You’ve managed to wrangle a few like-minded folks in your area who homebrew, started meeting somewhat regularly, exchanging homebrew and talking about the latest beer trends in your area. Great job! You’ve basically formed a homebrew club in your area. As your group grows, either through new people you’ve never met before finding you through the shared interest of homebrewing, or you’ve converted all your friends to homebrew, one of the natural progressions is to add some educational talks at your meetings.
Making your club meetings educational seems daunting, but it really isn’t! Maybe someone you know makes a killer British Brown. Get them to come in and talk about their process, and/or why they like making it. Or maybe there’s a beer judge in a neighbouring town would be interested to chat about what it means to be a beer judge. It’s really just a way to share homebrewing knowledge with your group, and hopefully, everyone learns from it, and knows a bit more after that.
Here are some tips from club education directors on making club meetings educational.
Edmonton Homebrewers Guild (Edmonton, AB)
The education director does not have to be the knower of all things
A good education director knows the limits of their knowledge and can bring in outsiders when needed. Make connections with local breweries and brewers. Not all brewmasters have a Masters of Brewing, but they likely know more about malt, water and hops than your average homebrewer. Find a local hop farm and see what you can learn or bring in a local Cicerone or even Sommelier who can tell you how to refine your palate. There are even resources in your own club. You likely have one grizzled veteran who remembers when the local home brew shop only carried extracts and unlabeled, unrefrigerated hops. Tap your resources!
But you should still know what you’re talking about
If your club is a great distance away from any breweries or hop farms, you might have to take matters into your own hands. Try growing your own hops or kilning your own barley. It’ll likely be terrible at first, but you’ll learn a lot that can be passed on to your members. Brewing frequently is pretty much a given. Making mistakes and learning from them, particularly when you thought you did everything right, opens the door to inquiry beyond basic brewing knowledge.
Separate the wheat (or barley) from the chaff
There is an immense amount of brewing knowledge on the internet and that’s the first place people go when they want to learn something. You’re going to get a lot of conflicting advice, and you’re going to want to be able to give your members correct information. Does underpitching a Weizen yeast actually increase fruitiness? What happens when you overpitch? What’s the difference between sintering one minute of pure oxygen and shaking the carboy? Do your own experiments to find out which advice makes sense and which advice might need a closer look.
At a certain point, however, general knowledge isn’t enough. Let’s say a member has a consistent issue with astringency. They’re adding acid to their water, but still having a problem. Good luck finding out which common brewing acids will actually cause astringency if your pH meter isn’t properly calibrated. Thankfully, there are several research institutions dedicated to learning more about beer and beer science and many of them publish their research for free. Never stop learning yourself and you’ll never run out of topics for an education session.
Don’t forget about beginners
As you and your members become better brewers, you might find yourself talking about more and more advanced topics. This is great, but not all education sessions have to be about raising the bar. You also want to be the place where people go to figure out what to do when they open that first Mr. Beer kit they get for Christmas. Advertise beginners’ education sessions and make them free to attend. If that first kit flops because they don’t understand why you can’t use bleach to sanitise or what happens when you use bread yeast, they probably won’t try brewing again.
Keep in mind that you’re amateurs
Even though a few homebrewers are brewing professional quality beer using scaled down pro equipment, not everyone is at that level. This can be very intimidating to new brewers who feel they’ll be laughed at when they bring their brews to sample. Most meetings have a bar or table where everyone’s beer is available to sample. If someone asks you to give an honest review, don’t lie, but your goal should be to encourage them to brew more, not show off how much you know. In addition, remember that people can hear you when you talk with your friends about a random sample you tried.
Go beyond the brew
While most of your education sessions will likely be about brewing better beer, there are plenty of topics that will be of interest to your members and to non-brewers that go beyond brewing. What can you do with spent grain, for example? What about beer and food pairings? Can proper glassware actually affect your drinking experience? Running sessions that go beyond brewing can be a great way to include others and cement your club’s place in the community. The closer you are with your community, the more likely it will be that people new to brewing will be able to find you and your club.
GTA Brews (Toronto, ON)
I’ve been involved with the club for the past two years, one of which as the Education Director. The official educational component of our meetings started before I became involved, back in January 2015, with ‘Intro to Brewing Water’ presented by our President Eric Cousineau. Presentation topics are member driven: we poll the annual survey and ask members at the meetings what they’d like to hear about. We try to bring in every aspect of brewing, from pro brewers, maltsters, hop farmers, brewery builders, contract brewing, DIY homebrew setups, to competition brewing strategies.
We’ve also added a Structured Tasting to the start of every meeting where members present a beer which is poured for everyone, and a panel of BJCP judges will give constructive feedback to the brewer (while the rest of the room can follow along training their palates).
The educational components of the meetings help the club grow as a community, learning and sharing new techniques, and troubleshooting beer recipes.
Newfermentors (St John’s, NL)
The art of home brewing (beer, wine, mead, etc.) in unique in that great homebrew can be made with little knowledge of the science behind it, but knowing the science behind it helps your chances of making great homebrew. The learning aspect can be overwhelming given there are degrees that are dedicated to brewing. We try and break down the learning aspect so that brewers have the resources to help them should they want to continue forward.
Bringing home brewers together to share knowledge and beer is the foundation on which homebrew clubs were built. Sharing beer allows us to take a thought, turn it into something tangible, and receive feedback on what we made. Sharing knowledge helps fortify the base of understanding we use to brew and can have a great impact on the quality of all future brews. For this reason the educational portion of home brewing is critical to raising the average and is an aspect we try to always make present when having club meetings.
The shared knowledge base of any homebrew club is incredibly broad and deep. Lessons learned from seasoned veterans as well as those brave enough to venture into new methods or processes are all great sources to lean on. The tough part is tapping into this knowledge base so that the whole of the group can benefit. To help overcome this hurdle we use two main sources of education outside of asking questions to all members on the site:
- Meet-ups have an expert in a field directly related to home brewing (water chemistry, grain/hop education, cicerones, etc.) that will speak/present for the first hour and stick around to answer questions for the remainder of the meet up. This format works as those interested in the topic can arrive early and those who want to bottle share can arrive later and still get questions in about the topic if they wish.
- More recently we implemented a peer-to-peer coaching initiative where new brewers are paired up with more experienced brewers to answer their questions, have brew days, and act as a mentor to help the new brewer get over the many barriers-to-entry of home brewing. Brewers choose who they partner with which is usually determined by the interests/experience of the seasoned brewer and the questions being asked by the newer brewer.
For our October meet up we had an expert in water chemistry present to go through what takes place at the molecular level during the mash and fermentation phases of brewing as well as the proper use of ph meters. We met with the expert prior to the meet up to go through the presentation he had as he had no experience with home brewing. We ended up having a smaller turn out that day due to weather which turned out to be great as it was more of a small classroom feel with full discussions taking place on each slide. We ended up chatting for 3 hours instead of the original 1 hour that was allotted and there wasn’t one member who was properly using/storing their ph meters. Overall it was a great success and we’re going to have the person back to present again as sour beers are on the rise and more and more ph meter questions are being asked.
Education raises the average quality of beer you drink. Take it in little doses, help the people around you and everybody benefits.