A Homebrewer's Adventure at Burning Man

Home brew is almost as common as commercially made beer at the week long party/art event called Burning Man. The harsh desert environment, with high temperature, dust storms, and cold nights does not seem to deter home brewers from bringing hundreds of gallons of beer out to the event, which draws an amazing crowd of interesting people and crazy partiers. Many home brew bars serve home brew on draft from Cornelius kegs. It was Wednesday of the event when I went to see my friend Sean Lee, the one man banjo, play at the Skinny Kitty Tea House for a home brew tasting and I talked with Reverend Jim of the One True Church of the Great Green Frog.


Dylan M. Blackthorn of the PLAGUE WATER brewing collective.

PLAGUE WATER brewing collectiveSource: HomeBrewing.com

I’ve known Reverend Jim for many years, and when I first met him, it was at the Berkeley, Ca. Mardi Gras parade. He had brought about sixty gallons of home made, all grain home brew in various flavors. The Cornelius kegs, full of home brew, were ingeniously hidden inside giant paper mache floats – if you were keen, you could tell where the beer was hiding and fill your mug. It certainly made for a fun parade!

So, when I heard that Reverend Jim was hosting a home brew beer tasting at Burning Man, I made it a priority to show up. As it turned out, the good reverend brought upwards of 100 gallons of his home brew out to the event, all to be given away for free to those of legal drinking age. Rev. Jim had brought out a draft system built into a small bar, and served his beer at a cool, but not cold temperature. He had two drafts operating at once from a tower style draft dispenser at the “Skinny Kitty Teahouse” camp (so named because of the desiccated feline mummies adorning the camp’s huge shade tent). He was serving a “Cat Piss” Pale Ale, and a brown ale to all legal ale drinkers, while the others who showed up for the show took part in iced green tea from the tea bar.

A few other home brewers showed up with large bottles of their own creation as well – an IPA and a Whit beer were also sampled, among others. But it was the music of Sean Lee the one man banjo, that complimented the reverend’s home brew the best. Sean Lee’s music is like a wandering into a hobo camp full of musicians just outside of New Orleans and attending a goblin circus. And if the free home brew was not enough to attract people’s attention, the music sure was. Sean Lee attracted a crowd of wildly dressed people who danced and drank the afternoon away.

One of the nicest things about the Burning Man event is the focus on the gift economy. The beer is a gift, the music is a gift, and many gifts are given in return, but not required. I was given the gift of beer, and of music – to go – as Sean Lee handed me one of the few CDs of his music that he brought with him to the event. The album, called Spooky Tales, adds to his discography of over ten albums a selection of storytelling, spooky banjo music, and experimental acoustic jams. A great album for the Halloween season – in fact, you could just put this CD on instead of that “spooky Halloween sounds” album on trick or treating night.

I had many more adventures that night with Sean Lee and his band the Hobo Gobbelins as they played dark goblin music around the playa on various art cars and art installations. We visited many bars, some offering home brew, and some not, but reverend Jim’s brews and the home brews of others fueled much of our partying over the course of the event. For home brewers interested in bringing their beer to Burning Man, remember that there are a lot of thirsty throats there, so make sure that you pack enough!

Related Articles:
Catching Up with Ken Grossman - A little background on his early home brewing days and his take on the importance of sanitation in the home brewery.
From Home Brewer to Craft Brewer - An Interview with Oregon-based brewers Suzanne and Dylan Goldsmith, founders of the Captured by Porches Brewing Company.
How to Throw a Brew Tasting Party - Learn how to throw a brew tasting party that really highlights the most important aspects of beer.

Thinking about upgrading your home brewery? Browse our Professional Home Brew Systems.