7 Great Group Projects

Being a member of a homebrew club has many benefits — learning about new techniques, methods, and new ingredients from other members; tasting a wider array of homebrews than you could singularly brew; getting honest feedback on your own beers, bulk buying, camaraderie, and talking shop with people who are as passionate about brewing as you are. Of course, one of the biggest benefits members of clubs often cite is the ability to participate in larger projects and events that can’t easily be done solo. With so many clubs around the world putting on their own amazing events and unique experiments, the editors at BYO thought it would be beneficial to pool together some of the coolest club projects we’ve come across and share these ideas for other homebrew clubs to borrow from. From seven clubs that span the United States, we present 7 Great Group Projects.

Last Brewer Standing

by Brian Pyland • Barley Legal Homebrewers • New Jersey

Now in its third year, Last Brewer Standing began in 2016 as a multi-round competition for the members of Barley Legal Homebrewers of southern New Jersey. Up to 32 club members sign up and are randomly seeded into brackets, after which each pair are assigned a specific style, special ingredient, or brewing technique that they must adhere to. Each pair of beers are judged head-to-head, with the winning brewer advancing to the next round.

Each round lasts two months to allow time to research the style or other criteria, develop a recipe, brew, ferment, and condition/carbonate the beer. Styles that require extended time, such as most lager and higher-alcohol or wood-aged styles, are not included in the competition. The remaining styles are randomly selected for each bracket.

At the end of the year, when the bracket has been narrowed down to the final two brewers, they both bring their beers to the club’s annual holiday party. At the party the two finalist’s beers are judged live and the winner is crowned the Last
Brewer Standing.

John Eaton of Moorestown, New Jersey won the trophy in the inaugural Last Brewer Standing competition in 2016, and went on to successfully defend his crown in 2017. The 2018 competition is now underway, with the first-round judging having taken place at the beginning of April. The styles for the initial round included rye IPA, best bitter, cream ale, Irish red ale, Belgian blond, English porter, oatmeal stout, Irish stout, bière de garde, and American brown ale. New styles are on the bracket for round two.

One of the most fun and interesting aspects of the competition is the challenge of brewing a new style; in many cases the brewers are assigned a style that they had never brewed or even considered brewing before, and in a few cases the brewer has never even heard of the style before having to brew it! (Australian sparkling ale and English golden ale are two recent examples where the brewer was challenged to learn how to brew a style they had never made nor consumed before the competition.) This has pushed our club members out of their comfort zones and forced them to explore new styles and techniques, and master their brewing systems. It would be difficult to re-brew in the timeframe allowed, so the brewers need to get it right the first time!

Winners of each round are also assigned points for Brewer of the Year, an annual award for the club member with the most competition wins. (We also tally points for Member of the Year, which is an award for participation in club events and activities, as well as service above-and-beyond to the membership.) And, as a “side project” to Last Brewer Standing, the entrants often bring extra bottles to share with the other competitors in an informal bottleshare and tasting exercise at the end of each round.

Feedback on the Last Brewer Standing competition has been overwhelmingly positive, and has become an annual tradition for the club along with the National Homebrew Big Brew Day, Teach A Friend To Homebrew Day, the holiday party, bus trips to breweries, group brewing sessions, and multiple charitable events we hold throughout the year.

Brewing Adjunct Experiment

by Michael Stein • DC Homebrewers • Washington D.C.

In January, members of the DC Homebrewers Club completed an experiment on brewing with adjuncts. In short, the question was, “What can flaked adjuncts do?” With Citra® hops donated by District Chophouse and American Ale yeast donated by DC Brau Brewing Company, the DC Homebrewers were off to experiment on the perceived effects of different brewing adjuncts.

The recipe for the beer was a simple SMaSH (single malt and single hop) beer plus adjunct. DC Homebrewers’ Education Committee designed the recipe to have 80% 2-row pale malt, 20% flaked adjunct, and an all-Citra® hopping schedule with additions at 60 minutes, 10 minutes, and 0 minutes. A dry hop was also conducted post-fermentation.

“Adjuncts are sometimes thought of as a crutch of the big beer companies, but there are so many interesting adjunct options and it’s hard to test them all out as an individual brewer,” said club President Sara Bondioli.

Education Committee Co-Chair Omar Al-Nidawi noted the impetus behind the experiment. “We wanted to have a hands-on experiment to see exactly how different adjuncts stack up against each other in terms of flavor, mouthfeel, and starting and finishing gravity,” and the experiment did not disappoint, he said.

The experiment’s focus expanded from just adjuncts traditional in brewing like rice and corn to include some very unique grains. The adjuncts used were: Sorghum, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, flaked rye (three batches), flaked wheat, flaked rice, flaked quinoa, flaked corn (two batches), flaked barley, and flaked oats. Members also brewed two “control” batches.

Techniques varied depending on the brewers’ systems and the adjunct they used. Some used cereal mashes to prepare their adjuncts. In the case of Alex Cook, grinding amaranth to a fine consistency was the start to his mash. The sorghum was ground fine too, while the amaranth was pulverized using a “coffee-type grinder” and was cereal mashed with 6-row.

Brian Haroldson, who used buckwheat as his adjunct, wrote in the experiment notes, “Used 1# red, 2# regular organic. Initial mash temp a bit higher to gelatinize the buckwheat (156 °F/69 °C). Very viscous wort. Glad for rice hulls today.”

“Even though we tried to standardize our recipe as much as possible, everyone’s brewing practices and system played a bit into how their final beer turned out. But it was still interesting to pick out different flavors and mouthfeels from the beers,” Bondioli said.

“I think in several cases the differences in flavor were rather subtle, so trying to describe the differences was good training for the palate!” added Al-Nidawi, who later conducted a guided tasting featuring the corn, rice, rye, and oat beers. “That said, a few beers like those brewed with rye, and those involving less-commonly used adjuncts, like buckwheat, really stood out with interesting and bold flavor contributions.” The oat beer appeared the palest and there were some interesting differences between the selected four.

“The corn and rice were more glassy/snappy upfront,” said Al-Nidawi, referring to their lighter body, “while the oat and rye beers were noticeably thicker.” He noted a bit of “light hop astringency” between all the beers but generally “the corn was brightly hoppy,” more so than the others.

“In terms of fermentation character, the oat and rice were lightly estery,” he said, adding that “corn had some fruitiness that may be from the hops, while the rye beer had both some fruit and spice character.”

The camaraderie and knowledge gained from the experiment was a great start to the year for the club, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in January.

Commercial Clone Challenge

by Jason Stuffle • Green Mountain Mashers • Vermont

The Green Mountain Mashers, a Northwest Vermont-based homebrew club, sponsors numerous events including — for 27 years running — the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrew Competition.

One event that members often cite as being a favorite is the Commercial Clone Challenge. Each year a commercial brew is chosen and members set out to replicate the beer as best they can. They buy the beer to sample and take notes on. They consult books and online resources for recipes and ingredient choice. Some go as far as to clone yeast from the bottle. The first contest I took part in was the Dogfish Head Midas Touch clone challenge. It was a pricey one but it was great to gather the brewers and sample all the attempts — comparing notes, going back and forth between the original and clones. Regardless of who wins, it’s a fun time but everyone is vying for the coveted Clone Challenge Trophy. Some members have been known to run triangle tests with their clone and the actual beer to get unbiased feedback.

Soon after that contest I was nominated for club president and graciously accepted. The suggestion was brought up to do a Vermont beer as a clone. Why not? We have such great access to the local Vermont breweries and brewers with many of them being homebrewers at one time. Being able to brew on a pro system with a seasoned pro is a great learning experience inspired by the Brewers Cup —in which a brewer got to brew on Greg Noonan’s old system at Vermont Pub and Brewery.

Paul Sayler and Destiny Saxon of Zero Gravity Brewing in Burlington have been great friends of the club. Several members ran a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) study group with Destiny taking part and bringing the beers she brews at the downtown location to be judged and improved upon. Paul had everyone to the brewery after our BJCP exam and shared some gems from their cellar. So the first contest was Zero Gravity Conehead soon dubbed the “Clonehead Challenge.” Zero Gravity offered up recipe notes, hints, and even some ingredients to those participating. Paul and Destiny, along with other Zero Gravity staff, spent a late night tasting all the entries and declared Darrell Whitaker’s entry the winner. Darrell got to spend a brew day at Zero Gravity as they made 60 barrels during a double brew day on their 30-barrel system. As event photographer, I can ensure you they put Darrell to work and he got to experience every step that goes into making Conehead. Darrell even brought cans of that exact batch to a future meeting for everyone to sample.

As the winner, Darrell got to choose the next challenge, which took us across the street to Queen City Brewery with their LandLady ESB. Queen City Brewery (QCB) was started by several members of the Green Mountain Mashers including Head Brewer and Co-owner Paul Hale. Again, we had great access to the brewers and the brewery. The winner, as declared by  QCB brewers Lillian MacNamara and Paul, as well as other staff members, was Brian Mulhall (pictured with the trophy at left).

Brian chose Simple Root’s Kara’s Kölsch. Dan Ukolowicz is a local Burlington homebrewer turned pro. First, Dan and his wife Kara started a legal brewery out of their converted detached garage at their house where the club was given an exclusive tour. Now, just down the road in the Old North End of Burlington they have a dedicated brewery. Simple Roots has hosted us for post-boil Mash Challenges and club meetings. Dan loves to see what members of the club are doing and enjoys having the club at the brewery. Erin Ennis toiled over his entry with multiple rounds and even cloned up the yeast from a bomber of Kara’s Kölsch. Dan and Kara judged the entries and had a tough choice to make but Erin won.

Being based in Essex Junction, Erin decided to choose Essex Junction’s 1st Republic Brewery 104 Porter. 1st Republic is a homebrew shop in addition to a brewery so you can stop by to talk to Owner/Brewer Shawn Trout and he can help you pick out the ingredients for the 104 Porter, which is our current challenge underway. The Clone Challenge is always a favorite since members have direct access to the brewers and the beer. These are beers most locals have had so you can easily try out your attempt on friends. Of course getting to spend a brewday with the brewer is priceless.

Club Yeast Bank

by Jason Stika • Heart River Homebrewers • North Dakota

One of the many benefits of belonging to an active homebrew club is the opportunity to acquire, store, and share a variety of brewing ingredients including yeast. The Heart River Homebrewers of Dickinson, North Dakota, have organized many yeast-related projects as part of sharing and learning how to make better beer.

Brewing yeast comes in a wide variety of strains from many sources and has a major impact on beer flavor, aroma, and appearance. As a club, we have experimented with a number of ways to acquire, store, share, and use brewing yeast so we can expand our brewing horizons and expertise. These experiments have ranged from capturing wild yeast to propagating commercially available strains from a variety of sources. By spreading the risk and spreading the wealth, many members of our club have benefited as brewers.

There are a number of ways to acquire brewing yeast, from capturing an unknown wild variety to purchasing a very specific pure culture from a lab. Back in 2013, former club member Alan Church, captured wild yeast by placing cheesecloth-covered jars of wort under trees in various locations around Dickinson. He found that one of the jars was inhabited by a pale tan colony of what we assumed to be yeast. We carefully plucked the colony out of the jar, named it “LaPlante” (French for plant nursery), put it into a starter wort, built the colony up into a starter culture, and pitched it into a batch of wort dubbed Wild Thing Ale. The resulting beer had a noticeable melon flavor and a very dry finish, so much so that the bottles became somewhat over-carbonated with time.

Several members of our club have also acquired yeast from the bottom of bottles of commercial or homebrewed beers, and carefully transferring the yeast into a starter culture. With careful sanitation of all equipment involved, this process only requires some patience to revive and build up the population of the salvaged yeast.

Then, of course, there is the yeast we purchase as pure liquid cultures or dried granules of yeast. Again, careful sanitation from pitching to fermenting to harvesting and storage is necessary to retain as pure a culture of yeast as possible.

Members of our club have saved yeast by isolating colonies on agar slants, saving yeast from the bottom of a carboy into a sanitized jar with a loose-fitting lid, and by simply pouring fresh wort on top of the yeast cake in a fermenter from which beer was recently racked into another container. Isolating and saving yeast on slants is a good approach for long-term storage, but requires some skill and patience to do properly. Fortunately, we have some biology geeks in the group who are proficient at this!

Sharing yeast with other members of the club is the best part of the whole process! This will sometimes prompt some of the less experienced brewers to try a style of beer they have not brewed before, such as a Belgian ale, German weizenbier, or Pilsner. With modern electronic communications including a list of available yeasts on our website for others to take advantage of, everybody in the club has a variety of yeast strains available to them at any time. Or, sometimes, one of us will simply bring a small jar of yeast slurry along to the monthly meeting to see if anyone wants to give it a home!

Acquiring, saving, and sharing yeast among members of a homebrew club helps everyone learn more about brewing and making better beer. Our club, like many, are very informal and welcome new guests who wish to learn about brewing their own beer!

Moonlight Brew

by Ron Minkoff • Hogtown Brewers • Florida

Have you ever brewed with the devil in the pale moonlight? Members of the Hogtown Brewers (the 2016 Radegast Homebrew Club of the Year) do it every year, firing up their burners and mashing grain after the sun goes down. 

Moonlight Brew is one of the highly anticipated communal brewing events the Hogtown Brewers put on each March down in Gainesville, Florida. The idea came from a then-new member (that’s a shout out to you, Mr. Pries) who originally conceived it as Midnight Brew where we would start the brewing festivities at midnight. After pondering the proposal and quickly realizing maybe all of three brewers might show up that late at night, we tweaked and improved the concept so the event was more approachable. We then gave it a new name and launched Moonlight Brew in 2011.

Our 8th annual Moonlight Brew was held on March 3, 2018. Moonlight Brew has a few unique rules to give it its character. The event is always scheduled on the Saturday in March that is closest to a full moon. Brewers bring their own equipment, ingredients, and recipes, as well as their own form of lighting, such as hanging Christmas lights on their canopy, lighting up a propane lantern, or wearing head lamps. We start brewing no earlier than 7 p.m. (when it starts to get dark) on a nice moonlit evening, usually completing everyone’s batch by 1 or 2 a.m. Brewers must brew a dark beer (17 SRM or higher).

A local farmer brings an empty container to the event to collect the spent grain so it can be used to feed some lucky pigs. As with all of our group brewing events, everyone in attendance brings a potluck dish to share along with plenty of homebrews.

Like most communal brews where multiple stations are set up, the event is a great learning experience for new homebrewers (and new club members) since they get to check out the wide variety of equipment and techniques the Moonlight Brew-jockeys are using. But the greatest attribute of Moonlight Brew is simply the vibe. Brewing with your fellow club members at night in spectacular weather (March is a great weather month in Florida), under a moonlit sky, with everyone’s burner boiling their own custom wort, making the next amazing dark malt elixir, and relaxing together while sharing samples creates a unique festive atmosphere full of camaraderie.

When all the brewers have completed their batch and packed up their equipment, we then head out for breakfast together, usually at the local Steak-n-Shake. Yes, even though we had potluck snacks during the brew session, there is always room for the post-Moonlight Brew victory breakfast. When all is said and done, the evening usually wraps up between 2:30–3:30 a.m., and time to call it a day (or actually, a morning). The latest Moonlight Brew has ever ended (breakfast and all) was 5 a.m. — however, that occurred in the early years. We’re a little less tardy these days with everything dialed in.

But we don’t stop there with the Moonlight Brew activities. About three months later, those who participated get together again and do a “moonlight” tasting of what was brewed. In previous years, several brews created at Moonlight Brew went on to win multiple medals in homebrew competitions. That’s the moonlight mojo working!

12 IPAs of Christmas

by John Lee • Saratoga Thoroughbrews • New York

The Saratoga Thoroughbrews were approached by Artisanal Brew Works in Saratoga Springs, New York, about our club members putting a twist on one of their standard offerings, Daily Double IPA. The idea was to have club members create their own IPAs using the Daily Double wort and supply 12 kegs of different IPAs for Artisanal’s 12 IPAs of Christmas event.

The 12 IPAs of Christmas was a ticketed event, open to the public. Attendees were given a tasting score sheet to supply the brewery with their feedback on the aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, flavor, and overall impression of the beer. Artisanal had done a similar event the year prior, which actually gave birth to their Daily Double IPA.

As a club, we were asked to come to the Brewery on November 24, 2017, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Each homebrewer was given about 7 gallons (26.5 L) of wort to either brew on site or take home to brew. Artisanal is a farm brewery, so there were some stipulations to make sure each of our batches remained compliant with their New York State farm brewery license — which requires 20% of ingredients in every batch to be grown in-state. They gave us the wort, so that part was taken care of. They also supplied a large variety of hops to choose from. Some of them were traditional: Newport, Chinook, Centennial, Willamette, and Fuggle — but we were also pleasantly surprised by a few others: Southern Cross, Rakau, and Michigan Copper; all grown in New York and pelletized to boot! In addition to the wort and hops, Artisanal also supplied the 19 participating club members with their house yeast strain to ferment our beers.

Of course, there were deadlines to meet. Those that were unable to keg the beer at home needed to have their fermented brews back to Artisanal by December 7, allowing our hosts to properly carbonate the beers. All others were to be dropped off four days later to be judged.

On December 11, all 19 of the variations were judged by members of our club and the brewers at Artisanal. The best 12 of the bunch were chosen to be served at their event the following evening.

Within the club, there were several approaches to making the beer. Here are a few examples:

Don Groff took his 7 gallons (26.5 L) of wort home and used four additions (at 60, 30, 15, and 0 minutes left in the boil) of a single hop, Centennial. He then chose Experimental Hop 6297 for dry hopping — with the first addition in primary and the second addition at kegging. Experimental 6297 is a child of Eastern Gold, Apollo, Cascade & USDA 19058m that imparts notes of candied grape, orange, and vanilla cream.

Another brewer, fondly known as MCP, opted to do the boil at Artisanal and leave it there. The whole experiment required temperature-controlled fermentation as well as forced carbonation, which he currently doesn’t have the ability to do at home. He used several kinds of hops, as well as lactose: 1⁄2 lb. (0.23 kg) lactose at 60 minutes, 1⁄2 oz. (14 g) Cluster hops at 40 minutes, 1 oz. (28 g) Chinook hops at 30 minutes, 1 oz. (28 g) Mosaic hops at 30 minutes, and 1 oz. (28 g) of Chinook at 15 minutes. After two days he dry hopped with 1 oz. (28 g) each of Mosaic® and Chinook, and 1⁄2 oz. (14 g) Cryo Citra® hops. He said he chose to add the lactose as he thought the wort would really attenuate and he wanted some sweetness to counter the bitterness from the Cluster hops. The end product had a higher residual sweetness than he was counting on and the cluster hops added more bitterness than he had anticipated but “it definitely did not suck!”

In the end, in addition to the club members having a great time and learning about new ingredients along the way, the 12 IPAs of Christmas was a great event where a lot of people came to have fun and sample a variety of amazing beers.

Pro-Am Collaborations

Erica Anton • Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers • Ohio

Every month, members of the Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers get together for a “SNOBs Night Out.” It’s our time to socialize between meetings and talk over a few brews. Sometimes we check out the latest new brewery (it seems they’re popping up constantly) or check in with one of our members who has crossed over into professional brewing. It’s this close relationship with the local beer scene that sparked an idea. What if the beer that we were enjoying at these nights out was one that we had helped make ourselves?

This year, we are putting this idea into action. Led by club Vice President Mike Ontolchik, the SNOBs are conducting nearly monthly Pro-Am collaborations with local breweries. Small groups of around 8 club members take turns meeting with a local brewer to create a recipe, which they then brew on the brewery’s pub system. The resulting beer is released at a SNOBs night out, while at the same time on tap to the public. Not only do the club members get an opportunity to partner with brewers and see how homebrewing scales up to a larger size, but we increase our integration into the local brewing community and foster public awareness of our club.

At the time of writing this, we have already had three teams in various stages of this process. The Collision Bend Brewing group met with Luke Purcell (formerly of Great Lakes Brewing Company) in January, collaborating on a Wee Heavy. The beer was released as Sassy Lassy at the February Night Out. As a special treat, some of the beer spent time in a Bourbon barrel, and some on ancho chilis and black currants. These special varietals were also available at the night out. It was rewarding for team members to talk about the process with other homebrewers, as well as pub customers who were just there to have a few drinks.

Our next few collaborations are already in progress. One team is partnering with Richard Skains (former Homebrewer of the Year Winner) of Working Class Brewery on a rye stout, which we hope will be ready for our next night out. Another team is creating a maple Maibock with Andy Tveekrum of Market Garden Brewery. Andy even wants to take us on a trip to Bissell Farm, a local Maple Farm where he acquires his syrup. Also on the docket are collaborations with Great Lakes Brewing Company, Brick and Barrel Brewing, Hansa Brewery, and Willoughby Brewing Company.

What’s even better is that these aren’t the only great Pro-Am collaborations we have this year. In May, we will be celebrating AHA Big Brew by partnering with Ralph Sgro of Terrestrial Brewing. On May 5, we’ll be making a 2-row pale malt wort base with some Munich and a little Carapils® that about 20 SNOBs will be able to take home in 5-gallon (19-L) carboys. Once we get it home, we will each add malts, hops, yeasts, and adjuncts to create a unique beer. In July, the staff at Terrestrial will judge the resulting beers, and the winner will brew a beer with Terrestrial for a future SNOBs night out. We will also have a club-selected People’s Choice Award so everyone in the club can experience the wide range of styles that came from a single wort base.         

Issue: May-June 2018