting to kick off in the early 2000s, when I lived there. I thought it would be fun to do myself.”
When Dr. Billoni moved to Lancaster in 2008, he started home-brewing with his brother-in-law, John van Harskamp. The duo – known as “Eden Craft Brewers” in honor of their neighborhood -- brew mostly for themselves and family parties.
Dr. Billoni, of Internal Medicine Hospitalists, also enjoys cooking from scratch, which makes home-brewing a natural leap. He and van Harskamp experiment with combinations of grains, yeast and hops to create different flavor profiles. They even grow two types of hops for their Hopfight brew.
“You can make the beer your own,” Dr. Billoni said. “It’s fun to share that with people. Generally speaking, we like to make straight-up beers. We want our beer to taste like beer.”
The duo – who did once brew a Wilbur Bud chocolate stout -- are mostly self-taught. They attend meetings of the Lancaster Homebrew Club and pick up tips from fellow hospitalist Dr. Jennifer DeLutis’ husband, Ryan, owner and head brewmaster for the Brewery at Hershey.
Dr. Phil Billoni (left) poses with Ryan DeLutis at Eden Craft Brewers' annual Oktoberfest celebration, which includes a huge tent.
“As you get more and more into it, you start to acquire more and more expensive equipment,” Dr. Billoni said. “We basically have the same equipment as a brewery, just in miniature.”
Brewing takes time and patience – at least three to eight weeks, depending on the style of beer.
The specifics also vary by style of beer, but the brewing process begins with combining hot water with mashed grains. The resulting sugary water (“wort”) is filtered into a kettle. (More grain equals more sugar in the wort and a higher alcohol content.)
As the wort boils for 60 to 90 minutes, hops are added, lending bitterness and aroma, and balancing out the sugar. The wort then goes through a reverse chiller and into chilled carboys, where yeast is added.
The beer ferments in a basement closet – or “beer cave” -- for about two weeks, while the yeast settles. It’s then siphoned into two 5-gallon stainless steel kegs and carbonated using an attached CO2 tank.
Eden Craft Brewers serve their beer at an annual neighborhood Oktoberfest celebration, featuring bands and a huge tent. They start brewing for the bash in May.
“It takes a while to accumulate enough beer for 200 people,” Dr. Billoni said. “We make about 50 gallons total, in five or six different styles.”
The judges at the 2013 Mount Hope Brewfest also appreciated Eden Craft Brewers’ creations, awarding the duo first place in the porter category and third in IPA.
But as much as Dr. Billoni enjoys home-brewing, it’s strictly a hobby.
“We thought about making it a business for a while,” he said. “But then we came back to reality.”