Combine Homebrewing and Networking

Homebrew University in Hackettstown, New Jersey brings the hobby of homebrewing to the business world to help professionals with a business networking experience or a team-building exercise.

I’m no stranger to non-traditional business networking. I’ve done yoga and networking. I’ve done painting and networking. I’ve even sung in a choir of legal professionals for the sake of building my network. Why not networking and homebrewing?

To learn more, I reached out to Maia and Warren Wilson of Homebrew University in Hackettstown, New Jersey. Warren is the owner and brewmaster. Maia is the events coordinator. She organizes networking events at the HU for businesses and organizations like the local chamber of commerce.

If you’d like to organize a business event at your local homebrew supply shop or in another space, here are some considerations:

Match group size to the purpose
Before you send out the invites for a brewing/networking event, consider the size of the facility and whether your group will be able to brew one or more batches. If your clients or co-workers will all want to take an active role, limit the number to about 15 people per batch. “If, however, your focus is more about gathering people together to network around a beer-related event,” Maia says, “you are only limited by how many people fit comfortably in the space.”

Appoint a few people to do certain jobs
Before you begin, choose a couple of point people. “A watched pot never boils, but an unwatched pot boils over,” says Warren. At Homebrew University, participants are divided into teams for weighing and milling, stirring, hop additions, cooling, and yeast pitching, along with all of the clock watching and temperature taking that goes with each role. Having specific roles for team members ensures all jobs get done and no one gets left out.

Collaboration = connections
Colleagues and contacts can get to know one another over the common goal. Harry Browne, a financial advisor, homebrewer, and President of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce in New Jersey, takes a “Business over Beer” group to Homebrew University at least once a year. He recommends, “Keep it light and don’t get sales-y.” His group connects during the brewing downtime. “We encourage folks to sit down and talk,” he says. Talking about the brewing project everyone is doing will help avoid awkward small talk and give everyone in the group at least one thing in common.

Prepare your newbie brewer colleagues
You can build connections by helping the newbie brewers in your group prepare. When you’re choosing a venue, ask about the information they provide to new brewers. Even before the session, you can chat with your colleagues about styles and suggest a few samples they could try. Browne notes that someone in his group will frequently tell him they don’t like beer, but they still enjoy the process and usually end up finding a style they like.

Bottling is another chance to connect
About two weeks after the brew session, your team can pick up their brew. Browne’s group gets together the following month to taste the end result. You get two chances with your contacts, he says, once during the brew and once for the tasting. Warren says creating a bottle label for your team, company, or event can help clients remember the experience — and your company. “Everyone gets to walk away with a prize.”

Maybe you and a new client will connect over the brewing experience more than you would over lunch. 

Issue: September 2019