By Anthony St. Clair
Autumn is a busy time for the 33 members of the Corvallis-based Heart of the Valley Homebrewers (HotV). “We just got finished putting on our very successful Septembeerfest,” says Carrie Reeves, who became club president in January 2014. “This was our seventh year, and proceeds go to the Linn Benton Food Share. We estimate that we had around 3,000 attendees this year.”
Members also spent September participating in Corvallis Beer Week, which ran Sept. 5–13. But the club is hardly sitting down to catch its breath over a refreshing pint of homebrew. Now members are planning the club’s Annual Oregon Homebrew Festival, a Beer Judge Certification Program and American Homebrewers Association sanctioned event held every May. For the last 16 years, the competition has also been a qualifier for the Masters Championship of Amateur Brewing.
A club member since 2013, Reeves took to the community of homebrewers and their mutual love of all things beer—a common thread in the area. Today Oregon has 32 homebrew clubs registered with the American Homebrew Association, but the Corvallis club was one of the first. HotV was founded in 1982 as Corvallis Homebrewers, and also held its first annual homebrew competition, now the the longest-running event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Once homebrewers from surrounding areas participated, the name was changed to Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. Today, the club has members in Corvallis, Salem, Albany, Sweet Home, and even Eugene, home of the Cascade Brewers Society, a fellow homebrew club.
HotV members meet on the third Wednesday of the month, alternating between member homes in Albany and Corvallis. “We sample one another’s beers, as well as those of local brewpubs and unusual commercial brews,” Reeves says. “Occasionally we arrange comparative tastings of commercial examples of beer styles, with members voting according to their preferences. It’s a great way to experience brews that one hasn't tried before, and to find new favorites.”
In between meetings, members gather for club business and also for the good ole joy of homebrewing. Brewing sours is popular right now, Reeves says, a reflection of the ongoing changes in the industry and populace. “Just as Pacific Northwest trends have adjusted, our club has reflected that,” she explains. “For instance, members might increase the hop content of beers, and find ways to get creative with ingredients that are local to us here in the Willamette Valley. But a passion for making beer remains the same.”
Members plan a wide range of regular club and community events too. In addition to the 63 craft beverages on offer at Septembeerfest, HotV organizes club brewing days, holiday parties, pub crawls, and picnics. Since 1995, members have picked up litter on Highway 20 between Albany and Corvallis, as part of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program. Today, four times a year members meet to clean up the highway. Over the last 19 years, their efforts have removed 900 bags of trash.
As Reeves looks ahead to the Nov. 29 Civil War between UO and OSU, she’s setting her game day plans. “I will be watching the Beavers hopefully win against the Ducks at my friend's house,” she says. “I will be drinking Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat, or whatever is on tap at their house, and I will be eating bad food like nachos and chili!” She might bring a bag of Chester's Puffcorn, her favorite snack.
Reeves also has her eye on 2015, her second year as club president. “It will be a really great year,” she says. “We have a lot of educational and fun activities planned.”
By Anthony St. Clair
On the last Monday of every month, the brewers gather in the basement of downtown Eugene’s Rogue Ales Public House. Bottles hiss. People laugh. Eventually things settle down. News is shared, followed by discussion of a topic of beery import.
All the while the homebrew flows. Later, members of the Eugene-based Cascade Brewers Society (CBS) talk about life, homebrewing, beer, and more brewing. The meeting ends, but the camaraderie of homebrewing continues. Over the following month, club members will brew together, visit area pubs and breweries, plan events, and enter the monthly club-only competition.
Founded by a dozen people in 1988, the club’s membership stayed small for its first dozen years. In 2000, homebrewing gained in popularity. Today, people from Portland to Northern California are among the club’s 93 members.
“Meetings used to be in people’s homes. It’d be hard to have a regular space that could accommodate more people,” says Brandt Weaver, president since 2009. “Once we got our regular space in the bottom floor of Rogue, people felt more comfortable about stopping by. From there membership really started growing.”
Weaver joined CBS after moving to Eugene in 2002. “Most of the people there at the start are still really good friends. They wanted to share that homebrewing journey together,” Weaver explains. “When more people started getting together, they realized they had the energy to do more things. Bus trips, beer pairing dinners, things like that. The increase in membership led to more planned events. It also led to more of a focus on technical programs. Education, discussion of more particular aspects of brewing. It went from having homebrew and talking about it, to people presenting on different aspects of homebrewing.”
Today CBS members organize a range of events, from a summer group campout and monthly style-based judged competitions, to a fall chili cook-off and monthly happy hour. In collaboration with the Oakshire Public House, CBS members also participate in National Learn to Homebrew Day, an annual American Homebrewers Association event that introduces the public to homebrewing.
As the club rolls into an Oregon autumn, the fermenters are bubbling and beers are conditioning. Ciders, pumpkin beers, winter warmers, and Belgian styles are underway. Sour beers and barrel-aged beers are popular right now. “We’ve had club projects where we brew the same beer, fill a barrel, age it, and then divide the final beer,” Weaver says, noting the club’s love of experimentation.
“People use adjuncts that you wouldn’t see in commercial beers, things that wouldn’t be marketable,” he explains. “Non-traditional bittering, like teff or yarrow root. People are growing things in their yard to brew beer with.”
Looking ahead to the UO/OSU Civil War game, Weaver plans to attend any parties the club is invited to. He’ll pour a pint of what’s on tap—maybe an Oktoberfest or IPA—tuck in to chips and guacamole, and see how the game plays out. He also professes respect for Corvallis’s “impressive” Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. “We’re talking about having some events that could get the two clubs together, but we don’t have a lot of official contact.”
Future relations are a job for the club’s new president though.
After five years, Weaver will step down at the end of 2014. “We’re getting new blood and energy to do different things,” he explains. “We’ll hold the course with what we’ve been doing, but I’m excited about how new folks will be stepping up and bringing in their ideas. There will be good changes and growth for 2015.”