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Homebrewing rally comes to Jester King, highlights growth of the hobby

Arianna Auber

If the number of craft breweries and brewpubs in Austin has skyrocketed in the past few years, one of the reasons for such a boom isn’t just that people can’t get enough of all the good beers coming out of local efforts. Homebrewing – the much smaller (but no less serious), right-out-of-your-garage operation that amateur brewers take on as a fun, creative hobby – often acts as the precursor to professional craft brewing, and it’s taken off here in town and around the country, too.

Just ask Gary Glass, director of the Boulder-based American Homebrewers Association. With 20 years of homebrewing under his belt, he’s seen attitudes toward homebrewing change a lot in that time.

“Fourteen years ago, when I first started at AHA, if I mentioned I was a homebrewer to people, their response went something like, ‘Oh, really? My grandfather was a homebrewer and he made really bad beer,’ and they might mention a bathtub or something,” Glass said. “But now just about everybody knows somebody who makes beer at home. The response is really different.”

In fact, the amount of people who call themselves homebrewers – or at least have become AHA members, for which the only requirement is forking over $38 for the first year – has more than doubled since the last time AHA stopped by Austin for a homebrewing rally in 2007, when AHA had about 15,000 homebrewers in its ranks.

Glass and the AHA are hosting another rally Saturday at Jester King, an afternoon gathering of homebrewers, homebrew shops and homebrew clubs such as the Austin Zealots that Glass said acts as “a celebration of the close ties between amateur and professional craft brewers.”

“Most of the craft breweries in this country were started by homebrewers,” he said. “The rallies are a means of bringing these two groups together.”

Those at the rally can expect a tour of Jester King’s Hill Country brewery, meet brewery staff and taste some of the delicious beer participating homebrewers will bring with them. It’s also a chance just to meet all the homebrewers in Austin and surrounding cities, like San Antonio and Houston. Glass said that 240 people have RSVP’d to attend the rally so far – and if that number goes up, the Austin rally could very well be the largest one AHA has had this year in the U.S.

Although only AHA members can participate, budding homebrewers can join at the door on the day of the event by paying a $5 discounted membership fee.

Membership to AHA provides you a subscription to “Zymurgy” magazine, tons of homebrewing how-tos and other tidbits on the AHA website, special offers at certain business including breweries and homebrew supply shops, and discounted registration fees for the National Homebrewers Conference and the National Homebrew Competition, both of which are premier events in the homebrewing world.

Plus, there’s the irresistible opportunity to connect with quite a community of homebrewers – most certainly in Austin.

Glass, who will be at Saturday’s 1 to 4 p.m. rally, looks forward to getting to know the “impressive” group of homebrewers here. In addition to the Austin Zealots – who have been around officially since 1994 – other Central Texas homebrewing groups in attendance include the Texas Carboys, the Texas Beer Brigade and Definitive Ales.

The afternoon will also take a bittersweet turn with a special Jester King tribute to Flix Brewhouse’s late Walt Powell, who passed away unexpectedly in June. The Round Rock brewpub and movie theater has always been a big supporter of the homebrew scene in town and offers a regular pro-am competition that features the winning recipe, brewed on the Flix system, on a rotating tap there.

Powell himself had a legendary collection of craft beer, some of which, Glass said, may make an appearance at the rally.

With all the homebrew sure to show up, that’s a lot of beer.

“We have such a variety of craft breweries in this country, and that’s in large thanks to homebrewers,” Glass said. “They experiment with styles that get implemented on a larger level with craft brewing. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t just go into a store and buy a porter. Now you see all these styles available because of the homebrewers bringing back styles that have gone extinct, as well as introducing new styles.”

American Homebrewers Association rally. 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Free for AHA members; $33 for nonmembers wanting to join at the door. Jester King Brewery, 13187 Fitzhugh Rd. RSVP here.