AHA Governing Committee Monthly Meeting Summary: July 2021 / Annual

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Each year, the Governing Committee and AHA staff meet for an annual meeting to discuss the upcoming year. This typically happens in person during Homebrew Con, but the 2021 meeting was done remotely due to their not being an in-person Homebrew Con this year.

Governing Committee Members Present: Jen Blair, Sandy Cockerham, Denny Conn, Shawna Cormier, Chris Frey, Annie Johnson, Jill Marilley, Amy Martin, Gail Milburn, Cassie Salinas, Goose Steingass, Roxanne Westendorf

AHA Staff: Duncan Bryant, Dave Carpenter, Ryan Farrell, John Moorhead, Megan Wabst

Absent: Donna Reuter, Carvin Wilson

The Annual meeting was held in two sessions.  The first was held on July 13 from 5 PM – 6:40 PM PT and the second session was held on July 19 from 5 PM – 6:53 PM PT.  Both meetings were held virtually on Zoom and were led by Chairperson Jill Marilley and Vice Chair Shawna Cormier.

First Session of Annual Meeting:

Welcome and Announcements:

  • Jill gave a report detailing the BA board meeting that she and Roxanne attended.  The BA is hearing a lot of positive things from homebrewers that are returning to work post-COVID.  The hobby got a boost from people being home during the pandemic.
  • We now get to focus on the AHA and the future of it.  Jul 2020 through July 2021 is being viewed as a pause year and we can now re-focus on things the AHA can do for the membership.
  • Ryan suggested that when communicating publicly with the membership on an issue like this we should speak with a unified positive voice with regard to the AHA and were reminded that we are bound by our AHA code of conduct during discussions with the general membership.

Overview from AHA staff:

  • Ryan discussed that we would break up into small groups to discuss ideas we have heard in our conversations with present and would be members.  We will discuss these ideas in these small groups and bring them back to the full GC so we and the AHA staff can lay out a plan on where to focus our efforts.  We will then rank the ideas in terms of importance and interest.  We will then select the most popular ideas to lay out what the AHA should be working on.
  • We went around the room and each GC member said what they thought is the thing that each GC member was excited to discuss in breakout sessions.  Things that were mentioned were: better communication with the membership, ideas to bolster the AHA, engaging  people outside the GC to work in helping make ideas a reality, “meetings in a box”, shipping of homebrew for competitions, searching for new ideas, marketing of the AHA to the membership and bringing in more mead makers and cider makers, getting a more unified message out to the membership, increase participation of women in homebrewing, review of our subcommittees, addressing content so the AHA can remain relevant, new educational opportunities and engagement of under-represented folks, giving the membership something to rally around, developing community and growing AHA branding and recognition to be synonymous with homebrewing,  making good on past promises, giving the membership a reason to belong to the AHA other than the ability to attend Homebrew Con, re-visioning some of the old stuff we are doing to make it work for our membership to keep them excited to be a part of the organization, what value each GC member can bring to the committee, an altogether summary of NHC, becoming a focused and authoritative source of information to the homebrew world.

Homebrew Competition Review:

  • Ryan mentioned that the AHA accepts responsibility for issues with the NHC competition and judging.
  • The AHA will review the comments made by the competition entrants and make any necessary changes needed to the competition.
  • Refunds have been issued to those who expressed their dissatisfaction with the competition.

AHA Review of Current Offerings:

  • Ryan outlined what the AHA currently does for members. These include: 6 issues of Zymurgy per year;  access to digital archives; access to Homebrew Con and over 400 seminars from previous events; access to enter the NHC;  access to over 800 homebrew recipes including award winners from NHC and clone recipes; the online AHA forum;  2200 member deals for discounts at restaurants, bars, breweries and homebrew shops; discounts early access to tickets for the GABF; engagement and assistance in state level legislative matters; discounts on homebrew club insurance; discounts on Brewers Publication books and merchandise.
  • There is a link on the AHA website to these offerings.

Breakout Sessions:

  • We viewed 2020 as a “pause year” due to the cancellation of Homebrew Con, our in-person annual meeting, and staffing changes at the AHA.  It gave us a chance to regroup our thinking on how to provide more value for the general AHA membership.
  • Each GC member was tasked prior to the meeting with reaching out to the homebrewing community for ideas that could bring in new members to the AHA or entice existing members to renew their membership.  Ideas were gathered from one-on-one conversations with individual homebrewers and from conversations with local homebrew clubs.  GC members were also asked to talk with non-AHA membersto see what would compel them to join the AHA.
  • We broke up into four small groups for 20 minute discussions on the ideas presented to each GC member.
  • Group One focused on trying to legalize shipping of beers for competitions and the efforts the AHA has tried to accomplish this, the idea of setting up regional conferences for those who do not have the resources to travel long distances to a national conference, making member deals more powerful and cheaper, find ways to brainstorm and implement ideas to give homebrewers what they want rather than getting caught up in process, communicate with the members as to why we either can or cannot do some of the things that members want, keep the website up to date, empowering younger people to go out and discover something they are interested in with regard to homebrewing rather spoon feeding them, working out a collaboration between local homebrewing shops and suppliers to get a price break on ingredients, and reviving virtual meetings with homebrew clubs.  Finally, let’s bring the fun back to homebrewing.
    • Group Two discussed getting competitions going again, lack of unified communications and communication from the AHA, highlight important content on the home page of the AHA website,  adding a new membership of people who are “pro-curious” (interested in going pro), collaboration hours for club leadership, making Homebrew Con better for the membership, breaking away from the forums.
    • Group Three discussed creating another avenue for members to interact beyond the member forums, exploring other things like a medium like Slack or Discord that would allow visibility to peruse all of the discussions going on in the various groups and actively participate using a smartphone to see what is going on in the AHA,  Zymurgy content  acquisition to get new voices into the writing mix, virtual meetings to share common experiences, generating community participation through the BrewGuru  app and improving the app.
    • Group Four discussed bringing the “Commercial Calibration” article back so people can compare/train their palates,  communicate pitches for articles that people want to read (e.g. “pimp my system”) or an article on how for an easier to clean your brew system, better marketing to communicate what we do and why it matters, “club meetings in a box”, one-on one live coaching corner to talk to an expert with your club to talk about questions,  quarterly live events to meet up with an expert or GC member along the lines of HBC meetups but more often, GC members meeting with local groups as AHA reps, and educational seminars with commercial beer pairings.
  • All ideas will be placed into a spreadsheet and the GC can rank their favorite nine for discussion at the second session of the annual meeting.
  • We had a discussion about what we really liked from the breakout sessions. For example; bringing back the fun to homebrewing and supporting it as a hobby rather than a gateway to becoming a pro brewer, reviving the virtual meetings with clubs as an educational tool, ability to attend Homebrew Con and exploring possible regional conferences, and engaging community along the lines of what was done during the meet-ups at Homebrew Con.
  • Duncan mentioned that we could use Slack or Discord as a medium for a continuing discussion on various topics that is smart phone based. Roxanne mentioned that these mediums have a bit more diverse participation from the current forums.

Second Session of Annual Meeting:

  • Prior to this session, GC members ranked the ideas discussed in the previous half of the annual meeting. We set up two sessions of breakout rooms to review the top ranking ideas from the list.
  • The list of ideas will serve as a living document so that we can visit other ideas and discuss them at future GC meetings.
  • The list of ideas that will be discussed in two sessions of breakout rooms are:
    • Communicate pitches more widely (bring in under-represented voices)
    • Make technical information/recipes more visible on the AHA website homepage rather than having pulldown  menus
    • Sensory training and retraining because of COVID
    • Quarterly live club meetings and live meetings for those not affiliated with a club
    • Educational seminars with commercial beers
    •  “Meeting-in-a-box” for club meetings
    • Create additional venues for AHA members using platforms like Discord or Slack
    • Provide a unified communication as to what we are doing for the membership and publish the summary of efforts to legalize the shipping of homebrew

Breakout Room Session One:

  • Group One discussed a “calling all authors” for new Zymurgy articles as well as members pitching ideas for articles.  This was put into effect two months ago with a Wufoo form and there have been several responses so far. The call for authors has appeared in the “What’s Brewing” newsletter and there is also a link on the AHA website to pitch authors https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/magazine/zymurgy-magazine-author-pitch/.  There should also be an email blast to get members to contribute articles/ideas, be posted on the website home and on social media, and mentioned in every issue of Zymurgy and issue reminder about this from time to time.  It was also suggested that a contact link be put at the bottom of every email from the Association so members do not have to drill down on the website to find out how to get in touch with AHA Staff.  A final suggestion was that there should be a regional push to hear from members in under-represented areas.
  • Group Two looked at the technical information/recipes topic.  It discussed putting technical information “top of mind” for members and non-members.  It was suggested that there be weekly technical topics (“Technical Spotlight”) on the AHA website home page, social media, etc. keeping in mind the type of content for expert, intermediate, and beginner brewers.  The group also suggested strategically opening up locked content such as seminars and Zymurgy for free to non-members and making collections of top seminars/Zymurgy articles available for free to members as a membership drive opportunity.  Another idea was using the content subcommittee or a new subcommittee to come up with topics to publish to remain relevant and fresh to members.  Finally, it discussed analyzing SEO/SEM on technical info and creating a robust search engine to find information homebrewers want and to disseminate technical information more often across more channels.
  • Group Three explored sensory training/retraining.  It suggested developing a club/individual sensory kit similar to what the BJCP does and that maybe a partnership with Siebel or Aroxa could accomplish this.  Some sensory training could be along a DIY type of training using common household kitchen items like bread, fruit, baking spices, etc.     There could also be a virtual class, Zymyrgy guide/article, or something on the website for sensory training and could be pitched as a member benefit.  There could be beginner, intermediate, and advanced options along with a possible special kit for those recovering from the loss or taste and smell from COVID.
  • Group Four in this session discussed quarterly live meetings for all members and not just those affiliated with homebrew clubs.  It was suggested that resurrecting something like “Zymurgy Live” now that the media platforms have evolved to permit two-way interaction.  The obvious problems would be the time zone issue and having the potential for hundreds of people attending the session.  One idea was submitting questions prior to the session and addressing maybe three or four of them and possibly bringing on an expert to assist in fielding those questions.  Another idea mentioned making the meetings an hour long but breaking it up into three components.  People could then discuss the topics in the chat and pose questions.  It also was mentioned that there could be breakouts for smaller groups to get together to discuss the topics.  This would potentially require a new subcommittee to handle these quarterly meetings.
  • We opened up the floor for comments on these four topics after the above four topic breakouts were summarized and using the subcommittees to handle work on these topics.

Breakout Room Session Two:

  • Group One discussed having interactive educational webinars with commercial beers to compare the commercial beer to the DraughtLab flavor map.  One idea was partnering with Sample Ox to get commercial beers to the participants or doing a virtual tasting with a commercial beer.  The event could be set up along the lines of a competition to let the participants compare the nuances they find and see how they fare against each other.  A brewery representative could be invited to speak about the beer to compare what nuances the brewer gets from the beer as compared to the participants.  It might be possible to partner with BA member breweries to select and ship beers with the understanding that there might be hurdles in shipping beers to certain areas.  There may also be freshness issues with shipped beers.  Participants could also be directed to obtain beers within a given style and discuss whether or not the beer is true to style (with or without using Sample Ox).
  • Group Two explored the topic of “meetings-in-a-box” which would be either a physical or virtual meeting with those who may not have resources or knowledge of various homebrewing topics and establish an agenda for those participants.  It first focused on sensory training meetings and instructing participants on how to go through the training.  They discussed not only sensory off flavor training but BJCP tasting guides and a walk through of style history using standard beers that could easily be found and how to brew a good beer after the tasting the commercial example.  A “name that beer” competition could also be held using local beers.  There would have to be a list of multiple beers put together by a regional expert to go through the local beers/styles.  Other ideas were homebrew/beer trivia, sponsored sensory training using hop rubs, malt grain tastings, and yeast experiments.  The sponsored presentations would need to provide good technical information on grains, hops, and yeast rather than just doing a sales pitch.  Finally, they discussed how to set up your own small homebrew competition.  Comments from the full GC also added things like small sound bursts from experts that could be added to the topic conversations.  It was also mentioned that these meetings be welcoming and include people who normally do not attend club meetings.
  • Group Three dealt with the online AHA Forum and the possibility of adding additional avenues for online discussion like Slack or Discord.  It dealt with the pros and cons of the present forum.  The pros for the forum is that one third of web traffic from the forum goes to the AHA website and it provides a vast amount of good information and content which is still helpful to many people.  The cons for the forum is that it is hard to use for some, not a big new-recruit center, is not really easily searchable, the software is out of date, and security issues with the Tapatalk app that is no longer supported.  There was no solution on how to transfer data from the forum to another resource.  Slack and Discord are easy to set up, are easily searchable, the need for moderation, the ability to create channels, and will let the community grow organically.  There will need to be a study into the costs and retention of info stored on their servers for these two apps.  There also appears to be more diversity on Slack and Discord than on the AHA Forum.  There is a possibility of moving the AHA forum to a new platform and improve it.
  • Group Four addressed the issues surrounding on again/off again efforts to legalize the shipping of homebrewed beer, primarily for competitions.  It was mentioned that this issue comes up at every Homebrew Con AHA membership meeting.  It was suggested having in-house consul Mark Sorini maybe write an article in Zymurgy describing the challenges of trying to enact legislation to legalize the shipping of homebrew and why such legislation has never been done. It was asked as to what homebrewers can do to support future efforts to accomplish this and what is the likely outcome.  The group said that we need to be honest with our members on this issue.  It was mentioned that the New Brewer Magazine always has several pages listing specific legislative efforts or law changes by region in each issue.  It might be a good idea to maybe recap these efforts in Zymurgy once per year.  It was also asked if there are states where AHA members need to be made aware of specific rules/regulations/laws.

Wrap-up:

  • The notes from all of the groups will be assembled for further discussion at upcoming meetings.  Although the initial list was pared down to the eight most popular topics, Jill mentioned that the original list is a living document that could include additional ideas from GC members or regular membership.
  • Jill also mentioned that we could entertain the possibility of a mid-year meeting in addition to our monthly meetings.
  • We plan to resume our in-person meetings again at Homebrew Con in Pittsburgh.