Any professional brewer will tell you homebrewing is the boot-strap heart of craft beer. Many of Orange County’s best breweries (Cismontane, Beachwood, the Bruery) started in their brewmasters’ garages, and the Southern California region is rife with historic clubs that date back decades (some even before homebrewing was legal—oops!).
But even in the era of YouTube apprenticeships and online forums, interest in the kind of personalized education and growth that can only come from monthly homebrew club meetings remains strong. And with small systems and big imaginations, making beer at home is as popular as ever. And despite the homebrew scene’s (accurate) reputation as being mostly older white men, it’s also finally growing to reflect the diversity of craft beer as a whole.
At the members-only Southern California Homebrewers Festival just outside Temecula earlier this month, nearly every active club in the region was tented and represented, pouring members’ latest beers from custom-built jockey boxes to hundreds of attendees. (Full disclosure: I moderated a panel on women in beer at the fest.)
There was the Maltose Falcons, the oldest homebrew club in the country, with nearly 30 experimental beers on tap. The Société du Lambic, a wild-beers-only club from San Diego, poured tasters of an impeccable home-made gueuze. Orange County’s oldest homebrew club, the Barley Bandits, whose members volunteer at the state association level as well, had about 20 beers on tap, including creative stouts, hazy IPAs and a gluten-free Belgian-style triple.
Most exciting, though, were the tasters from the three newest clubs, all from Los Angeles: Mota Brewing (yes, they make a THC beer), SoCal Cerveceros (all Latinxs!) and the West Adams Society of Homebrewers.
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.