Clubbing: A Brief Introduction to Brewing Clubs v. Beer Clubs

If you’ve been brewing for a year or more, there’s a good chance you’ve started looking into joining a homebrew club.  Depending on how anal-retentive you happen to be – or what the options look like in your area – you may or may not have previewed and auditioned more than one club. 

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to hear that not all homebrew clubs are created equal.  I’m not talking about size, the kinds of activities they engage in, or even brewing quality.  No, what I’m talking about is the difference between a brewing club and a beer club.

They sound basically the same, right?  Trust me when I say that they’re not (or don’t, and just keep reading!), and the differences matter. 

I’m not passing judgment, or arguing for one type over the other, but being able to spot the difference might mean a much more satisfying experience as you hunt around for a club to call home.

THE BREWING CLUB V. THE BEER CLUB

Brewing clubs are pretty easy to spot.  Beer tasting and evaluation tends to be more structured and is present at every meeting.  You’re likely to find a significant number of BJCP-certified beer judges.  Members brew at least once a month, and often more.  The club tends to sponsor intra- and/or inter-club competitions that encourage members to brew outside of their comfort zones.  For example, my club, Stoney Creek Homebrewers, has a “duel” program in which members can challenge any other member to brew a specific type or style of beer (or a beer with a specific ingredient), and the challenged member MUST accept.  The result is an opportunity to engage in a bit of friendly competition while at the same time forcing you to get creative and challenge yourself.  Duels have included everything from a boring-but-tasty English bitter duel all the way up to the surprisingly-good malt liquor duel. 

Brewing clubs also tend to have a substantial emphasis on education and technical development of their members.  You don’t need to pay for luminaries to come visit, either: conscientious members can volunteer to engage in some basic research and provide a brief class to the membership, at which point a general discussion can evolve. 

Brewing clubs are about brewing. 

The beer club is a different animal entirely.  While it is comprised of (mostly) homebrewers, it lacks an emphasis on brewing.  Evaluation of beers tends to be a bit haphazard, sometimes with nothing more formal than members roaming the room with a growler and pouring samples. 

They also tend to be heavily social, with very little organized activity, either at meetings or in club activities.  Education is often reserved for specific events external to the club’s normal meetings, and sometimes includes larger-scale talks with outside experts.

Beer clubs are about lots of things, including brewing, but usually lack a particular focus or strategy, which can make them seem a bit more ad hoc and freewheeling.  And the focus is more on beer than brewing.

FIND YOUR FIT

Finding the right homebrew club for you is, like many things in life, about finding the right fit. 

To a highly social, extroverted, or casual brewer a more-structured club like the stereotypical “brewing” club described above will likely seem a bit dull or stiff.  It will seem too obsessed with rules and agendas and the technical minutiae.  You’ll likely be bored.

To a more technically-minded or – let’s just say it – neurotic brewer, the typical “beer” club described above will feel like a waste of time.  You’ll want to give and receive feedback on your beer but might get nothing more than a nod and a two-word response.  You might also find that large beer clubs get clique-ish and can be a bit unwelcoming to new members – maybe not deliberately, but it can still feel that way to someone without a lot of friends in the room. 

Find your fit. 

MAKE YOUR FIT

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with multiple homebrew clubs, then it’s probably a good idea to audition all of the ones that are a reasonable distance away rather than just jumping into the first (or closest) club you find.  If you’re not, then don’t be afraid to start your own club!  Stoney Creek was created because a few people in the same area that were already acquainted formed a club around a kitchen table – and what started with four attendees now draws ten times that many regularly, has a main and satellite chapter, and is a significant contributor to its local community.

But don’t settle.  A supportive and helpful club – whatever kind you prefer – is a great way to keep yourself motivated and interested in brewing.  It will bring you into contact with like-minded people in your area, and connect you to the larger brewing community.  It may end up being an important part of your social life or be a priceless resource to develop your brewing skills.

KEEP A WANDERING EYE

It should also be noted that clubs don’t all fit into neat boxes.  There are large and decentralized clubs that are highly focused on the technical aspects of brewing.  There are small clubs that function as social clubs more than brewing clubs even if they follow Roberts Rules of Order to a T.  And clubs evolve over time: what starts as one type may develop into another, depending on the wants of its membership or the actions of its leadership.  So be flexible, and be willing to bail.

Hell, you should also be willing to join more than one club!  I’ve known lots of homebrewers that belong to multiple clubs as a way to take advantage of what each has to offer.

So keep looking until you find (or found) what you want.  There are few things that will do more for your enjoyment of homebrewing than joining a homebrew club, and the effort to find a club you like will yield benefits for years to come. 

Keep it simple.

JJW

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