Hi Nick. Here are my answers:
1. Name (first and last), age, location
Matt Schwandt, 31, Minneapolis, MN
2. When did you start home brewing and why?
I started brewing in November of 2005. I worked as a server at a local brewpub in Nashville, TN while completing my undergraduate degree in business. I hadn't done much drinking prior to working at the brewpub, so the handcrafted microbrewed beer served at this establishment was really my first introduction to beer and drinking. I was really into tasting all of the different flavors and other unique characteristics of the various beer styles. This brewpub was also the meeting location for one of the Nashville-based homebrewer clubs. At the time, I didn't think it was possible to brew good beer at home without a substantial financial investment in equipment. However, years later when I was traveling with my wife, we stopped at a cheese shop in rural Minnesota that also sold homebrewing equipment. Although I didn't make my initial equipment purchase until a few weeks later (after conducting a lot of research on exactly what I would need to start brewing), the seed was planted. After five years and almost 100 batches, I am just as enthusiastic about the hobby today as I was back then.
3. How has your idea of home brewing changed since you started?
Originally, I was attracted to the "novelty" of brewing beer at home. But when I realized I could make a product that was on par with that of a commercial brewery (in my opinion), I began to really take brewing seriously. Most recently, my idea of homebrewing has developed a cost-saving component. I can brew a five gallon batch for around $10, since I reuse yeast and buy my ingredients in bulk. Since retail beer prices have increased as much as $2-$3 dollars for a six-pack in the last few years, I look at homebrewing as a way to enjoy quality, handcrafted beer at a substantial savings.
4. Why should others who are interested in beer take up home brewing?
I think there are multiple reasons others should take up homebrewing. The reasons I'll mention are not exhaustive, but are of particular relevance to my experience as a homebrewer. First, there's the sheer excitement of brewing your own beer. I think this is something that any beer lover would take pleasure in doing. Second, I think it's empowering to demystify the brewing process and learn about a craft that has been practiced for millennia. Third, there is a lot of satisfaction in making a product that others enjoy. There is a huge amount of personal satisfaction to be had when you have an opportunity to share your homebrewed beer with friends/family/colleagues and they honestly like it. Finally, homebrewers are a great bunch of people. There is a lot of camaraderie among homebrewers, as evidenced by the existence of wonderful organizations like the AHA and this web forum (as well as all of the other organizations, clubs, etc. that exist).
5. What are some good retailers (either shops or online) to purchase equipment/ingredients from and why?
Northern Brewer, Midwest Supplies, and MoreBeer.com. Midwest is my LHBS and they have always been extremely helpful and carry a wide range of ingredients and equipment. I've purchased/ordered from the other retailers I mentioned, and they have always been excellent to deal with, but I don't have as much experience with them.
6. What kind of beer do you recommend for a first-time brewer? Any recipes that you can provide?
I started with an American Brown Ale and I would recommend that style to a new homebrewer. I think that style is very forgiving for new brewers and yields a product that most beer lovers will enjoy.
7. What are some good resources for home brewers?
I think the best text for homebrewing is John Palmer's How to Brew. I read this book multiple times before I even attempted brewing a batch. As a result, I felt very confident making my first batch. Another invaluable resource for brewers to learn things they won't find in books is web-based forums such as this one. Another great forum is the Northern Brewer forum. I have spent a lot of time perusing such forums to learn new tricks and to ask more experienced brewers questions. I have always found them very helpful.
8. What is the number one mistake that new home brewers make? How can it be avoided?
Peoples' minds work in different ways, so I don't think there is any one mistake common to new brewers. However, I think many of those who are new to the hobby frequently fail to educate themselves prior to brewing their first batch. This is probably the result of the excitement inherent in brewing that first batch. Who wants to read a bunch of stuff when they could be making beer?! I think this sort of thing can lead to rookie mistakes that could be easily avoided with a little discipline and education.
9. How can the growing interest in home brewing best be explained?
I think people in this country are developing more sophisticated palates all the time. There is a similar trend in the so-called Slow Food movement in America. People want better quality food and drink, and they seem to have more of a desire to learn the craft behind these things. So, I think any growing interest in homebrewing can be explained by recognizing that it is possible to make high quality beers at home and that people are more willing to learn about the craft.
10. How can a beginning brewer make the leap to intermediate or advanced brewing?
Like others have mentioned in this thread, I think brewing all-grain beer is the best way to make that leap. There is more control to be had over the process with all-grain brewing and, in my experience, it often leads to a better finished product.