“…an article from the current “Pensacola Magazine” publication on our Homebrew Club. There are a few(?) miss-quotes/mistakes buy it was a pretty good article overall.”
Written by Emily Lullo
After a long day of work stretches into the evening, you yearn to rest your aching body and quench your thirst for both a refreshing beverage and some much-deserved relaxation. Youâ€™re probably tempted to stop by a local pub or to grab a six pack of your favorite brew on your drive home. That icy, bubbly beer of choice tastes like heavenâ€”a refreshingly chilled delight to your palate, and the perfect accompaniment to anything from a pepperoni pizza to a perfectly grilled steak.
If youâ€™re a member of one of Pensacolaâ€™s coolest clubsâ€”the Escambia Bay Homebrewers Associationâ€”then that trip to the pub or store wonâ€™t be necessary to partake in the hallowed tradition of an ice cold brew at the end of the day.
The club was formed in the spring of 1985, with the mission to share the art of making quality beer and wine with the community, and also to engender an appreciation of fine microbrewed and imported beers.
â€œWeâ€™re not the guys laying in the streets at three in the morning. But we are the guys that try the various beers and probably the ones that make places like Hopjackâ€™s and Brews Brothers successful because theyâ€™re the ones with so many beers on tap,â€ says club president Pat Thompson.
The membership is currently around 75 people, with a mixture of all walks of life with one thing in common: an interest in brewing. Professionals and minimum wage workers, pilots, schoolteachers, military officers and everyone in between bond in this group where Thompson says if you can make a good brew, it doesnâ€™t matter who you are or what you do for a living.
â€œWeâ€™re most impressed by what kind of drink you can brew,â€ he says.
Thompson started out making wine with help from the Shady Lady, which he says is a tremendous resource for anyone looking to try their hand at home brewing. The Shady Lady carries supplies for making beer, wine, cheese and liqueur, and the staff is happy to offer tips and advice to those with questions about getting started or just brewing in general.
â€œWine is even easier to make than beer, because it doesnâ€™t require heat,â€ says Thompson as he shows off a homemade bottle of dry, apple wine. â€œI usually use this to make a hard cider, like Hornsbyâ€™s. Just mix in equal parts of the wine with regular apple juice and carbonate it. Or you could mix it with Sprite and call it a spritzer.â€
The possibilities are endless, and Thompsonâ€™s personal man cave is highly accommodating of the infinite brewing prospects. In a cozy workshop with a water view near Sanderâ€™s Beach, Thompson builds boats, works in his garden, brews and holds club meetings. Huge sacks of bulk yeast for both him and other club members sit on the floor and shelves wrap around the room, lined with an array of different bottlesâ€”some full, some emptyâ€”and other containers of varying shapes and sizes. There are small bottles of flavorings, brewing and bottling equipment and sundry other curiosities like Thompsonâ€™s stores of goods he canned himselfâ€”everything from chicken to more peculiar things like tamales and blueberry pie.
Homebrewing may seem a daunting task, but once youâ€™ve invested in the initial equipment needed for the process, you can create your own brews for less than one dollar per bottle.
â€œIf you drink it, you may as well make it,â€ says Thompson of the financial benefits of homebrewing.
The process starts with a mixture of barley, water and hops which is boiled for about an hour, then quickly cooled. Then yeast is added to the mixture and it is placed in a fermenter. After a week to 10 days, add sugar to the fermented brew, which the remaining yeast will convert to carbon dioxide in the bottle, then bottle your creation, carefully â€œrackingâ€ the beer by siphoning it to remove the sediment created by the fermenting process. After another week or so, you should have beer. Of course, there are variations in ingredients to make different varieties of beer.
Thompson has stores of some different beers heâ€™s brewed, everything from a light pale ale to a dark, heavy stout with the look and flavor of coffee. Club members use all natural ingredients in their concoctions and Thompson says they can even be made organic if the maker so chooses.
â€œBeers are a lot like going out to eatâ€”I wouldnâ€™t want to eat a hamburger at every single meal,â€ says Thompson. â€œIâ€™m going to vary things. I may not be a big stout drinker, but once in a while, I enjoy a stout.â€
You may know the Homebrewers as the folks behind Pensacolaâ€™s annual Beer Fest at Seville Quarter. Beer Fest is a beer tasting event featuring more than 30 brewers and around 300 beers, and itâ€™s the clubâ€™s only moneymaking event of the year. While they do hold a huge variety of annual events in the area, the club doesnâ€™t pocket as much profit as they give back.
â€œThe money from Beer Fest that we donâ€™t spend, we give the vast majority to charities,â€ says Thompson.
The group also takes good care of its helpers, with organized pub crawls for Beer Fest volunteers and a party for vendors who make the trip to Pensacola for the festival.
Another event in which the EBHA participates is National Big Brew Day, which recently passed on May 1.
â€œNational Big Brew Day is where across the nation, guys get together, and thereâ€™s a different recipe for the event each year. Everybody will brew that beer on May first,â€ says Thompson. â€œDoes it really make any difference? Probably not, but itâ€™s another excuse to brew beer.â€
Members also take part in various beer contestsâ€”on both the local and national levelsâ€”throughout the year, some taking home national awards.
For an organization that seemingly revolves mostly around making beer, drinking beer and just having a good time, almost all of their events benefit different charities including Sertoma, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Independence Fund, which is an organization that provides wheelchairs to wounded veterans. Most recently the Belmont Arts Center has been added to the list of beneficiaries with donated funds as well as beer for the Hot Glass Cold Brew functions. Furthermore, they participate in the Friends of the Saenger Haunted Ghost Tours each year, providing beer and wine and donning costumes to help with the tours.
â€œWe do a lot of giving back to the community,â€ says Thompson. â€œIn fact, I would venture to say thereâ€™s probably more of that going on in the club than drinking.â€
Interested in joining this elite group of beer and wine makers? Anyone can come to meetings as a guest, if youâ€™d like to learn more about the club and are considering joining. Meetings are the third Sunday of every month at Brews Brothers from 4 pm-7pm. Check out www.escambiabayhomebrewers.org for more information and a calendar of events.