I am current (2017–2018) and past (1999–2000) president of the Bloatarian Brewing League, a 31-year-old homebrew club in Cincinnati. Like many clubs, we’ve had challenges attracting a more diverse membership.
We aren’t where we want to be, but through deliberate efforts, we’ve been able to attract and keep more women in the club. We have less racial and ethnic diversity than we’d like, but we are making progress there as well. Here are some things that may help other clubs.
Membership and Dues
Our membership is a household membership: for one price, everyone in a household is included. Yeah, the under-21s can’t drink, but we do have a number of family friendly events, too. And, someday one of those kids could grow up to be club president!
At every meeting, we ask who is attending for the first time, or even for the first time in a long while. They introduce themselves, explain how they got into brewing, and say how they heard about the club. Then we make sure that club members talk to them during the evening. It’s common for attendees to come in and sit at a table by themselves, but I ask them to join a table with other people. As president, I feel it’s part of my job to spend time with newcomers, and I encourage our officers to do the same.
For example, a new couple recently attended one of our meetings. I talked with them and made sure they were at a good table for interaction. She had an accent I couldn’t place, so I asked and learned she was from Ecuador! Lots of fun conversation revealed that they were both involved in homebrewing. They joined the club that night.
Two weeks later I put out a desperate plea for volunteers for an event, and that new couple were the first to respond. They volunteered, had a blast, and I expect to see them at many events in the future!
We have a club-only competition every May. This is really a training ground to teach club members how to judge beer and enter competitions. Entry is free for new members, and they’re entitled to unlimited entries. Older members pay only $10 for unlimited entries.
We even have a soda category at our Beer & Sweat keg-only homebrew competition, and we ask kids to judge the soda (with their parents’ help). This kid-friendly event is just another way we make our club more inclusive.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people at any event where homebrewing comes up. We used to have an AHA table at our local beer festival, and we operate booths at many beer events like Learn to Homebrew Day. Working the events, we talk all who are interested, and we have a sign-up sheet for folks who want to learn more.
At Cincy Beerfest several years back, we spent a long time talking with an African-American guest named Brian Jackson. He had homebrewed a little but hadn’t engaged with others or with a club. Afterward, we sent him a reminder email about our meeting. He came to the meeting, joined the club, and soon won best-of-show at our annual major competition! Then he got to brew his winning recipe at a local brewery.
Brian started working on a plan for his own brewery, Esoteric Brewing, and is currently working at Madtree Brewing Co. to gain experience while he and his Filipino business partner develop their vision. Brian always makes sure to tell people that his journey started with our conversation six years ago. Never underestimate the power of talking to people and learning what they need!