Along with the growing interest for all things craft beer in San Jose and the South Bay is the growing interest in homebrewing. With the plentiful amount of information and resources available, there are many ways to go about brewing homemade beer for the first time. An effective way to become more knowledgeable about homebrewing is to check out a local homebrew club, of which there are quite a few in the South Bay.
One particularly active South Bay homebrew club is the Silicon Valley Sudzers, which was established in 1997. The following is from the Silicon Valley Sudzers website:
“We are a group of men and women in the Silicon Valley/South Bay that share a passion for beer, meeting once a month to talk about beer and brewing techniques, evaluate each others’ homebrew, and educate ourselves on the different beer styles through organized tastings. We are brewers and we are beer enthusiasts, and we try to strike a happy (or hoppy, in some cases) balance between the educational and social components of club meetings…
“If you enjoy beer, want to brew your own beer or are just curious as to what we do and how we do it, Sudzers meetings are the place for you to get your questions answered. We meet on the first Friday of every month at a club member’s home. For more information email us at email@example.com, like us on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/sudzers or take look around our website.”
The president of the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, Derek Wolfgram, recently took the time to share when he first got into good beer, his thoughts on the South Bay beer scene, and more details about his work with the Sudzers homebrew club, which is quite a commitment for this deputy county librarian and president of the California Library Association.
What is your personal and/or professional connection to San Jose and the South Bay?
My wife Robin and I, along with our two 12-year old dogs Spike and Aggie, moved to the South Bay in 2009 when I was hired as the Deputy County Librarian at Santa Clara County Library District. Prior to moving here, we had lived in Paradise (near Chico), Denver, and Cleveland.
How did your passion for craft beer start?
My appreciation for craft beer started in Cleveland at a place called Edison’s Pub that we used to frequent. In the mid-90s, there wasn’t much there in the way of American microbrews, but Edison’s had a great selection of English, Belgian, and German beers. Plus, you got a free t-shirt after drinking 80 different beers (no time limit), so I took on that challenge.
Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland was also expanding while we were there, so that was the first local brewpub I really came to appreciate.
My first introduction to American craft beer was Pete’s Wicked Ale. Imagine my surprise when Pete Slosberg showed up at one of the first Silicon Valley Sudzers meetings I attended! It’s cool to meet someone so successful and find out that he’s just a very generous, down to earth guy.
Where are you favorite places to get good beer?
My beer tastes are pretty eclectic – I do enjoy big hoppy beers, but I also really like strong Belgian ales, barrel-aged brews, and sour beers.
As far as beer stores, I always find something interesting at Bobby’s Liquors in Santa Clara, and Cask & Flask in Cambrian Park has been expanding its craft beer selection.
What’s your take on the current craft beer scene in the San Jose area? How has it changed over the recent years? What would you like to see happen?
The South Bay has a number of respectable brewpubs and small craft breweries, but it would be great if a really distinctive brewery along the lines of Russian River, Lagunitas, or Firestone Walker opened here. I have high hopes for Steve Donohue’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company when it gets going.
As a relative newcomer, I don’t know a huge amount about the history of craft beer in the South Bay, but it certainly seems like it’s booming right now with all of the new places that have opened or are in the works.
The homebrewing hobby is growing like crazy as well. Just three years ago, the Silicon Valley Sudzers and the Worts of Wisdom seemed to be the only clubs in the South Bay, but now there are at least a half dozen clubs, and they’re all seeing huge growth in attendance.
Tell us a bit about the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, and how did you get started with them?
When Robin and I lived up in Paradise, we made a lot of great friends by joining the Chico Homebrew Club, so I looked around for a club as soon as we moved down here. We had been to the Northern California Homebrewers Festival in Dobbins, CA (my favorite beer-related event) annually for a few years, and the Sudzers had a presence at the Festival, so I gravitated toward them.
Homebrew clubs have their own personalities: some are really technical or competition oriented, others are very social (basically beer drinking clubs, not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
I’ve always appreciated the way the Sudzers have balanced the educational aspect of learning about beer and brewing with the social activities.
What’s the time commitment like in presiding over one of the bigger and well-known homebrew clubs in the area?
Being president of the Sudzers is definitely a time commitment. Organizing and running the meetings takes some effort (we’ve had over 40 attendees several times this year, and at our last meeting we had 18 different homebrews that people brought to get feedback on).
Keeping up communication with new potential members, updating material on the website and Facebook page, and wrangling volunteers to help plan events like Northern California Homebrewers Festival or National Homebrew Conference participation, our club bus trips, or collaborative brew days takes some effort.
We do have several board positions, and establishing a Chief Communications Officer position this year was really helpful, but much of the work does fall to the Prez. In many ways, a larger club is more challenging, but homebrewers do tend to be pretty easygoing people.
Any special plans or goals for the Sudzers down the road?
I think the Sudzers have some great momentum building – we were recently contacted about an opportunity to brew with one of the brewers from Widmer at an event in San Francisco called Explore Your Craft, and so a couple of Sudzers demonstrated homebrewing and created a special recipe to brew with a Widmer brewer. That was pretty cool.
There’s been some initial conversation among South Bay homebrew clubs about forming a regional association of clubs, even if it’s just a vehicle for streamlining communication about upcoming events, competitions, or interesting beer news.
And I think the Sudzers will just keep working on helping each other become better brewers, promoting the homebrewing hobby, and keeping that fun social aspect of the club going. We’ve made a commitment to start brewing an amazing imperial stout called Dark Matter on an annual basis so we can do vertical tastings.
And one of these years, we’re going to finish a project to complete a computer-themed back bar for club events to expand on the computer tap tower prototypes we built last year (see the cover photo on our Facebook page).
One of my Sudzers colleagues and I, along with the president of the HeadQuarters homebrew club, have started doing a series of beginning homebrewing talks at local libraries, bringing together my profession and my hobby. We had 13 budding brewers come to a talk we did a couple weeks ago at the Morgan Hill Library, and we’ve scheduled our next one for January 6 at the Los Altos Library.
[This post was shared on Examiner.com.]