We caught up with Gus Rowland of local homebrewing group Bicycle Brew Club to chat about the organization, brewing in Baton Rouge and why bicycles are important when drinking.
How did Bicycle Brew Club get started?
When I started brewing about 15 years ago, there was one brew club in town, the Redstick guys, that meet at George’s South. I live in Mid City and that was too far to travel safely when drinking is involved – this was well before Uber. About five years ago, I started making friends that were brewing in Mid City. About that time, another brew club started at The Cove — The Brasseurs. This wasn’t really an unmanageable distance, but The Cove didn’t serve food and smoking was allowed. The no food thing really axed it for me. So, I talked with my Mid City friends who were brewing and we started a brew club that served our needs. Close by or in Mid City, serves food, and offers pitchers of beer (that’s how we share at meetings). None of us were really club joiners anyway, so we all came into it with an independent, keep it simple, no expectations approach.
What are bicycles’ role in the club?
The bicycle name and logo are about safe consumption. We wanted to encourage members to travel safely when they come to meetings. The idea is to enjoy beer and not be a danger on the roads. The bicycle makes it safer. Also, we almost never meet at the same place from month to month. We do bottle shares at member’s houses or meet at bars/restaurants with a good tap variety, but we always mix it up – which keeps it fresh. So, the bicycle also represents our mobility.
Is there a lot of homebrewing in Baton Rouge? Do you find it’s a good environment for a homebrewer?
Baton Rouge most likely has the most homebrewers in the state. Maybe being a college town helps that, but there are definitely a large number of homebrewers here. The clubs in town all know each other and enjoy trying each other’s brews. Each club has its own personality. We encourage new potential members to check out the other clubs before settling in. We want folks to find the environment that works for them.
How does the club work? Is it made up of individual homebrewers, or do y’all brew together?
First, I’ll mention our meetings. We don’t have club dues. But we do ask members to buy and share pitchers when they come to meetings. Who can join? Anyone. Our only real rule is that attendees have brewed, are brewing or want to brew. If you say you’re a member, then you are. Sometimes members go a year without brewing, and then they brew again. There’s no pressure. When we need to buy stuff for the club, we vote on it, pool funds, and that’s it.
The club probably has 20-30 active members, with 12-15 usually making a meeting. There are some team brewers that always brew together, but most of us brew solo. A lot of the time members will say when they are brewing, should anyone want to drop in and hang out. That allows for shared technique and learning.
What’s your favorite beer to brew?
Beer, like food, is generally seasonal. Everyone has their favorites, though. I like to keep a wit (Belgian White Ale) around the house and some kind of strong stout. I’ve been souring them lately, which gives a little extra kick.
What inspires the members of BBC to brew? Do y’all use any unique ingredients?
It’s hard to speak for everyone. But most brewers also like to cook and don’t mind cleaning up – and typically have a friend who’s also getting interested. I got started in the early 2000s when I was left with an empty beer keg and wanted to put it to use. I already had a new grill, which some people make from kegs. So, I Yahoo’d for an answer (no Google then). There were some people up north, in Canada, and Europe that were using them to make beer. So, I had a project. Also, who doesn’t want cheap, good, convenient beer around the house?
Special ingredients? Sure. We throw all kinds of stuff into beer. Just like cooking, nothing is really off limits. Flowers, vegetables, spices, wood chips, you name it. Souring agents are en vogue.
What kind of equipment do you need for homebrewing? How easy is it for the average person to get started?
I fabricated and scrounged a lot of my early equipment, but there are brew stores and websites that make it a lot easier now. Getting started can be really, very inexpensive. A stainless steel stock pot and a five gallon bucket with and air lock could be almost all you need. The local brew shop would be more than happy to help someone start economically. “Brew in a bag”, a brewing technique that’s caught on in recent years, really makes things simple and cost effective. I’d recommend starting there.
What beers do you have in your fridge?
Other than mine? Well, just finished off Jolly Pumpkin’s La Roja Du Kriek and Avery’s El Gose last night. I’ll have to check on what’s there when I get home. I believe Independence’s Red Bud and Cigar City’s Invasion Pale Ale are waiting on me. I think the Avondale Vanillaphant might have been enjoyed last night as well.
What’s your favorite Louisiana beer?
My favorite Louisiana beer is from the other homebrewers. At all the big beer events we serve at throughout the year, I mostly try the beer from the other clubs. But, if I had to pick a for sale, Louisiana beer, I’d probably go with NOLA’s Irish Channel Stout. Great name, well brewed, good anytime of the year. Solid. But, when you can get it, Parish’s Ghost In The Machine is tasty – and makes good bartering material. Covington’s Maerzen has been good for years. I believe it’s called Fest Bier now. I’m glad Henryk left them the recipe. There’s nowhere to hide in that beer, no gimmicks.