Skip to main content

Brewing is about community

Jimmy pouring grain
Jimmy Sharp measures his grain into the mill one recent
Saturday at Xtreme Brewing
The first time I went to Xtreme Brewing, in Millsboro, Del., I was hooked on the homebrew culture. I am not a homebrewer, but, rather, have always described my self as a hobby collector. I love to learn about other people's hobbies, what drew them to their passion and why they pursue it so ardently (or, when they don't, why they no longer do). The culture surrounding a hobby is often more fascinating than the hobby itself. The subculture of inclusivity intrigued me more than any other part of the hobby, except for the beer of course.
Hobbies can encourage factionalism by encouraging esoteric cliques defined in opposition to one another. Tribalism often is what makes hobbies sustainable and, for me, worth watching. What is hobby-ier than talking to passionate people who are willing to go to war over details an outsider barely can distinguish. For the homebrewer, however, the distinction is only between people who brew and people who don't. Among many if not most, that distinction can be amended to those who do not yet brew.
Homebrewing explosion warning
You can't say homebrewers aren't at least a little self-aware
The homebrewers I've met, and I have met a bunch, can be a little evangelical. They love the notion of someone catching the bug and, even more than that, love encouraging people who already have. For every brewer I've spoken to, the main thrust has been to make good beer and then to make it better. Unlike hobbies where knowledge is (or can be) acquired in secret, there are facts about what it takes to brew beer. Everyone who ever has brewed has brewed something undrinkable and proceeded to at least try and drink it.
Early mistakes, or even spectacular failures that occur among people who have been brewing awhile, are a point of camaraderie among brewers. Homebrewers could very well be the only hobbyist group bound together by embarrassing stories. The shared experience not only bonds homebrewers so easily, but also encourages them to push themselves and each other to become more daring brewers. This attracted me to homebrewing as much as did any other aspect of the culture (except the beer). They all want to make better beer and also want to help everyone else make better beer. Homebrewers are never discursive. Moreover, they tend to be gently honest about one another's beers. In this, they are almost aggressively encouraging.
Shawn's hophead hat helps him concentrate.
This Saturday, Dec. 14, there will be a free brewing class at Xtreme Brewing's new shop in Laurel, Del. I was writing a story about the class when I first encountered Doug and Shawn and the rest of the Xtreme Brewing gang nearly two years ago. At the time, the shop was run out of Doug's wife Patti's co-opted gardening shed in the couple's back yard. To a person, newcomers entered with a vague look of confusion, unsure whether they were trespassing or not and trying to look as if they belonged. Saturday brewing days bring out the best in both the regulars and the staff. Test beer flows relatively freely in small plastic tasters, which, in the late morning, likely has a bit of a lubricating effect.
What always has set the Xtreme Brewing experience apart is, no matter how busy it gets, there is always time to help and no lack of resources. People have been brewing beer for thousands of years, there aren't a lot of unsolved brewing problems. This is what makes the shared experience so enticing. Almost everyone who has been brewing longer than you has had your particular problem. They recall the foreignness, the confusion, frustration and embarrassment that can be part of early brewing. Better, they retroactively thank the people who helped them stay with it by providing the identical gentle encouragement of novices. In fact, there is a great story on this week's Beer with Strangers podcast about that very thing.
The idea behind the Beer with Strangers podcast is to document and broadcast this bonding experience. Each week we'll have a guest of varying skill levels to share their latest brew and discuss their foibles and successes. In the process, we'll discuss brewing with Doug and he'll answer brewing questions. If there's time we'll also recount State of the Beer featured brewing news.
If you'd like to submit a brewing question (or arrange to call in with one) reach out to me here. If you would care to subscribe on iTunes, click here (your iTunes window will open, don't be afraid). If you are or know anyone who is interested in taking a brewing basics class (the class is free and lots of fun) have them reserve a space here. Taking a class is the best way to figure out whether homebrewing is for you. Many people take several before trying on their own at home. Click here for the Beer with Strangers show notes. The show itself is below:

Popular posts from this blog

Your browser does not support the audio element. Download this Podcast

What is in a name?

In this week's Beer with Strangers podcast, Doug Griffith of Xtreme Brewing in Laurel and I discussed the recurring news story that craft beer is running out of names. Among the concerns is that it makes it harder for new brewers to break in and it prevents smaller brewers from having big breakout beers. Craft beers allegedly have kooky names because they are the product of one brewery making many, many beers.
It makes sense, at some level, to have weird names for beers. Brewers like to be distinctive, to set themselves apart. And people who like craft beer get a kick out of kooky names.  Raging Bitch made national news when there was a fight over whether it was an obscene name. Beyond that, as shelves get more crowded with bottles and cans, and as breweries continue to try and push the envelope with tastes and flavors, brewers want a name that is as distinctive as their beers. Plus, in absence of any other knowledge or review, lots of beer drinkers simply judge the beer book by …

Into the past

I went to college as a 30-year-old and, as I made for the graduation finish line, my first marriage came apart. If I ever write that story it will read like the lamest version of the poor man's Fear and Loathing. Come to think of it, Fear and Loathing in Delmar would be an awesome title. Doing primary source, original research was a graduation requirement, so I combined my appreciation for a good tavern with the fact that I had to write about something. While researching taverns in colonial Maryland I discovered that there was such a place a Castle Haven. More than a decade later, that paper became the first chapter in my first book, and the second installment in my blog about writing the book. This is the story of our attempt to breach Castle Haven in search of photos.