By Scott Butchart // April 21, 2018
Almost every homebrew club has started out of a group of people getting together to drink and compare what they’ve made. They start in garages, backyards, a friends basement. It doesn’t matter where, it’s the who and the why that counts. The sharing of homebrew amongst friends and inviting new people in is the number one way to grow this hobby of ours, and to increase the quality of homebrew you taste in general.
My homebrew club, VanBrewers, likely has a similar story to other clubs across Canada. It started when some friends in school for engineering started homebrewing to save money, wanted to get more information about the hobby and saw there was nothing locally available to them. Being intelligent, good looking and industrious folks, Graham With (head brewer/owner at Parallel 49) and Katy Wright (Sales Manager with Country Malt Group) struck together a plan. Starting in a friends building common room with a handful of people, it grew steadily over the years to needing a space to accommodate a minimum of 40 attendees. With more excited homebrewers in the area to grow the club, now we have the VanBrewer Awards, summer barbeque, BJCP courses, winter advent calendar…the list is extensive and all membership run. All out of a few people getting together to share homebrew.
So starting a club isn’t the difficult part, it’s the maintenance and growth that will be. Once you start taking membership dues you need to consider some legal issues. Incorporation as a Not for Profit in your province/territory of operation is important and it protects the executive from personal legal prosecution should something happen. To make this clear, as an executive member you are legally responsible for anything that happens to the club or its members. Incorporation requires Bylaws and organization elements to improve the stability of the organization as a legal, separate entity from a “group” of people. Incorporation costs somewhere between $50-100 depending on your government requirements so it’s not prohibitive financially, and provides a framework for you to operate legally.
Insurance for your club and its directors is also a very good idea. General Liability Coverage protects your members and guests at any club sanctioned event (unless something illegal happens, like drunk driving for example), and Directors and Officers Coverage protects your executive from being sued personally (again, unless a crime is committed). For VanBrewers this works out to around $6 per member annually which is well worth the peace of mind. The CHA is in talks with an insurance company that may be able to offer GLC coverage to all homebrew clubs across Canada, similar to the one offered by the AHA in the US. More details will be provided once we have something from the underwriter.
A Code of Conduct is also a great thing to have right away and incorporated into your club Bylaws. This details how your membership and their guests need to behave while attending any club sanctioned events, and consequences for behaviour unbecoming to the club. People do silly things when they’re drinking, but if it’s a much bigger issue you need to have a way to deal with it. Over intoxication, fighting, drunk driving and inappropriate speech are all good reasons to be immediately removed from an event, and possibly removed as a member. Promoting an inclusive culture should be the number one priority of your club but sometimes people can make that difficult. This indemnifies your club against some legal action should a major event occur.
The CHA is more than happy to help your club get setup as a legal entity. Feel free to email Scott Butchart if you want some help with this process.