I used to cleave to the old Groucho Marx adage, “I’d never join a club that would have someone like me as a member.” But that was before I found out about homebrew clubs, which are, by and large, the most welcoming organizations on earth.
Many of you already enjoy their benefits: easy camaraderie amongst a willing pool of drinking pals; an exchange of information about beer, brewing and life in general; organized activities and an opportunity to achieve something bigger than one could do alone. For those of you not yet hooked up, I urge you to connect with an existing club or, if need be, go off and start your own.
Charlie Papazian started his club way back in the late 1970s, as a way of building a community of participants in the homebrewing classes he taught. Based on Charlie’s fearless vision of a brighter, beerier tomorrow, he turned it into the American Homebrewers Association, which eventually spawned the Association of Brewers, now the Brewers Association, which represents America’s commercial craft brewers as well as its homebrewers. Think of the AHA division of the Brewers Association as your national homebrewing club.
At their best, beer clubs can be just fantastic, but everything goes through cycles, and maybe your club is not so lively as it used to be. People often assume the same responsibilities year after year, and burnout is a real possibility. There are things you can do to bring the life—and fresh blood—back into your club.
For God’s sake, get some new people involved. They’ll have new ideas and will be fresh and ready to help as soon as they feel comfortable in the mix. Brewers (or people who would like to be) are all around you. Put a stack of flyers in the local beer bar or brewpub. If there is a beer festival near you, ask for a table to promote your club, and while you’re at it offer to supply some volunteers. Most times, organizers will jump at the offer.
Conducting a session specifically oriented to beginners, and advertised at pubs and the local homebrew shop, will likely turn up some new and eager folks. The AHA celebrates “Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day,” on the first Saturday in November, and if you participate, they’ll help promote your event. Another national event, “Big Brew,” offers great opportunities for connecting with new brewers. It’s the first Saturday in May. Check out both at www.beertown.org.
Pass the tasks around. Often, the same people hang onto the same jobs simply out of inertia. Similarly, those willing to help are often timid about stepping up into leadership, so you have to make a real effort to identify good candidates and invite them to participate. In my club, we created an Events Committee to try out new people as a steppingstone to being on the board.
Expand your range of activities. In my club, the Chicago Beer Society, we find that members get tired of the same old events. Refreshing or replacing them altogether is sometimes necessary to maintain interest. Competitions, educational events, road trips, group brews, campouts, tastings and much more await you.
Take on a challenge. Sometimes stretching your limits is a great way to re-energize your group and bring your local community together. For smaller clubs, holding a modest competition, or an educational event like a BJCP judge class may be challenge enough. Larger clubs may want to hold a beer festival, host the AHA regional first round, or even the National Homebrewers Conference. Larger events may require multiple clubs to get involved, another great way to expand and strengthen the community.
Get involved with your craft brew community. Home and craft brewers have a lot in common, and most craft brewers know that homebrewers are their most ardent and vocal supporters. There is a lot we can do together, and the benefits flow to everyone. Depending on the size and experience of the club, there are a range of possible events, from tasting dinners, to festivals of all sizes, to multi-day extravaganzas such as the Spirit of Belgium, put on every few years by BURP, a homebrewing club in the DC area.
My own Chicago Beer Society specializes in beer, as opposed to homebrewing, events. We find, when properly run, they attract new people into the club, promote great beer in general, offer a venue for commercial brewers to hang out with us and with each other, as well as raise funds for less profitable activities. We are a dues paying member of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, and do some events jointly with them. Over the past few years we have run a variety of events including a Brews and Blues Cruise, blind tasting dinners, real ale and barrel-aged beer festivals, and our crowning glory, the Brewpub Shootout, where local breweries compete for best food, beer and pairing. (Hint: awards generate participation.)
While we find commercial and homebrewing events are happy under one roof, beer enthusiast organizations are popping up in places like Washington state and Pittsburgh. The AHA is also trying to encourage this activity, and is working on some helpful information on how to make it work for your club. Again, Beertown is the place to look. And while you’re there, check out the GABF Pro-Am competition, which brings home and pro brewers together to compete for real GABF gold.
Get political. As legislatures react to recent Supreme Court decisions regarding distribution, there are politics afoot in many states that would seriously impact your access to good beer. In states like North Carolina, homebrewers have worked with others to repeal or change unreasonable state laws, such as North Carolina’s limit on alcohol content in beer. The Brewers Association is collecting names of interested individuals who will be alerted when their action can make a difference, as it has recently in several states (www.beertown.org for more information). This is another good reason to get friendly with your state craft brewers guild.
Get involved with the broader craft foods movement. In organizations such as Slow Food (www.slowfood.org) are people who are already excited about high quality, locally produced food and drink. Producers and retailers of artisanal foods are always looking for ways to get their products in front of willing customers, and they know that good beer is a powerful draw.
So you can see there is no shortage of things to do and places to take your club. All it takes is vision, determination, and a few really good beers to share. I’ll see you at the next meeting!