If there is a penultimate homebrew club myth, it is that you must know how to homebrew in order to join one. That's sort of like saying you can only join a cooking club if you know how to cook (and yes, it's perfectly acceptable -- encouraged -- to bring professional brews to a homebrew club like the Eagle Rock growler above). Part of the point, at least of many homebrew clubs, is for experienced brewers to teach the new hopheads like us how to fill our carboys. And there are so many different types of homebrew clubs out there, from the big boys in town like Pacific Gravity and the Maltose Falcons to the small clubs like the Yeastside Homebrewers, you've got plenty of choices. Each has a very different vibe, so it's wise to sample around town.
If you're still grumbling and saying you have no room for all that homebrew equipment, well, that's what friends with garages are for, right? There's also another little secret that homebrew clubs don't want you to know (or maybe they do): You don't have to even want to learn to homebrew to join, you simply need to appreciate (drinking) homebrewed beer. Here are our Top Five Reasons to Join a Homebrew Club.
5. Club Meetings (Read: An excuse to drink beer). What goes on at a club meeting varies greatly at different clubs. In part, that's because some homebrew clubs have gotten so large that meetings by necessity become about electing officers and planning parties (see #3, Parties) rather than about actually brewing, which is a time-consuming process and difficult to demo for a large group. That's exactly why some smaller homebrew clubs, like Yeastside, broke off on their own -- so members could actually hang out and make beer together (Many Yeastside members are also still members of larger clubs like Pacific Gravity, which is completely kosher; see #3, Parties).
Those meeting brewing sessions are meant to be a learning experience, sort of like the science class you always wished you could get credit for in college. For example, this weekend Yeastside will be brewing up a batch of amber ale so members who are interested in making the leap from extracts to all-grain brewing can see how it works. And yes, members also bring their finished brews to share, so there is plenty of
drinking tasting going on during that Saturday science lesson.
4. Road Trips (Read: An excuse to drink beer). Bigger clubs tend to have enough money from member dues to organize events like road trips. San Diego is typically regularly on most L.A. clubs' rosters, either for San Diego Beer Week or events like the San Diego International Beer Festival at the county fair, or sometimes just to hit breweries like The Lost Abbey (photo above) on a San Diego roundup tour. Or, you could find yourself on a party bus to San Francisco, as Pacific Gravity members will be doing President's Day weekend. The club is chartering a bus to go up to Anchor Brewing in San Francisco (members only, $85) to attend a private party to celebrate their win of the 2011 CA Homebrew Club of the Year Award (More excuses to drink beer.... see how this works?).
3. Parties (Read: An excuse to drink beer). The bigger clubs around town host fantastic BYOB parties for their members. Such good parties (that BYOB turns into an outdoor taproom with hundreds of homebrews), that many people (guilty as charged) who don't homebrew join the clubs simply for the parties. It's no coincidence that Pacific Gravity sends out its annual party invitation with membership renewal information. And with membership at all of $30 annually (the party is free), it's one of the best all-you-can-drink beer deals in town.
2. Camping (Read: An excuse to drink beer). Really a variant of #3, camping events are as common as chili cook-offs at homebrew clubs. The Maltose Falcons host one every May that they call Mayfaire, which this year is at a campground on the bank of the Santa Clara River outside L.A.. For all of $20 your camping fee is covered, you get to eat complimentary burgers from a local burger joint, and you can sample the dozens of homebrews (including yours) that are up for the sharing all night long. As a bonus, you get campy music, per the website: "There is also a large wooden deck area that should accommodate our own Maltose Falcons Brews Band just fine."
1. Getting Your Name On A Bottle (Read: An excuse to drink beer). As American Idol is on a downward ratings spiral these days, who knows, perhaps the next big reality show sensation will be about the next great homebrewer? Right. In the meantime, the easiest way to get your name, or at least your homebrew club's name, in the spotlight is to collaborate with a professional brewer on a bottle. Several breweries have been keen on the collaboration game of late, either by hosting competitions for homebrewers to submit their brew formulas, or by working with one homebrew club to develop a beer together. Widmer Brothers' just-released Spiced IPA from its Rotator Series is one example of the latter.
Of course, to get your name on a bottle, it's wise to enter a few homebrew competitions to see what the competition thinks of your stout. Homebrew clubs can help there, too, as longtime members can tell you what those 80+ categories really mean and when to pull out your really wild cayenne-coffee porter card. They'll also be more than happy to taste your beer and tell you whether it's fantastic. Or whether your homebrew really isn't good enough to justify paying those competitions submission fees, and you should really just bring that porter to the next club meeting. Which gets us back to #5, and the beer drinking homebrew club cycle begins yet again.
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