Real Beer: What makes a great homebrew club? How can you explain the appeal of a homebrew club to those who haven't brewed, or even to those who brew but haven't?
Lynne O'Connor: A club member with B-E-E-R tattooed (self-done) across his knuckles. That was the first club member I met at my first club meeting in 1987. That kind of passion is priceless. Clubs are essential to successful competitions and conferences. Austin hasn't had a club for over five years now and never a good one, at least not in the 90's. I suppose there are dozens of reasons why people join clubs, but I don't think you can understate the importance of friendships and conversation.
Sean Quinlan: It's good to have someone who is a chemist -- a club can always use a chemist. It also helps to have a fair amount of people who brew often.
Dan Juliano: It's nice if they cover a spectrum. One guy's an oxidation guy, one guy's a diacetyl guy. That way when you aren't sure what that cardboard taste is you can ask the oxidation guy and he'll say, "Yep, oxidation." You need a wide range of experience. That way you really get a lot of knowledge transfer.
Ray Daniels: Some people are social, some aren't. Thus clubs aren't for everyone. But I have to say that I wouldn't give up my experiences with the Chicago Beer Society for anything. It was through this group that I learned much of what I know about brewing. Furthermore, it has introduced me to the friends that I value most -- people with whom I connect on several levels and the first one just happens to be beer. Finally, the organization has been a vehicle for many activities and indeed accomplishment over the past ten years. Without the club I certainly wouldn't be the brewer that I am; but more than that, I wouldn't be the person that I am.
That said, what makes a club great? First, I think is openness and inclusiveness. I will never forget meeting Randy Mosher -- someone who's writings about beer had already impressed me -- at my first meeting in 1990. At this point I don't remember what we talked about, but I do remember that he was completely forthcoming with his knowledge. He happily and completely answered my questions and never made me feel anything but completely normal and accepted.
Of course he always gives his honest opinion about a beer -- but he does it in a constructive and helpful manner without belittling or insulting the brewer. Fred Eckhardt is someone else who is like this. Maybe it is a rare gift, but to me these guys embody the spirit of what every homebrew club should be about.
Second, I believe is to cut the red tape and get on with the beer. CBS has no elections; we don't check membership cards at the door; we never issue treasurers reports or minutes from board meetings. What we do is provide a community for homebrewers and cool events for anyone who appreciates good beer. After 20-some odd years, it seems to be working out pretty well.
Andy Anderson: "Big Tent Theory" -- If the politicians can use it, so can homebrewers. A good homebrew club should offer something for everybody. The only common denominator is the passion for beer. The club should be inclusive as opposed to exclusionary. To some people, the club will be hard-core brewing; to others it may only be beer-appreciation, while to some it will be extract brewing and food socials. The key is to make everyone welcome, regardless of his or her personal focus.
Real Beer: Even where homebrew clubs are strong, what percentage of active homebrewers do you think are involved? Put another way, are there stealth homebrewers out there?
Andy Anderson: A good question, but I really have no clue. By definition, the stealth homebrewers are under the radar.
Lynne O'Connor: The majority of homebrewers have never been involved with a club, never joined the AHA, never subscribed to BYO or Brewing Techniques. Most homebrewers are in fact stealth homebrewers.
Real Beer: In that context, what about extract -- and perhaps partial extract -- brewing?
Lynne O'Connor: Extract brewers still constitute the majority of brewers. Many brewers like me make beer from extract, grain, and partial mash depending on time constraints and what interests us at the moment. For example, if you want to compare two yeasts strains or different fermentation temps or hopping rates at different times, extract brewing can be far more useful because you can make many more small batches.
Andy Anderson: Extract brewing is important in creating new brewers. I never would have started this hobby if I had to start with an all-mash beer. Similarly, I helped some friends brew their first batch last month & it was an extract beer. They seem to want to brew again, but I doubt that would be the case if I forced them to make a triple decoction pilsner as their first beer.
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