Over the last year, Miami has seen the birth of many new homebrewing clubs, But there is one that has been here the longest: Miami Area Society of Homebrewers, or M.A.S.H.
The club started in 1994 when a small but dedicated band of Miami home brewers gathered at what used to be the South Pointe Brewery and Seafood House--now the current location of Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse -- to take back a few pints and talk beer.
"There was not as big of a beer culture then," said Scott Graham, the judge coordinator and one of the founding members. "We needed a more formal structure and a more formal place to get together to talk about beer."
M.A.S.H. members pay dues and democratically elect club officers, like a president and a treasurer. The cost to join is $35 per year per household, with the dues helping to pay for homebrewing supplies and entry into local and national homebrewing competitions organized by the American Homebrewers Association.
M.A.S.H. holds its own annual homebrewing competition called The Coconut Cup. Now 11 years old, the contest is a friendly challenge match with fellow homebrew club to the north, the Fort Lauderdale Area Brewers, or F.L.A.B.
Commercial breweries are ineligible. This year's Coconut Cup was held last March 2 and 3 at the American Legion Hall in South Miami. There were 24 categories with 291 entries. The Tampa Bays B.E.E.R.S. club won this year's competition.
Next Coconut Cup will be next year in March, most likely in the same place.
M.A.S.H. holds its own internal monthly brewing competition. Members make various styles of beer based on a list of pre-selected styles. The members meet once a month at Miami beer-oriented establishments and compete for points.
This month's meeting was held at World of Beer in Dadeland and everyone competed for the best Bock beer brewed in accordance with official guidelines set by the Beer Judging Certification Program. This month club members Dave Kirsten and Bob Billany won.
At the end of the year, the points are tallied and the winner earns the coveted BOTY prize that is awarded at their winter solstice party in December. "One of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the Florida clubs is that we have BJCC judges," says Billany, the membership chairman for M.A.S.H. The club also reimburses any member who takes the BJCP beer judge exam and passes. "We enter a lot of competitions around the state, just to get feedback and because it's fun."
Billany became a member two years ago after he brewed his first batch, a pale ale that he called "Moth's Last Sip." He named it that after a moth flew into the steam of boiling mash, died, then fell into the pot. Since then he's brewed 40 batches, or an average of just over one per month since October 2010. "It's like we turned a vice into a hobby into a passion," Billany says.
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He got serious about beer in the mid-80s after taking a college trip to Germany, where his "oh my God" moment of beer came after drinking a Munich Helles Lager style of beer. "Back then in Miami the best thing you could find was a St. Pauli Girl," says Billany. "If it comes from Europe, we're all over it, but if it's homegrown, it doesn't get here as quick."
The club currently has16 members; others have come and gone over the years. "We're trying to avoid cliques," says Billany. "We just want to be an everyman's club."