By Jester Goldman from Craft Beer & Brewing (beerandbrewing.com)
Brewing is, without a doubt, the world’s best hobby. The satisfaction of enjoying and sharing your own fluid creativity is hard to beat. If you’ve recently started or even if you’re just thinking about brewing, joining your local homebrew club is one of the smartest choices you can make. With a nominal investment of time and annual dues, you can immediately reap the rewards of education, connections, and, of course, beer. There are also a few side benefits to sweeten the deal.
Education is one of the biggest advantages of joining a brew club. Nothing will improve your skills like spending time with other homebrewers. Clubs are full of experienced people who are happy to share their knowledge, give you good constructive criticism of your beer, and help you understand more about the process of brewing. You can partner with others to try out experiments, such as making SMaSH. (single malt and single hops) beers or trying out different yeast strains against the same wort. Even better, you can pick up almost as much from other club members when they share their results, saving you some effort.
Beyond those informal educational perks, many clubs also offer structured activities, such as bringing in guest speakers or setting up BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) study sessions. Brewing is such a big field that you can still learn more from your club long after you’ve shed your beginner status.
Like any kind of hobbyist group, brew clubs connect you with a bunch of people who share your interest. The truth is that you can only bore your non-brewer friends for so long before they get tired of drinking with you. Club meetings and parties are the perfect place to get your beer geek on with a crew who really understands you. Brewers tend to be a gregarious lot—the beer may have something to do with that—and it’s fairly easy to make friends who might have more in common with you than just a love of fermented beverages. But even if you’re a bit of an introvert, things are usually relaxed enough for you to manage the social interaction at your own comfort level.
Brew clubs also offer other ways to tap into the larger brewing community. They usually have good relationships with the breweries in the area, in part because the owners and brewers may be or may have been members. This can lead to special access for club members, from insider brewery tours to Pro-Am brewing sessions. Clubs may also sponsor or help promote beer dinners, community outreach, and service opportunities.
This may be ridiculously obvious, but there’s no question that you’ll be exposed to all different kinds of beer when you’re in a brew club. Most club meetings set aside some time for tasting, where people can show off their latest batch and get feedback. Clubs may also have presentations on beer styles, which certainly require samples to assist your understanding. On top of that, you’ll be expanding your social circle to include a bunch of fellow brewers, and the more brewers you know, the more likely someone will offer you a beer.
Most clubs will easily deliver on the benefits above, but individual groups can sweeten the deal even more. Many groups run competitions, where you can participate as a steward or judge in addition to entering your beer. Others organize bulk purchasing of ingredients or local discounts, which can save you some money. The club may also have specialized resources, such as yeast banks and equipment for loan, or they may host special events such as brew trips or camping. These frills may not come up casually during a meeting, but they’re worth asking about.
Take the Plunge
If you need to find a club, drop by your local homebrew supply shop; they should be familiar with the groups in your area. You can also look online. The American Homebrewers Association has a page dedicated to helping you with finding a local club. Find out when the next meeting is and drop in on it. You’ll meet some great people and get a chance to see what you’ve been missing.