Members of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club have been creating awesome craft beers in Northwest Florida since the group was founded in 1985 by Steve Fried, who operated a local homebrew supply store.
Along with Fried, founding members included Ralph Weaver, Frank Graham, Hal Easter, Ron Gray, and Jim Martin. The mission of the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club is to promote the responsible use of alcoholic beverages; engage in enjoyable social activities focused on home brewing as a common foundation; to learn about beer, beer tasting, beer styles, beer judging, and brewing techniques based on shared knowledge and experience; promote the hobby and enjoyment of home brewing; and to drink better beer.
Looking at the current landscape of the homebrew scene, we know that’s it’s continually growing and evolving, but what did it look like more than 30 years ago? Well, here’s what Steve Fried had to say about homebrewing more than 30 years ago.
“Home brewing was still pretty basic in the late 70s and early 80s,” he says. “Thanks to Michael Jackson’s ‘World of Beer’ book and other home brewing pioneers like Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt, we came of age. Gone were Prohibition-era techniques and a whole new world was open to those searching for better beer and more beer styles brewed around the world. The craft beer revolution happened because of entrepreneurs that started out as homebrewers.”
Since the group was founded though, participation has grown tremendously. Currently, the group has more than 100 members, which is quite the increase from an original group of about half a dozen.
April King, the group’s vice president, says the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club is made up of a wide range of individuals who come from various backgrounds.
“The founding members were stereotypical middle-aged men from a technical background and now our group is comprised of men and women from various professions, such as teaching, law, engineering, marketing, financial, psychology, art, and others,” she said.
Given the varied members of the club, it’s now easy to debunk a common misconception about homebrewers — that they are all males. The Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club has more than a dozen active female members. Women are just as adept brewers as their male counterparts.
In fact, in 2013, the American Homebrewer of the Year was awarded to Annie Johnson, who took top honors in the light lager category.
King says another common misconception about homebrewers is that they are all beer snobs who only drink Imperial IPAs, sours and stouts.
“It’s true, we like well-crafted beer and prefer to drink great tasting, wholesome beer (beer made with good ingredients basically using water, malted barley, hops and yeast), but on a hot summer day we all enjoy ‘lawnmower’ beers, though we still tend towards the small breweries’ versions,” she says.
So if you are new to the homebrewing scene, here are some great tips to follow:
You do not have to drop a ton of money: Our basic system cost less than $400, but we bought everything new, King says. If you have some basic handy skills you can easily make your mash tun and copper cooling coils. Big steel pots can be pricey, but many times you can find used ones for sale. As you progress in your craft, you upgrade and add to along the way.
Sanitation is key: Yeast creates the alcohol in beer. If bacteria take hold before the yeast can begin to multiply you will have an infected beer. Also, not rinsing your carboy completely and leaving behind cleaning agents will produce an off flavor.
Water is key: Water is a main component in beer, it’s important to use water free of chlorine or other chemicals, King says. When we first started brewing, we would bring our mash water up to a boil and let it cool before adding it to the grain in order to boil off all the impurities. We now have an RO system in the house (reverse osmosis) that filters the water completely. An easy way to get pure water is to buy gallon jugs of distilled water and use that for brewing. You will be able to taste the difference in your final product.
Although it’s awesome to brew at home, there are some challenges. King says it can be difficult to find time to brew, although the process itself is quite easy even though it can take up to five hours to make a batch, and that doesn’t take into account bottling your brew which can easily add a few more hours.
But with that said, King says it’s tremendously rewarding to brew your own beer at home.
“You get to make any style of beer that you want at a fraction of the cost,” she said. “If you enjoy light lagers (i.e. Budweiser) or a basic pale ale, your cost would be around $15-$20 for ingredients to make a five-gallon batch. European styles and IPAs, specialty beers, will take you up to the $30-$45 range for five gallons.”
And the best part is that since you are brewing your own beer at home, you don’t have to leave the house to enjoy an awesome beer.
The Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club meets three times a month — one meeting for those who like to make wine, mead and cider, a Brewer’s Guild meeting, and a general club meeting — and membership is open to anyone who wants to join, as long as they are 21 or older.
As a group, King says they participate in various events throughout the community, such as the Seville Quarter annual chili cook-off, Gumbo Yaya, and cornhole tournament. The club hosts a monthly brew session where members produce about 20 gallons of beer that they earmark for a charitable events.
“Our annual Emerald Coast Beer Festival is the highlight of our year,” King says. “We invite homebrew clubs from the Southeast region and craft breweries to showcase their beverages.”
This year’s event, which is slated for Sept. 7 & 8, will benefit the Seville Rotary Club and the Alfred-Washburn Center. For more information about the event, visit https://emeraldcoastbeerfest.com/.
With more than 30 years of history behind it, there’s no doubt the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club has plenty of fun and great brews to enjoy. We asked King what her favorite part of gathering around and enjoying a cold adult beverage was. Here’s what she had to say.
“I enjoy being social and meeting people. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, but when you can get together and share something that you created with others and get feedback regarding your brewing skills, and lean more about beer, it’s just real fun,” she said. “Also, our club is a diverse group of people and it’s always a good thing just to have folks from all areas in the community come together for a good time.”
Do you want to learn more about the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Club? Find them on Facebook or visit their website.