The members of Greensboro’s homebrew club agree that they were the belles of the ball at the annual Summertime Brews Festival held in the Gate City. But that ended after the 2013 bash, when new state administrators interpreted North Carolina law more strictly and shut homebrewers out of such public events where they’d exhibit an assortment of kooky beers to the paying public.

The guild joined the festival from its inception, and always garnered the longest lines, members said. But there’s good news for 2016 — the festival’s hosts plan to incorporate a competition run by the Greensboro club similar to the Great American Beer Festival. Commercial brewers from all over would be encouraged to enter their best beers for the showdown that would immediately precede the Summertime Brews fest, and as the judges, the contest would restore the guild to prominence with the beer bash.

The Battleground Brewers Guild orchestrates a similar version of the competition — albeit not a public, ticketed event — for homebrewers every fall. They receive about 300 homebrewed entrants in the Skirmish in the Triad.

Shular demonstrating the homebrew process
Shular demonstrating the homebrew process

Some members suggested the skirmish is more tedious than enjoyable. Any homebrew competition is highly variable and unpredictable, a few said, with newcomers frequently winning on their first entry. But that doesn’t mean the competition isn’t stiff or that nobody’s having fun; Bilous, whose role in the organization involves convincing people to enter such events in the Southeast, described being an entrant as exciting. There’s a convivial, social atmosphere, Bilous said, and the unexpected element adds some thrill.

One of his acolytes won a first place distinction his first time entering one of the region’s 11 homebrew competitions held each year, Bilous added.

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A homebrew party is not the sort of thing that ends at a reasonable hour.

The night of the demo at Big Dan’s Brew Shed last week, the club held its annual holiday party, scheduled in January to avoid travel conflicts. A couple of new people who’d come out that day came and left in the events first few hours, but with eight homebrew taps flowing at club president Chris Bristol’s suburban home in Adams Farm, the party would show minimal signs of slowing at midnight despite beginning at 7 p.m.

Dozens of members and their spouses circulated through the house, snacking on catered goods and sampling homemade beer and cider. A fire on the back porch almost got out of hand early, but with everyone still sober, the situation stayed under control. A foldable bar with eight built-in taps occupied much of the other side of the porch, courtesy of a member who lent it to Bristol and his wife Beth for the event.

Eric Henriksen,  a member who purchased Triad Homebrew Supply in west Greensboro, stood near the taps and countertop covered in bottles of homebrew with Shular, who shivered a little in the winter air despite a scarf and a coat of booze as he chatted with the Bristols and Sara Farnsworth, one of the club’s lone female members. The banter, playful jokes and laid-back mood at the party in general, but particularly this corner, displayed the deep connections the club has forged, and other members like Bilous rotated in and out of the conversation with ease.

Most of the club’s members are men, though a few of their wives do brew and participate in its events. Craft beer is male-dominated in general, Farnsworth noted as she described the lack of other female beer judges at events she attends. When the subject arose, the group started discussing the historical factors that contributed to the imbalance, including state and religious influences.

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The majority of the guild’s regulars are middle-aged guys — though some are older — who brew in their basements, kitchens or back patios. At least a few have backgrounds in chemistry. Morgan said some homebrewers are loners, suggesting that homebrewers are “wired a little differently.” While some might not find the camaraderie of a club like the guild or HOPS in High Point and Wort Hogs in Winston-Salem appealing, Morgan said they’ll come into his store and hang out for hours. Henriksen said he doesn’t directly compete with Morgan; instead, the battle is against other hobbies and ways that settled people with a little money spend their free time, he said.

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