Food & Drink

Charlotte beer club brews experience, friendships

A backyard brew session of the Carolina BrewMasters club at the home of Tom Henderson. During the course of the day –about a six to seven hour brewing session – a few dozen people dropped by to sample and share some homebrews and commercial beers.
A backyard brew session of the Carolina BrewMasters club at the home of Tom Henderson. During the course of the day –about a six to seven hour brewing session – a few dozen people dropped by to sample and share some homebrews and commercial beers. Tom Henderson Photography LLC

There’s help for would-be home beer brewers who want to learn the craft. And it starts with a bunch of guys hanging out in Bill Lynch’s garage in Waxhaw.

Lynch is hosting Carolina BrewMasters club brew session. It’s a monthly event that gives novices and experts a chance to brew together, swap advice and sample the fruits of their labor. “I’ve been homebrewing beer for 22 years and I love it,” Lynch, a former president of the Carolina BrewMasters, says.

With about 250 members (a little over 10 percent are women), the club is open to anyone interested in homebrewing. They meet the first Wednesday of each month at Dilworth Neighborhood Grill at 6:30 for dinner, followed by an agenda and business portion. Then they open the floor to discussion and mentoring, Lynch said.

It’s more than just a beer-drinking association, he adds. More experienced members enjoy guiding newbie homebrewers through the process as much as their own brewing.

But there’s also the competition. Lynch won “best of show” for his rauchbier (smoked beer) in the Oakland, Calif., Oktoberfest in 2012. He credits his award-winning beers to mainly two things: Experience and quality of ingredients.

“When my friend and I brewed our first beers 22 years ago, we were really proud of what we made, and it was good, but not as good as what we can make now. Today we can get fresher and better ingredients; hops, malts, particular yeasts – especially the yeasts – are so much better now than what was available when I started,” Lynch explains.

On the day of the brew session in Lynch’s garage, he’s got eight beers on tap. An IPA (India Pale Ale), a rosemary lime saison, a rauchbier, Munich helles (light lager) are a few, but he’s also working on a Berliner weisse, which is a sour beer that is light in alcohol at only 2.5 percent – perfect for hot-weather sipping.

Brewing friendships

Brewing beer is a process. You need dedicated space – Lynch’s homebrew setup includes vats, hoses, valves, paddles and refrigeration. Then there’s the matter of time. Some beers take months to go from mash to glass, while others are quicker, taking only a few weeks. It’s the fermentation that takes so long. But it’s also what develops the complex flavors.

It gets complex, but that’s part of the reason behind the brew sessions and monthly meetings – sharing knowledge.

That generosity extends beyond beer. Carolina BrewMasters club hosts the Charlotte Oktoberfest every year. (This year it’s Oct. 3.) What began in a backyard 16 years ago, last year welcomed over 6,000 attendees. The aim of the event is to sample excellent beers and also to raise money.

Last year, between the Oktoberfest and their May beer competition, the Charlotte U.S. Open, the club raised $81,000 for Camp CARE, Classroom Central and Kids Rein, and Parkview Community Foundation. The club’s philanthropic success earned it the 2014 Radegast Club of the Year award honoring community service from the American Homebrewers Association.

The Carolina BrewMasters is about so much more than brewing beer, though. Time and again, you hear members talk about the deep friendships they’ve made.

Lynch says he’s so fond of the Carolina Brewmasters because, “I get to share the beers I make, enter into competitions and I’ve got a ... lot of good friends in this club.”

From mash to glass: 9 steps to an ale

1. Organize your recipe (base grains, specialty grains, hops, yeast).

2. Soak the grains in approximately 152-degree water for 1.5 hours; this is called mashing.

3. Rinse the grains with approximately 170-degree water and drain into your brew pot and collect 6.5 gallons; this is called lautering.

4. Bring the liquid collected (called wort) to a boil and add hops for bittering; boil for 60 minutes.

5. Add flavor hops at between 25 and 10 minutes left in the boil.

6. At the conclusion of the 60-minute boil, add aroma hops and steep for 15 minutes.

7. Cool the wort to approximately 70F - 75F, take a specific gravity reading and add the yeast; this is known as pitching the yeast.

8. Ferment the wort for approximately 2 weeks and transfer to a secondary fermenter to allow the beer to clear.

9. Package the beer by bottling or kegging.

Note: First-timers may want to start with a kit that simplifies the process and eliminates the first three steps above. Kits start at around $130.

Homebrew supplies

While not an exhaustive list, these are a few places around the Charlotte area that sell homebrewing supplies.

Alternative Beverage Beer and Wine Hobbies International, 704-527-2337; Sleepy Poet Antique Mall, 4450 South Blvd.; Mooresville Consumer Square, 168 Norman Station Blvd., Mooresville; 1500 River Drive, Suite 104, Belmont.

Crafty Beer Guys, 704-274-5793; 114 S. Old Statesville Road, Huntersville.

Seven Jars, 704-919-0278; 6148B Brookshire Blvd.

House of Brews, 704-617-4954, 3611 Tryclan Drive.