| Booze |

The American Homebrewers Association Rally at Saint Arnold Had Something for Everyone (Who Loves Beer)

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Founded in 1978, the American Homebrewers Association is a national organization founded to promote homebrewing and to help homebrewers connect with one another. According to Gary Glass, Director of the AHA, total membership is more than 46,000, spurred on in part by the rise in craft breweries but also by the increased ease in homebrewing. If you want to try homebrewing, but find it intimidating, Glass says not to worry: "If you can make a concentrated soup with water and boil it on a stove, you can make beer." Of course, more advanced homebrewers know it can be more complicated than that, but again, part of homebrewing's popularity is that, at all difficulty levels, it's still possible to brew a good batch of beer you'll want to drink.

Last weekend, the AHA held a rally at Saint Arnold Brewing Company, 2000 Lyons Avenue, a chance for local homebrewers to connect with one another, learn more about local resources for homebrewing, and take an expert's tour of the brewery. (Glass said Saint Arnold was particularly special because the AHA rally program was launched in concert with Saint Arnold; the brewery held the very first rally.) By our estimates, around 250-300 people attended the Rally, which had tables set up for local homebrewing clubs and supply stores, as well as Saint Arnold's usual fine selection of beers on tap.

I learned that the homebrewing scene in the greater Houston area was much bigger than I expected, as I got to meet with the local homebrewing clubs that had a table at the event, some of which have been around for decades. (According to Glass, the Houston area has eight homebrewing clubs in total.) If the rally was designed to help homebrewers connect and learn, it certainly seems to have succeeded: I don't homebrew, so I can't say for myself, but not only were many homebrew clubs represented, but our city has more brewing supply stores and educational offerings than I could have imagined. One attendee described it as "a boat show for homebrewers."

No matter where you live in the greater Houston area, you'll be able to find a local homebrew club that has been operating for a long time with a solid membership base. Katy has the Cane Island Alers, in operation since 2003. Informally known as the "CIA", they've formed a friendly rivalry with, naturally, the KGB-- Kuykendahl Gran Brewers, that is, headquartered in Spring and active for more than 15 years. (According to the CIA, the Katy crew proposed a brewing competition between the two, calling it the "Kolsch War," but the KGB turned them down. When asked about this, the KGB expressed a desire to brew a more robust beer for competition's sake, suggesting-- perhaps predictably-- a Russian Imperial Stout.) The KGB knows a little something about competitive brewing: They hold homebrew contests in partnership with Saint Arnold, where the winner's recipe eventually gets bottled as an entry in the Divine Reserve series.

Humble has Rogue Brewers. If you live in the loop, you can check out Houston's oldest homebrewing club, the Foam Rangers, active since 1981. They hold their monthly meetings at DeFalco's, Houston's oldest brewing supply store at 9223 Stella Link.

The metro area also has a wider range of supply stores than I previously knew, covering all parts of town. Cypress Grape and Grain serves Tomball and Cypress; they also provide supplies for winemaking, hence the "grape" in the name. Backyard Home Brewers in Humble not only offers brewing supplies, but classes on a wide range of homebrewing topics, from the very basics (the causes of bad flavors in a batch, "Brewing 101") to advanced discourses on the chemistry and mathematics involved in the brewing. DeFalco's table had fresh hops out to sample for texture and aroma. (Though hops are related to the cannabis plant, they look more like Brussels sprouts to me.)

Possibly the most unique table at the event was for Electric Brewing Supply, a relatively new company operating out of the Woodlands that specializes in equipment to help the homebrewer automate his processes and control them remotely. EBS is hoping to be a "one stop shop" for the homebrewer's needs, incorporating elements like a BCS control and a dumb temperature control into one system. The hardware was designed specifically for homebrewing and was originally produced for that purpose in Oregon, a state well-known for its density of excellent craft breweries. (I have to admit, some of the more technical points escaped me.)

We even sat in on a brief portion of the tour, which was particularly special not only because it was given by Brock Wagner himself, but also because the level of discourse and information brought to the tour was so high: With a tour group made of entirely of homebrewers, Wagner didn't have to explain the basics to the same degree as on a typical tour, and the attendees had many more specific and relevant questions about the process than usual.

The day's events ended with a raffle drawing for the attendees. We met with "Gene" (not his real name, but it was on his nametag), a retired homebrewer who was celebrating his 79th birthday with his son. Gene's father was a homebrewer as well, and his son just picked up the family tradition a couple of months ago. While we were talking with them, their ticket was drawn at the raffle, and they walked away with a Home Brew Cleaning Kit. Indeed, the AHA Rally had something for everybody who loves beer. I mentioned earlier that I don't homebrew, but I may have to start.

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