Home is Where the Hops Are
MV HomeBrew Club Spreads Gospel of Suds
Part art and part science, home brewing is a growing hobby that’s captured the attention of booze buffs across the country. According to 2017 data from the American Homebrewers Association, about 1.1 million people in the United States are engineering their own systems to make beer at home.
Here in Massachusetts, the pastime is alive and well, backed by groups like the Merrimack Valley HomeBrew Club (MVHBC), a self-described assemblage of ardent beer drinkers with a passion for home-brewing excellence. Since its founding in 2008, the club has grown from a handful of like-minded lager heads to more than 40 members — led by President Marco Borba — who meet on a monthly basis to share fermentation techniques over home-brewed pints of pilsner.
“Our club is a close-knit group of people who like to hang out with each other, share similar values, and have a strong desire to elevate the skills of brewing itself,” Borba says. The club, according to its president, strives to “cultivate a culture of learning in everything we do,” from their sample sessions at members’ homes (these home-brew growler tastings are paired with food, the cost of which is offset by the $35-a-year club dues) to educational field trips to breweries. One outing was held at From the Barrel in Derry, N.H., a nanobrewery opened by brothers Jay, Jon and Joel Anderson, who graduated from home brewing to commercial craftsmen.
MVHBC alumni have made it to brewing’s big leagues, including Justin Negrotti, head brewer and co-founder of Channel Marker Brewing in Beverly. Since opening its doors in January 2019, the brewery has received fervent recognition for the New England-style IPAs and fruit sours that are served daily at its Porter Mill building taproom. “When [Negrotti] joined our club, he was one of those folks who had been brewing for less than a year, and took full advantage of the opportunity to learn,” Borba says. “He spent a lot of time with our brewers doing collaboration beers, going to their brewing days, participating and learning new techniques.
“He was part of the justification that our model of focusing on learning and development is key for [our club].”
With the swell in membership, the MVHBC started hosting its own home-brew competitions and gaining local recognition, which invited a friendly competitive dynamic among area clubs. “We have a personal rivalry with a club called the Boston Worts,” Borba says with a laugh. “They enter a ton of beers into our competition and will name their beers interesting things to take little jabs at us. We’ll return the favor, of course, and do the same to them. It’s just a little bit of fun ribbing.”
MVHBC brewers decided to flex their malting muscles last year and enter The Boil Rumble, a national event that featured more than 80 home brewers. The top six home brews were canned and sold in the beer’s respective home state. The MVHBC mashed the competition, placing an impressive third with an experimental pale ale, Viking Luau, and held the beer’s release party in Lowell.
“Competition is the ultimate way to get validation in what you’re doing,” Borba says. “To enter a competition that has nationwide recognition, it was a great opportunity for us to get ourselves out there.”
For those interested in getting started with home brewing, the barriers are fairly low. For $100, you get a foundational home-brewing kit, complete with a bucket with a locking lid for fermenting and a siphon, bottles, and a bottling rack. Add in a predetermined ingredient kit, Borba says, and you’re ready to
rock ’n’ roll.
If you’re not ready to purchase your own system quite yet but are still intrigued by the prospect of home brewing, join a club, Borba says. “Start brewing on someone else’s system. Learn the ropes without investing anything. Then, when you’re ready to make the jump, make the jump.” The MVHBC holds two public meetings every year and encourages nonmembers to join the group’s Facebook page.
For Borba, who feels “the hobby is as strong as it’s ever been,” it’s an exciting time to be a part of the community. As he works through his sour barrel program, complete with a Solera Lambic, he doubts he’ll ever tire of concocting new and exciting beers from the comfort of his home. “There is something to lifting up your garage door, driving out your system, pulling it all together, and having full control of taking the process from the beginning — crushing your own grains — all the way to packaging. There’s something to just owning that whole process yourself. And what you learn from it is pretty amazing.”
Merrimack Valley HomeBrew Club l MVHBC.com
Members of the Merrimack Valley HomeBrew Club were our guests on the 5/27/20 episode of The 495 podcast: