Love Brew 

The Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs are serious about their beers.

Everyone needs a hobby," Dick Shaw says.

Shaw's hobby is beer -- making beer, talking beer, and, of course, drinking beer. He is one of the 50 or so members of the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Bluff City Brewers meets once a month to sample home brews and to learn about new beer products on the market.

"Originally, there were not a lot of premium beers in the Mid-South," says Shaw, "but now there are more boutique beers and more complex and interesting styles of beer."

Better beer has brought about quite a few beer enthusiasts who want to learn how to brew their own.

"There are 27 different styles of beer," says Mike Lee, treasurer of the Bluff City Brewers. "There is a lot to learn that people are not aware of."

Lee owns Mid-South Malts, which carries home-brew supplies and has a reference library. It also serves as the meeting place for the Bluff City Brewers.

The meetings give members a forum for discussion and for passing along tips on improving brewing procedures. Members also can purchase brewing supplies at Mid-South Malts.

"Typically, the start-up cost is around $100," says Shaw, "but it really depends on what type of equipment you already have and what you are interested in." He says that brewing beer from start to finish takes about a month.

Several of the members also have completed the Beer Judge Certification Program, which promotes the appreciation of beer as well as training in beer-tasting and evaluation.

The Bluff City Brewers host about seven other functions during the year to show off their beers and engage in some friendly competition. The main event is their annual home-brewers' competition, which takes place in April. Anyone is welcome to enter the contest, and the entries are judged based on the guidelines provided by those who have completed the certification program.

Along with their own competitions and social events, many members participate in a variety of festivals and competitions both locally and around the globe. Home-brew clubs can be found all over the world.

The "brew" dates back some 6,000 years to the Sumerians who discovered the fermentation process when someone happened upon an abandoned bowl of bread. Eventually, this led to the creation of a drink that filled people with such a feeling of exhilaration and blissfulness that they considered it a gift from the gods.

Oktoberfest is a prime time for these clubs. The original event dates back to 1810 in Munich as a wedding celebration for the Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Citizens were invited to attend the festivities, which lasted five days and included parades, music, eating, drinking, and horse racing's that served as the finale of the event.

The horse races are gone, but Oktoberfest remains. In Memphis, it's at St. Mary's Catholic Church on October 15th and 16th. The festival will feature authentic German food and an oomph band.

The Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs will also hold a home-brewers contest. Expect the competiton to be stiff. Last year, Phil Kane, president of the Bluff City Brewers, took home the prize for his amber.

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