Utah Homebrew Clubs | Wine | Salt Lake City Weekly

Utah Homebrew Clubs 

Utah’s homebrew clubs offer insight and camaraderie.

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Gregg Updike remembers the secret society-like atmosphere once surrounding homebrew clubs in Utah. “People were afraid to talk about being homebrewers before the law changed,” the O-Town Hop Heads founder and president says. “It was odd, calling eight different people supposedly running clubs and never getting called back.” In 2009, when the Utah Legislature passed House Bill 51, it eliminated many of Utah’s homebrewing roadblocks, such as the former requirement for brewers to have a difficult-to-acquire license. Frustrated by those unreturned calls and passionate about crafting brews, 20-year brewer Updike began his own brew club in December 2009, joining ranks with others including High Altitude Homebrewers Guild in Heber/Park City and ZZ Hops in Salt Lake City.

For novices, the homebrewing process typically involves crafting 5-gallon batches—yielding a couple of cases of beer—and it takes about a month, from brew day to bottoms-up. Kits are purchased at local brewing supply stores or online.

Folks brew their own beer for myriad reasons, from seeking freshness and diversity to being able to apply their science aptitude. But there are so many various nuts and bolts of homebrewing that can’t be contained in books like The Complete Joy of Homebrewing or blogs, so real-time feedback of clubs is invaluable. Updike says club bulk purchases also save money, and he occasionally benefits from borrowing ingredients from colleagues when he’s low. Also, many members learn to sharpen their beer palates while enjoying camaraderie with like-minded beer enthusiasts.

Brew clubs rarely have strict rules; it’s a joyful hobby, not a job. O-Town Hop Heads meetings are likewise casual. “There’s always an agenda, but it doesn’t always get done. We’ve be known to run past midnight on some nights, but it’s not an excuse to go out and get drunk,” Updike says. Their meetings begin with social discourse about recently brewed batches. Then, there’s club business, followed by announcements—fairly standard procedures. The meetings feature clubwide brews every month. Two beer styles—one standard, one exotic—are chosen each month, following discussion during the previous month’s meeting, to be brewed and tasted, with an optional club competition. September’s batches are Vienna lager and Scotch ale. To finish the meeting, there’s technical gabbing and troubleshooting. Salt Lake City’s ZZ Hops’ meetings follow a similar format.

Updike encourages folks to join a local brewing club and overcome possible preconceived notions. “People might feel intimidated about being around a bunch of brewers or being laughed at during the meetings,” he says. “These brew clubs want members; they don’t want someone to ridicule. We’re all about building a bigger community.”

Ray Madison, president of the High Altitude Homebrewers Guild and Wasatch Brew Pub assistant brewer, would agree. His focus is educating people about beer and meeting other brewers and drinkers. “It’s a geeky beer thing. If I’m not doing anything, I’ll brew a batch of beer. There’s more people like that, I think,” Madison says. The small club meets infrequently but has ambitions for growth and more consistency.

Though both Updike and Madison are obsessive, they encourage any level of participation in the hobby, from brewing solo, joining an existing club—those listed are open for membership—or starting your own. Either way, in the words of homebrewing author and icon Charlie Papazian: “Relax, don’t worry and have a homebrew.” 

Heber/Park City
President: Ray Madison

President: Gregg Updike

Salt Lake City
Contact Mike Hahn

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