I just came from the new Port Washington Beer Club meeting and am pretty pumped up for all the great craft beer things that will continue to happen here around Port. When I moved to town, I knew that there was already an underground scene of craft beer enthusiasts, just needed to find them. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many homebrewers are in the club, as the club welcomes both homebrewers and beer enthusiasts.
In 2002, when my wife and I were living in Cedar Rapids, IA is when I joined my first homebrewing club. I’ll never forget the first meeting. It was held in the basement of somebody’s house and we did a horizontal tasting of 6 different oatmeal stouts (Samuel Smiths won the popular vote, in case you were wondering). The club hung on by a thread and started to pick up steam when a beer festival allowed us to pour homebrews along side the professional brewers. That’s good synergy!
After moving to Pella, IA, I joined the Des Moines IBU club and became their treasurer for 3 years. I really enjoyed that position because I was required to collect the dues which allowed me to learn the names of our members better through those interactions. At the same time, within a few months I found out Pella had two or three guys who had recently started meeting on random Thursday evenings to make homebrew. How fortuitous! I sort of commandeered that club and grew it into a well attended monthly event with about 20 active members. Cenosilicaphobia Brewers or CSP for short. We were quite creative and did all sort of activities like food pairing, theme parties, group brews, group builds, vertical/horizontal tastings, etc.
Even when I moved to Colorado, I made it a priority to join a homebrewing club despite the fact that I was “going pro.” The KROC club became my adopted club. I chose them partially due to proximity but due to their active presence in town, I was especially intrigued by their World Brewers Forum that they held for nearly two decades (at the time).
I share this trip down memory lane with you to bring home the point that I’m currently a professional brewer in large part to my active participation in homebrewing clubs. Despite brewing the majority of batches of beer solo, I frequently discussed and shared these brews with my club members. The encouragement was never, “you should start a brewery!” but rather affirmation of techniques and processes that created good results. On the other hand, some of the feedback pointed to bad brewing decisions that were noted and remembered. As a specific example, my first 3 batches of all-grain beers were awful and I didn’t know what I did wrong. Through discussion with some veteran homebrewers we figured out that I was over-sparging and drawing too many tannins out of my grist. They suggested I purchase a refractometer to measure my final runnings and I’ve been diligent ever since. My beers improved from that sage piece of advice too.
Homebrewers brewed the first white stouts and citrus IPAs. Homebrewers developed brew-in-a-bag and many other techniques. Homebrewers have pushed the American Sour beer style to whole new levels! Some of these inventions have been adopted by professional brewers. Then when local breweries introduce a white stout to the public, groups of homebrewers are inspired to brew one as well and the circle is complete.
Don’t doubt it for one second how important homebrewing clubs are to our craft brewing movement. If you don’t belong to one, I would highly encourage it.