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An Interview with Bob Rouse, DC Homebrewers’ Newly Elected President

By DCBeer Contributor Josh Perry. Find more of his stylings on Twitter at @justjptweet.

A little known outfit of brewers gather once a month to discuss techniques, styles, and how they can improve their brewing game. On June 10, the DC Homebrewers Club (DCHB) said goodbye to President Josh Hubner so he could cause trouble in Miami, and ushered in the reign of Bob Rouse. All hail Bob! We caught up with Bob while he is getting geared up for the National Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia, for this year's State of the Brewing address: 

DCBeer: As the new President of DCHB, what is your ethos going into this position? 

Bob Rouse: I believe the club exists to provide its members with as many opportunities as possible to improve their homebrewing skills, promote homebrewing in general, and have fun meeting and socializing with other homebrewers and brewing professionals (when possible).

Tell Washingtonians a bit about your background in brewing, either home or professional. 

I've been homebrewing for about 6 ½ years. Like most, I started with a standard equipment kit and ingredient kit brewing in the kitchen, and progressed from there. I switched to all-grain after moving to the DC area because I finally had the space to do it the way I wanted to do it. I’ve slowly and consistently updated my brewing setup, from a simple “cooler”-style mash tun to a HERMS to the 10 gallon RIMS I have now. For me, the fun is in trying to brew the way the “Pros” do it (or at least the way I understand the pros do it, LOL). That said, I have no professional experience, nor experience brewing on professional gear.

What are your favorite styles to brew and have you won any competitions with these brews?

My favorites have changed somewhat over time. It was British Ales that got me into homebrewing, so my initial go-tos were ESBs, porters, and stouts. My first ribbon was a 2nd place for an oatmeal stout, and I was so proud! I kept telling people I as an “award-winning” homebrewer, to the point of being obnoxious. Since that time, I’ve broadened my horizons. My favorites to keep on tap at home are my California Common (love Northern Brewer hops), a Nut Brown Ale, a Belgian Saison, and an ESB (I’ve won medals and/or ribbons for all of them). However, I‘ve branched out into APAs, IPAs, Belgians, and – most recently – lagers. I think lagers are my new frontier, now that I have a temperature-controlled fridge for fermenting and lagering.

Speaking of competitions, do you see DCHB putting on a BJCP and AHA sanctioned competition during your tenure? 

This is one my goals for the club. I think putting on an AHA-sanctioned competition is one of those marquee events that help give a club a certain level of credibility and prestige. We've always had an internal club-only Cherry Blossom competition in late March. We canceled that this year due to the proximity to the Sam Adams / DC101 event. Next year I’d like to bring it back and open it up to brewers outside the club. Making it an AHA-sanctioned event will help us get BJCP-certified judges to participate because they will get points for doing so. To maintain a connection to our roots, we could add a special category for “Cherry Blossom – themed” beers.

What is your stance on non-sanctioned competitions and competitions that require the brewer to give away large quantities of their batch for public feedback?

I think they both have their place. Non-sanctioned competitions don’t carry the requirement of judges being BJCP-certified, so that opens up possibilities for more people to participate as judges. This can also be a better approach for those cases where creativity is encouraged, and removes the necessity of brewing “to style”, which some brewers don’t like to do. The downside is that the results can be more subjective than you might get with an experienced and certified BJCP judge.

The competitions that require pouring a case of beer for public consumption help promote homebrewing to those who would otherwise shy away, or may harbor negative preconceived notions about the quality of beer that can be homebrewed. It does hurt to give away that much, I know! Still – the competitions like those sponsored by Sam Adams or the previous series by Meridian Pint have provided the winners with fantastic brewing opportunities on professional equipment, so it can certainly be worth the sacrifice for those willing to part with so much of their handiwork.

When it comes to feedback, it is essential for brewers to receive honest and technically specific information about their beer, from recipe composition, all the way down to the sensory components. In what way do you see that the club can help brewers increase their brewing chops? 

This was definitely a “plank in my platform.” When I was starting out, I was too enamored with the fact that I actually made beer to recognize the mistakes I was making, both procedurally and with my recipes. Getting honest critical feedback was a bit bruising to my ego, but it certainly opened my eyes and helped me improve tremendously. I began to be a lot more studious in my approach to recipe design, sanitation, handling, etc. Previously, the club was a bit skittish about “warts and all” feedback, especially with so many new members coming and going – there was a fear that hurting someone’s feelings would discourage them from participating, or possibly even homebrewing. I don’t believe that is necessarily true. Certainly most brewers want to believe their beer is good, but I also believe most would like to know what they may be doing wrong and what they can do to improve. Over the next few months, I will be soliciting and testing ideas for how best to provide brewers with honest critical feedback (which also includes what’s good, not just what’s bad!) for those that want it. I believe this is a necessary component of our club’s educational goals, and our members deserve this.

What are your all time and go to commercial beers? Any favorite bar(s) that we can find you at?

I’ll disappoint some by admitting that most of my go-to beers tend to be a bit “old school.” When I lived in Atlanta, my favorite was Sweetwater 420, which is a moderately hoppy APA. I still love it, but it’s hard to find north of NC (Black Squirrel has it occasionally). Port City’s pale ale is a worthy substitute, as is DC Brau’s. Actually – I like everything Port City brews. I like Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and Saison Dupont. Samuel Smith’s is my golden standard for Nut Brown Ale, and of course I still love Guinness Stout, and Bitburger Pilsner. Not to brag, but I like my homebrewed ESB better than any commercial versions. Mine tends to be a bit more hoppy with lots of Fuggles.

Since I live in Alexandria, I tend towards places nearby where I live, like Pork Barrel BBQ and Fireflies, and Murphy’s in Old Town (I love me a good Irish pub). When I’m in DC, I like District Chophouse, Smoke & Barrel, and Cap City Brewing (I’m a sucker for the free soft pretzels). One of the best-kept secrets in DC is Mozart Café, which has a German bar that hearkens back to the 70s, and they always have good fresh German beer on tap, and good German food.  You can’t go wrong with pilsner, sausage, and pickled red cabbage.

What other clubs have you been involved or currently involved with, and how does the DCHB compare or differ?

I am also a member of BURP, and I am still (technically) a member of my homebrew club in Atlanta “Covert Hops”. Both clubs are older and more established, and lean towards a “brewing to style” outlook. Many members of DC Homebrewers tend to eschew style guidelines, for better or worse. I have found that to be challenging at times, since I am older and more set in my ways (i.e.: a grumpy old fart). I do like the excitement and energy that exudes from the members of DC Homebrewers – it certainly keeps me young (while reminding me I’m old, LOL). When I attend BURP meetings, I don’t feel like the old guy in the room, but I also feel like the newbie once again. I feel with DC Homebrewers, I can do more to help aspiring homebrewers.

Tell us about DCHB's sister club, HOPS (Homebrew Outreach & Participation Sisterhood).

HOPS grew out of a realization among some of our established female members that new female members may feel intimidated by the majority male presence at meetings. Sadly, there is an assumption at times that a woman at a meeting is not a brewer, but simply the wife or girlfriend of a brewer. I’ve met numerous accomplished female brewers in my time (as well as knowledgeable beer judges), but I understand the atmosphere can be unintentionally discouraging. I think it’s fantastic that they decided to create what is really more of a subset club than a sister club of DC Homebrewers, since they are not exclusive. They have already done some great things like their recent SMaSH experiment. I expect we’ll see more great things out of them, and if it encourages more women to brew – all the better.

What is your vision of the DCHB club for the next year look like? 

I certainly don’t want to make drastic changes – we are doing some things very well. I would like to see more events outside of the monthly meetings, whether they be educational or group brews or just for fun. I’d like to add more internal club-only competitions to help promote a deeper understanding and appreciation for various style groups. I’d like to ensure we have more demos and/or educational events at meetings. And – as mentioned before – I’d like to provide opportunities for brewers to get honest critical feedback on their beers if they want it.

I also want to improve communication channels, both within the club leadership so everyone knows what’s in the works, as well as within the club itself.

Currently DCHB has 969 members of the DCHB Google Group that receive meeting invites and general announcements and have an average meeting attendance of approximately 60 people.* What are your plans to increase participation and bridge the gap of information receivers v. active members in the club?  

Can you imagine if everyone on the email list showed up for a meeting? LOL… it would be chaos! Based on my experience, there is a core group of members that attend nearly every meeting, and then a larger group that attends more sporadically. I think that is the nature of living and working in DC and the surrounding environs – people have limited availability to go somewhere and drink beer for several hours in the middle of the week. There are also the members who have children and realize there is a new priority in their life that supersedes attending a homebrewing meeting.

I think having additional events on the weekend will attract members that may not be able to attend meetings during the week because of work or family obligations. There is still the problem of intra-member communication and sharing. I don’t want this to be a top-down communication model; I want all members to be able to have their voice heard or ask and answer questions, if they so desire. I have previously considered a message forum, although HomeBrewTalk fills that niche very well, at least from a homebrewing advice perspective. The Google discussion group doesn't get much love, but it also doesn't lend itself very well to providing historical reference. Not everyone is a member of Facebook. And Twitter tends to be very ephemeral . So I think there is still a need for a club-focused online discussion solution, but I can’t say at this point what technical approach will best provide it.

How do you envision involving the club in DC on a community basis?  

The club does a pretty good job of that already, thanks to the involvement of our members. I plan on leveraging the experience, skills, and contacts of our members to continue working with the hospitality and brewing industries in the DC area. I am going to see if we can finagle more homebrewer/pro brewing opportunities. Other events (like the pending Pig Roast) are other good examples of putting us out there in the community. The only problem is that we can’t sell homebrew, so we have to convince members to give it away (usually in large quantities) to the public.  I will be looking to get ideas from the members of the club and acting on the best of them.

AHA is doing the first Washington DC Rally at 3 Stars Brewing Company on Saturday, September 14, 2013. Have you ever participated in a Rally before? If so what was your experience?  Do you think this will benefit the DC brewing community?

I have not participated in one before, so I do not know what to expect, nor can I say with any certainty how it will benefit the community. However, I have already volunteered to help with this one, so I will be able to answer that one better after it’s done. I can say that I participated in the “teach a friend to homebrew day” event at 3 Stars Brewing (I brewed an all-grain oatmeal stout in the parking lot) and I know I saw several starter kits purchased at their shop that day. So I expect that this could have similar results.

Why would a novice or even professional brewer want to join DCHB?

A novice brewer will be able to learn from more experienced brewers. An experienced brewer will be able to “pay it forward” by helping the novice. And the pro will be able to reconnect with his homebrewing roots, possibly gain some new customers, and maybe even get some inspiration for their next product. I know from my own personal experience that I learned more useful information from fellow club members when I joined my first homebrew club than I ever did from any book. Plus – it’s fun!

When and where is the next DCHB meeting and should should new attendees expect? 

Our next meeting breaks the tradition of “Metro-friendly” meetings in the evening during the week. It will be on Saturday June 22 at Franklin’s Brewing in Hyattsville at 12:00 noon. Meetings typically involve an initial ½ hr of drinking craft brew and munching some goodies. That’s followed by announcements and the Reading of the Brews, the check-in list on which arriving members have logged the homebrews they've brought. After that, we break open the homebrews. The main difference here is that the craft brew will be Franklin’s in-house brewed beer. In the future, we should also be including some sort of educational aspect at the meetings, whether it’s a style discussion, a demo, or other more “passive” displays.

How can people get involved and what are the fees to do so? 

Joining the club is easy – there is a link on the DCHomebrewers.com website (actually – the site is currently down while we transfer ownership of the domain) for getting on the email list. There are also links for the Google discussion group, theFacebook group, and the Twitter feed. There are no fees to join. For any member that wants to get more involved and participate in any of the committees, they can contact me directly at BobR6969(at)GMail(dot)com.

*Statistics provided by DCHB

 

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