This article is from the May/June 2023 Zymurgy magazine. AHA members can instantly access an archive back through the year 2000 with Zymurgy Online.
By Julia Herz, American Homebrewers Association Executive Director
If asked to count the number of days I’ve homebrewed alone versus with somebody else, I’m not sure which number would be higher. I can say the number of days I’ve transferred or bottled has been more solo. Regardless, when people ask about my preferred way to brew or package beer, the answer easily is “I prefer to brew with others.”
Sure, a solo brew day allows for the ultimate in control, focus, and go-at-your-own-pace, but my learning, third-eye view, and new ways of looking at things expand exponentially when I’m partner- or team-brewing. The big-picture benefits make me a better brewer just by the sheer fact that others are present, ask questions, point out how they do things, and share tips and insights.
CHAOS Homebrew Club
Nowhere was team homebrewing more on display than in January, when I traveled to Chicago to speak at CiderCon, the American Cider Association’s annual conference. A major bonus of the trip was being invited to brew with Jim Vondracek and the CHAOS (Chicago Homebrew Alchemists of Suds) Homebrew Club. About eight club members and I spent a Wednesday afternoon in the club’s shared space, where they house collective equipment and brew together. Most of them had taken the day off to share their brew day. What a valued gift.
We brewed a Mexican lager, a barleywine, and a Belgian dark strong ale. We also assisted with several batches-in-process: back-sweeting a chile beer, carbonating a finished sour, and assessing whether a barrel-aged stout was ready to keg. It was a blast during which I could observe three different brewing approaches at once: a three-vessel system with pump, an all-in-one electric system, and an old-school, gravity-fed boil kettle and mash tun. CHAOS members share a 2,000-square-foot community brewhouse in Chicago and manage to keep membership dues reasonable. Pretty flipping cool.
The Chicago Homebrew Alchemists of Suds (CHAOS) is a coalition of homebrewers, beer aficionados, and enthusiasts in the Chicago, Ill., area that strives to cultivate appreciation of the science and culture of beer through education, exploration, and community. As a club, CHAOS is unique in that it also offers a permanent space that allows members the ability to hone their craft in a community setting.
The brew house is set up so that the only items members must provide for themselves are a fermenter and ingredients. Everything else includes a temperature-controlled fermentation room, filtered water, kettles, mash tuns, industrial-style sinks, a grain mill, and more. The brew house provides the space to brew and also the opportunity to share techniques, socialize, and learn from one another. The brew house also hosts seasonal events where club members can share their homebrews.
Fishbowl Brewing Collective
In December 2022, during the American Homebrewers Association’s Capitol Hill Staff Homebrew Competition (where the AHA hosts and judges a competition for any hill staffer with a .gov email address), I visited Fishbowl Brewing Collective. AHA members Andy Oetman and Chris O’Brien use Chris’s detached garage as a shared homebrewing space with shared equipment and a bar. My colleague Marc Preo and I visited on a cold winter night when Andy was only too happy to give us a tour of the area and allow us to sample some of the club’s beers. Using a garage as a shared brew space makes so much sense, and once
I toured it, I fully understood why.
Shared Maker Spaces Are Everywhere
The notion of a shared artists’ “maker spaces,” or collectives with group equipment and resources, is nothing new. Think woodworking sheds, gardening groups, artists’ studios, and more. In many ways, brew-on-premises breweries and some homebrew shops, where legally allowed, are prime examples of shared brewing spaces.
Take Citizen Brewing in San Diego, owned by Judd McGhee (also an AHA member!). Citizen is a licensed brewery that sells beer, so yes, very different than CHAOS and Fishbowl, but homebrew clubs sometimes use the space to brew. In November 2022, Judd allowed Joaquin Quiroz of QUAFF to organize a brew day to make two versions of the AHA’s Hoppy Amber Ale in honor of our annual homebrew holiday, Learn to Homebrew Day. We made a 1-gallon hot-plate brew and a 13-gallon version in parallel. The vibe during the brew was one of collaboration, fun, and mutual learning.
QUAFF Homebrew Club is a group of men and women dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of homebrewing and beer evaluation in the greater San Diego area. We share knowledge, methods, new brewpub and microbrewery discoveries, and good homebrew at monthly meetings and special events.
In our fall 2022 survey of AHA members, 48 percent of respondents said they were members of a local or online homebrew club. The AHA proudly supports 2,000 homebrew clubs—see the world’s largest database of clubs on HomebrewersAssociation.org.
I encourage you to work brewing with others into your regular practice of homebrewing. Of course, brew where you are most comfortable, and if brewing solo is your jam, then more power to ya. If you’re open to more than homebrew clubs, seek out your local homebrew shop and brew-on-premises brewery. On the flip side, inviting others to your home to brew, bottle, or keg can often make for the best of brew days.
Homebrew Con: June 22–24 in San Diego
Speaking of team, partner, and community, I sure hope you have Homebrew Con on your radar. The sooner you register, the more you save. We are in San Diego this year, and WOW, it will be off the charts. The theme is fermentation vacation. Expect to walk away having attended the most prolific, educational, fun, and exclusive AHA gathering ever, with homebrew and breweries galore. Pro tip: Take a big suitcase. You’ll need it for all the fresh beer and giveaways you’ll bring home. Here’s a preview of what to expect.
2023 marks Homebrew Con’s 45th year and includes educational sessions, meet-and-greet gatherings, workshops, a Homebrew Expo showcasing the world’s leading suppliers and homebrew retailers, daily Social Club to ensure you never go thirsty, outdoor events, and exclusive off-site outings, too.
Homebrew Con attracts amateur and pro brewers, as well as the world’s leading beer educators. We welcome homebrewers of all levels and emphasize education, with topics from beginner to advanced. And we embrace fermentation arts beyond just brewing beer.
We also judge the Final Round of the National Homebrew Competition (NHC) in concert with Beer Judge Certification Program leadership. Attendees get to sample NHC entries during the Knockout Party on June 24.
New for 2023 will be a Homebrew Club Officer Boot Camp (Wednesday night and exclusive to club officers) plus a Homebrew Industry Coalition meeting bringing together marketplace leaders to discuss the state of homebrewing and how we can collectively grow the hobby.
Sound great? Register today at HomebrewCon.org.
Since 1978, as the national organization on behalf of homebrewing, we welcome this annual chance to gather a global group of fermentation explorers, including you. Here is to connecting, protecting homebrewers, brewing together (sometimes at least), and learning from each other. Hope to see you there.
Julia Herz is executive director of the American Homebrewers Association. You can follow Julia’s homebrew talks and travels on Instagram @ImmaculateFermentation.