There’s No Place Like Home

Tapping into Northeast Ohio’s Homebrewing Scene

As a group of us stand around a boiling kettle, homebrewer Mark Rames asks what we’d like to drink. The choices are coffee and beer, and noticing that it’s 12:03 pm, we choose the latter, of course. Rames pours glasses of black IPA from the full-size beer cooler on his sun porch, which he’s converted into a brewing room. Using the covered hot tub as a table, we take sips: the beer is dark and burnt and hoppy and heavenly.

The benefits of homebrewing are quickly becoming obvious. You get to taste more beer; friends who brew together, drink together, sharing their creations.

But there’s more to it than that. Dedicated homebrewers are connoisseurs who like to try new beers, identifying what’s working and not working in different brews. They enjoy experimenting with various styles and learning about them.

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As craft beer has exploded in popularity, so have homebrewing societies, groups that help homebrewers advance their craft. These clubs offer opportunities for amateurs to network with other homebrewers and pros and try out new kinds of beer. Locally, these clubs are expanding rapidly, with monthly meetings often full of new faces.

“The appreciation for good beer is growing, and that’s what we’re about,” says Nathan Kovach, vice president of the Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers (SNOBS), which meets monthly at the Sachsenheim Hall and also hosts regular social outings.

There are three brew clubs in Northeast Ohio: SNOBS, the Society of Akron Area Zymurgists (SAAZ) and Little Mountain Homebrewers Association (LMHBA). Each offers education, networking with brewers of all kinds, competitions, and discounts.

Learning about beer

The main purpose of home brew societies is to help members educate themselves. Rames had been brewing for a couple years before he joined SNOBS, and he is now president of the 250-member organization. These days, thanks in part to what Rames has gleaned as a member of the group, he uses a sophisticated Excel spreadsheet to track each beer he’s making, lording over his creations like a friendly mad scientist.

Although you can get started brewing beer for as little as $50, using a stovetop kit to try your first batch, once you are hooked, you want to learn more. And that’s where homebrew clubs come in, offering newbies and old-timers a chance to geek out over beer.

At monthly meetings, members have a chance to network and talk about club business, but the focus is really on learning about beer. Talks might include a discussion of different types of yeast or presentations from members who have won medals at competitions. Members also share and drink beer they’ve brought from home.

Yes, these meetings might sound intimidating, but don’t be afraid. They’re open to everyone, and you don’t have to pay your dues to participate (although that’s highly encouraged). When Kovach first started going to meetings, for instance, he left each time wondering if he belonged there. Yet over time, he learned enough to rap with beer gurus about pH, “mash efficiency” and other technical aspects of beer making.

Hobnobbing with brewers

It’s a well-known fact that most of Cleveland’s top beer makers started off as homebrewers. Tim Conway of Great Lakes Brewing Company and Andy Tveekram of Market Garden are both founding members of SNOBS, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year.

Now that they’ve become established, most of these brewers are eager to give back to the homebrewing community—and to have them come in and try their new beers. So members often get to network with local beer celebrities. Little Mountain meets monthly at the Willoughby Brewing Company and has a good relationship with the brewers there. Members of SNOBS were recently invited to the invitation-only soft opening of the new Platform Brewing Co. in Ohio City.

Homebrewer Kyle Roth says his connection with area brewers has helped him. After making friends with someone at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery in Dexter, Michigan, he got in touch with the brewer for inside information on getting the best live yeast samples from the bottoms of bottles (yes, this is a thing). He used them to make great beers at home.

“That’s how the brewing community is, they’re pretty helpful if you have questions,” says Roth.

Going for the gold

Both SNOBS and Little Mountain host annual competitions for homebrewers. The SNOBS competition is called Son of Brewzilla, while Little Mountain calls theirs King of the Mountain. They receive entries from all over the country, and members become certified as judges. The competitions not only give homebrewers an outlet for their creativity, but also provide opportunities for judges and participants to learn.

This year, Roth attended the National Home Brewing Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A beer that he brewed made it to the final round of the national championship.

Fueling the beer economy

One might think that homebrew clubs are competing with local breweries, but that’s not the case. Homebrewers like to support professional brewers, and they also want to try their beers so they can learn about them and imitate them at home. They also share knowledge with others, fueling the public’s interest in good craft beer.

Overall, homebrew clubs are an important part of the beer economy, something that’s important to Cleveland. Our region is now recognized as a beer hub, with brands like Great Lakes and Thirsty Dog leading the way, and start-up breweries in the works.

“The number of breweries and brew shops that have opened in the last 10 years is phenomenal,” says Joel Gayer, president of Little Mountain. “The home brewing community has sparked a whole economic boom in different areas that have to do with beer making.”

Want to join a club? You can learn more by finding these organizations on Facebook: Society of Northeast Ohio Brewers (SNOBS), Society of Akron Area Zymurgists (SAAZ), or Little Mountain Home Brewers Assoc. (LMHBA).