Homebrew clubs come in all shapes and sizes. Every group is distinctively different and many undergo gradual transformations that in time on occasion totally change their form and substance. In some way or another I have been a member of a homebrew club for roughly 20 years and I’ve been fortunate to have been a member in six very different clubs while also visiting a number of others within the US and as far afield as Singapore. Recently a visit to a Foamranger homebrew club meeting in Houston after a lengthy hiatus gave me pause to consider what makes a homebrew club great, from a very subjective point of view of course.
Homebrew clubs are ultimately a tangible reflection of their members, and demographics often change. Many years ago a club called Deja Brew once met at member’s homes, they initially fostered homebrewing and entered competitions, although in later years its ranks only comprised a handful of members interested in sharing commercial bottles and socializing at restaurants that allow outside alcohol. In Singapore when homebrewing was still nascent in the small Asian nation members of the local club met at a local brewpub that didn’t allow outside alcohol, although one of its early members subsequently opened the country’s first homebrew stores and the club started to transform into something more reminiscent of clubs in the US.
So what in a very subjective sense makes a homebrew club great? There are two broad precepts and their respective roles in a club’s organization and operation can vary greatly.
Socialization – We are social animals and every homebrew club is founded upon the precept that like minded individuals want to be among those with similar interests. Of course defining those interests becomes a very personal thing. Unfortunately very few clubs take the time to poll their members to make sure it is catering to their desires, and ultimately that is one possible reason why some lose members over time. Others do shift their focus and perhaps become more social thereby disenfranchising those that want to remain focused on sharing homebrew or furthering their education with regard to brewing or beer styles.
Education – While most clubs are first and foremost social entities, the best of them also incorporate educational opportunities and foster the ongoing education of their members. In Boulder, the Hop Barley and the Alers homebrew club often hosts speakers covering a wide range of topics, from members discussing recent beer related travel to local brewers talking about a technical aspect of the brewing process. In Houston the Foamrangers educate members about beer styles by providing a selection of specific styles each month paid for through membership fees and proceeds from their annual Dixie Cup Competition. At the other end of the spectrum there are clubs like the Austin Zealots homebrew club that focus only on sharing homebrew with no adherence to styles or educational structure.
From a very subjective and personal standpoint my ideal homebrew club is one that combines a welcoming social group with one that collects membership fees or holds an event such as a homebrew competition in order to fund ongoing educational endeavors. Personally I believe focusing on specific beer styles every month and taking the time to organize example beers to showcase how each is different can be key to developing a more refined palate and enhancing beer judging skills. Where you meet also has a profound influence on a homebrew club. In my limited experience a homebrew shop is the perfect place to meet after hours. Often the proprietor or an employee will remain onsite and pickup extra revenue making it a win-win for the club and its host. Alternatively in some clubs members take turn hosting meetings at their homes which can also be a good option as people can often see firsthand what equipment others are using. Again, every homebrew club is different and my preferences are just that- my own.