VanBrewers: Beer nerds gone wild


Consider this: a small group of devoted beer enthusiasts start a homebrewing club and unwittingly shape the course of Vancouver culture in the process.

We’re talking, of course, about VanBrewers, Vancouver’s premier homebrewing club, which is throwing its sixth annual awards gala at the Cobalt this Tuesday. The awards were founded shortly after the club was started in 2010 – by Parallel 49 brewmaster Graham With and his partner, Katy Wright – as a way for club members to learn and improve on their beer.

This was before With joined P49, of course – before P49 even existed, or before most people were even aware of craft beer at all. VanBrewers was as grassroots as organizations get.

“But once it started, we could see people just coming out of the woodwork… to nerd out on this,” says Scott Butchart, one of VanBrewers founding members, and now it’s executive director. “We started telling people about it and it got huge from there. It went from like 25 people to 125 in a year and a half.”

In the time between, VanBrewers has grown into one of the largest homebrewing clubs in Canada, and certainly one of the most influential, spawning dozens of now-professional brewers and business owners. P49’s owners hired With as their brewmaster based on his reputation through VanBrewers.

“It’s really hard to find people with training or brewing experience,” Butchart says. “The closest you can get are people who are nerds about homebrewing.”

Parallel 49 opening in 2012 coincided with, and helped to facilitate, the popularity of craft beer and the proliferation of startup breweries.  With Graham With at the helm, it not only legitimized the homebrew club, but also legitimized a mostly younger generation of amateur brewers. Members soon landed brewing gigs at other craft breweries, or launched their own, including Doan’s Craft Brewing, Callister Brewing, Moody Ales, Off the Rail, Dageraad and Luppolo (opening later this year).

This is putting an elegant spin on it, of course. This is still a homebrewing club, which is about an inelegant a creative endeavor as you’re likely to find. Likewise, the parties this crowd tends to throw, which are piss-fests of the highest order. These people like to draaaank.

So if you’re expecting this Tuesday’s VanBrewers Awards ceremony to reflect some level of maturity or elegance – or for it to look like any kind of awards ceremony you’re familiar with – as a result of its newfound influence, think again.

It’ll be a celebration, though, and a testament to how devoted these people are to the craft of brewing beer. People enter the competition not necessarily to win, but mostly to figure out how to improve.

“The main reason for entering homebrewing contests is to get the feedback for their beer,” Butchart says.

Rather than prizes, the contestants tend to want their evaluation sheets from judges to see what’s good and what they can improve on with their beer. It’s a unique approach to an award competition, where cooperation and constructive feedback trumps the competitive spirit.

The competition is open to anyone in Canada and professional breweries are eligible to submit, but the beer has to be made at home and not on a pilot system. Butchart says there are a record number of submissions this year at around 400. Judges will be evaluating the submissions all weekend, picking winners in each category and choosing the Best in Show out of those.

And what fantastic prize does the winner get to take home with them?

“Prestige, mostly,” says Butchart.

That’s priceless, after all.

The 2016 VanBrewers Awards Gala will be held Tuesday, May 10 at the Cobalt. Tickets are $5, which includes one beer. Tickets are available through the VanBrewers website or at the door.

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