If you’ve ever thought about trying your hand at homebrewing beer, don’t go it alone! The Brew Club of Seminole County welcomes you with full glasses and open arms.
Sanford resident Mark Davis cut his teeth on (and lined his stomach with) German beer while serving abroad in the Army as a young soldier.
“When I came back to the U.S., I felt like there was no good beer around,” laughs Mark. “The good news is that homebrewing became legal in 1978. What’s so great about it is that you can be as creative as you want when you’re brewing your own stuff. It’s not something you’ll find in a grocery store, and you can share what you make with friends. It’s a great hobby to have.”
Mark, now a professor and program manager at a local college, is a charter member of the Brew Club of Seminole County.The club was founded by fellow Sanford resident Darren Uner, who kicked off the first meeting with about a dozen attendees. Six years later, the Brew Club is hopping (<– see what we did there) with almost 600 Facebook group members. About 40 of them are very active, seasoned homebrewers and newbies who attend meetings on the first Thursday of every month at a bistro in downtown Sanford. In addition to sharing their homemade libations, they also participate in other organized events and competitions.
“From the very beginning, the Brew Club has been about bringing people together, having fun, and collaborating on our ideas and recipes,” says Darren. “It’s helped a lot of people learn new techniques and make new friends.”
“We love sharing with each other,” adds Mark, who recently went all out on a 12-by-16-foot Brew Shed on his property, complete with an all-in-one brewing system, kegerator, TV, and bar. “Homebrewing is like home cooking – it’s about the person behind it. We want all our members to become better brewers.”
The concept of brewing your own beer might seem like a mysterious process, conjuring up images of a guy in his kitchen, garage, or basement milling about like a mad scientist. It’s not too far from the truth, jokes Missy Bedio, who joined the Brew Club about a year-and-a-half ago. Missy admits that she has a spare bedroom with boxes upon boxes of bottled beer fermenting at different stages. Her first homebrew, a Dark Mild English-style beer, wasn’t initially a success but paid off in the long run.
“I was all set up with my equipment, but I kept opening up my carboy [a glass brewing container] because I was so excited and impatient,” says Missy. “I couldn’t leave the beer alone! I ended up infecting it. I rebrewed the recipe several more times, made a few tweaks, and that beer made it to the second round of the National Homebrew Championship.”
Missy says homebrewing is more than doable. Basic key steps involve boiling a liquid typically composed of malt extract and hops to make wort (the brewer’s term for unfermented beer), moving it from vessel to vessel, keeping all your tools and equipment clean and sanitized, bottling up the beer, and waiting for the yeast to work its magic.
With 34 official styles and categories of beer available according to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), learning beer-speak can feel like learning another language. But, it’s the devil in the details that makes members of the Brew Club tick. Think American Porter, Belgian Blond Ale, Double IPA, and dozens more. Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, the fermentation process could take anywhere from a few weeks up to several months.
“If I have a certain style of beer I want to make, I talk to people in the club and see what recipes and grains they used and what flavors they got out of it,” explains Missy. “For example, if I want my beer to be roasty and medium-body, I should up my temperature or change my grains. That’s what I love about this group. They’re so welcoming and helpful.”
For newbies looking to ease into homebrewing as a hobby, there are all kinds of starter kits available for first-timers. The Brew Club of Seminole County Facebook group also serves as a great place to ask questions and find support, and it even serves as an unofficial marketplace for homebrew equipment. Members of the club have also branched out into making mead, wine, and cider.
“Anybody can join our club and start getting into homebrewing,” says Mark. “Yes, there’s some self-teaching involved, and you need some start-up equipment, but that’s the fun in it. And that’s what the Brew Club is for, too. Members help each other out. They’re always asking questions and getting better at their craft.”
For those members interested in diving deep into the technical aspect of the BJCP beer-style guidelines, the club also meets on the third Thursday of every month to taste-test and appreciate commercial beers of differing styles.
While the Brew Club is primarily a social group, the club and its members have also had a fair share of success in homebrew competitions, recently placing seventh among all Florida homebrew clubs on the 2019 Florida Homebrew Circuit. A handful of members have also won medals in state and national competitions, like Winter Springs resident Trevor Campbell, who received silver and gold medals for his Saison and Strong American Ale, respectively, at the National Homebrew Competition – the largest homebrew competition in the world.
Keep an eye out for the Brew Club of Seminole County. They’re popular around town and can be found under a tent serving cold ones at local events like Brews Around the Zoo in Sanford, the SMaSH Beer Festival in Longwood, and the Orlando Beer Festival.
“We love being out in the community,” says Mark. “We’re proud to share what we’ve created. So if you ever see our tent, come check us out!”
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