Coachella Valley Homebrew Club: Why you should join
Years ago, when I’d just started beer blogging, I used to go to Schmidy’s Beer School, a monthly event in Palm Desert. The theme for the event was a 4-course tapas meal, paired with unique beer selections, and usually a beer rep in attendance.
While that was an eye-opener for many into the craft beer world, the real beer school happened under the table. It was there that I discovered the fantastic brews from the members of the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. “Schmidy” (Brent Schmidman), being a member of the club too, allowed everyone to bring their own beers. And there was plenty being passed around – rather generously and unreservedly.
I remember regularly telling Chris Anderson, then president of the CV Homebrew Club, that he should start his own brewery. It was tongue in cheek at the time; nobody just opened a brewery. Babe’s was the only one in the valley at that time. But Chris was a little more self-assured, “I will,” he told me. This was 2011 and Chris was brewing sours and barrel-aging before such things were fashionable.
In 2013, Chris started Coachella Valley Brewing, and now owns his own consulting business, helping others open breweries across the country. Chris, along with Micah Stark, helped the club grow in its early years. As he told me: “Being part of a homebrew club helped out with the furthering of my learning process. The homebrew community was the foundation for me pushing to open my own brewery. Having that encouragement from my fellow brewers and their continual support was instrumental in me having the courage to take the leap.”
In the 7 years that I’ve known the club, there have been many similar success stories. Aaron Ramson is the head brewer at Brewcaipa, Juan Higuera at CVB, and Eric DeBellis at Ximix. Many others have gone onto jobs in the industry. Not that homebrewing is just a gateway into the industry. For the vast majority, it’s just a hobby, making great beers and sharing it with others.
One of those hobbyists is Joshua Kunkle, current president of the CV Homebrew Club. I sat down with him last week to form the outline for this article. Talk about friends with benefits. I cross paths with Joshua at work once a week. He’s passionate about the subject and will give you as much as you want to hear. Not only is he benevolent with his time and knowledge, he’s benevolent with his beer too. As I write this post, I’m drinking a Strawberry Blonde he gave me (for research, of course). And he’s never short of ideas for a gift, the kind no one would ever complain about. In fact, he’ll be supplying all the kegged beer for his sister’s upcoming wedding.
He elaborated on some of the reasons why someone might want to homebrew. The most obvious are that you can do it cheaper and better. Getting started doesn’t take much, and while perfecting it might take a little time, there are endless possibilities in producing your own customized, individualized brew. Joshua’s “Uncle Kunkle” Imperial Porter, which was brewed on Coachella Valley Brewing’s pilot system and served at the taproom, rates a very impressive 4.5 on Untappd. He regularly collaborates and exchanges knowledge and ideas with the guys at CVB and La Quinta Brewing.
For anyone wanting to get started with brewing their own beer, it might seem like a daunting task. It’s not unrecommended to go it alone – there’s plenty of information available and your local homebrew shop will get you set up with equipment, ingredients, and instructions. But if you want to avoid mistakes and save a lot of money, the homebrew club is definitely a safer place to start.
The first thing you’ll get at the homebrew club is beer. Even before you join, you’ll be surrounded by enthusiasts who just want you to taste what they made. Next, you’ll get encouragement, followed by a fountain of knowledge and expertise. That can come in handy in the early days, saving a lot of money. The CV Homebrew Club has endless access to resources. That might come in the shape of literature, equipment, or ingredients. And if you’re tentative about the financial outlay, there’s the option of helping someone else brew, or brewing your own with their equipment.
I asked CVB’s Brett Newton, aka The Desert Cicerone, how he got started: “I found myself up at Chris Anderson’s house during a club Big Brew, where everyone who wants to brew comes and does so, usually in someone’s garage for the day. He opened some impressive bottles, allowed me to pester him with questions and made it easy enough for me to brew my first solo beer.”
Aaron Ramson, head brewer at Brewcaipa and author of CV Weekly’s Brewtality column, also got started at Big Brews: “When you have no idea where to start it all seems so very daunting. Just being able to watch them brew in person, and to be able to ask guys who clearly had much more knowledge than I did at the time. I don’t think I would have gotten the information and the push that I did if I didn’t have the support of the club when I needed it.”
Talking to so many of the members, and having experienced tastings myself, the biggest theme that comes across is camaraderie. Their shared interest is the beer, itself a pretty effective social lubricant. While sharing a beer is a widespread social experience, there’s an added dimension when you’re sharing each other’s beer. This can be a great experience for beginners. Many might balk at this stage, but newcomers are welcomed gregariously. As Brent Schmidman, now VP of Sales at Absolution Brewing, told me: “It brings together like-minded people and allows you to learn from each other and share in the same appreciated passion of homebrewing craft beer. No matter what level of homebrewer you are, everyone learns from each other.”
The humility is endless. Despite the varying degrees of expertise, everyone remembers their early days, mistakes that were made, and knows how to fix them. Plus, if you start out as a member of the club, you’re less likely to make those mistakes, more likely you’ll probably surprise yourself. Brett Newton added about his experience: “My first beer was a Witbier. Not only was it drinkable, but it was downright tasty.” And the beauty of being part of a club, is that you don’t have to drink the same beer for weeks. You can take your first average brown ale, and trade it out with the guy who just made a barrel-aged imperial stout, or barley wine.
Some may still be reading this with, or have already had, the thought of “I can do this on my own.” There’s nothing wrong with that sense of adventure. Many come to the club with no experience and many come as already seasoned brewers. The expense of the club however is not steep. It’s just $30 a year. If you consider the financial outlay on books, equipment, ingredients, and drain pours, I think that price more than pays for itself. You’ll save a whole lot of money if you start with the club.
And that’s without considering the extra benefits …
Beyond the plain social factor, membership of the club brings access to many privileges that you might not otherwise see. The club has prepared starter kits for its members in the past. They’ve had wort challenges at breweries, whereby everyone gets a batch of a professional brewer’s wort and gets to take it home and do their own thing. They’ve had a private tour of White Labs, a yeast lab in San Diego. There’s inside access to beer festivals – at non-profit events, club members get to serve their own beers. And you might even get to brew your beer at a local brewery, like Joshua (Uncle) Kunkle did.
The most important role of the club is the role it plays in the larger craft beer community. Scott Stokes, founder of La Quinta Brewing, who also got his start in homebrewing told me: “There’s no doubt homebrew clubs cultivate and grow interest in the craft beer community. Most breweries are started by a guy home brewing in his garage. Brew clubs are a big part of the growth of this industry.”
Homebrew clubs fuel the interest and motivation of others to homebrew. Almost universally, professional brewers learned through homebrewing, and continue to take inspiration from the homebrew community. It’s the very same community that kickstarted the US craft beer revolution over 40 years ago that continues to drive it today. Professional brewers continually network with homebrewers. It’s an open and transparent network that shares feedback, ideas, and even ingredients and equipment.
The Coachella Valley Homebrew Club meets once a month. Their venues vary – usually somewhere craft beer related that allows them to pour their own beers. Their meetings are currently at The Ace Hotel, where Food & Beverage Director Paul Patino is also a homebrewer. Meetings will usually involve discussions about club business and events, but they’re also educational platforms, and often will have a themed topic with things like blind tastings. More importantly, you’ll get to taste everyone else’s beer, in exchange for a little feedback, and maybe a taste of yours.
Those interested in joining may show up at any meeting. If you have any questions, or want to contact them in advance, you can use the Facebook page or email:
There’s a webpage, but it’s currently under redesign