No bitter beer taste here

Beer rebels unite in Clear Lake: It's homebrew for one and all — Jenga for some

Beer rebels unite in Clear Lake: It's homebrew for one and all — Jenga for some

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Robert White competes in the kids soda competition. Photo by Mark Evangelista
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Jenni Nelson
Jenni Nelson knows that an empty glass is about the worse thing you can have. Photo by Mark Evangelista
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When you win a homebrew contest, you get some serious prizes. Photo by Mark Evangelista
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Janelle Miller
Janelle Miller knows good beer when she sees it. Photo by Mark Evangelista
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Chris Buckley
Chris Buckley dares to Jenga. Photo by Mark Evangelista
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Robert_White
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Jenni Nelson
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_prizes
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Janelle Miller
News_Chris_The Lunar Rendezbrew_Chris Buckley

If there ever was a stronger, more ardent gathering on evolution, the proponents of the Lunar Rendezbrew in Clear Lake on Saturday would gladly contest that in a courtroom.

From its humble beginnings as mead, homemade beer (known as homebrew) has led a Darwinian march toward flavor and freshness and away from the plodding machinations of soulless, factory fumbled mass production. Not content to drink without flavor, these beer rebels choose to fight the power and taste what’s passing through their lips and not just, ahem, process it.

The 17th annual gathering of homebrew hobbyists, lovers of lager and instigators of IPAs drank heartily at Bay Area Community Center in Seabrook and, just like their beer, made it their own.

“If you are here, you are a homebrewer and you have stepped out of the common shade of man,” shouted Mike Taylor, master of ceremonies.

Many responded with hearty shouts but instead of raising their glasses, fists went up as not to spill a drop of the precious liquid pondered and lovingly processed just for this occasion.

A local beer supply vendor provided beverage holders which would hang from a black double-stitched cord. The embroidered blue drink holder seemed to be used only when the glass was empty, which usually wasn’t for very long.

Italian food, pizza, salad and garlic bread from Pomodoro’s and cookies that all came with the cost of admission ensured that liquid bread wasn’t the only thing in everyone’s stomach.

Homebrew clubs from the greater Houston area and San Antonino gathered to sample a myriad of beers, play some games and even let their kids have a good time.

Space engineers, chemical engineers and other professionals who brew their own don’t overlap much with the beer-swilling frat boys who quaff quantity and not quality. The demographics are just what the doctor ordered, at least for Kelly Railean, co-owner of Railean Rum in nearby San Leon.

“The profile of people who make their own beer matches up well with the ones who like the rum I make — supporting local, Texas products,” said Railean, who has two signature desserts and a cocktail that highlight her rum at Randy Evans’ Haven.

“These guys — in their 30s and 40s — take more care when it comes to what they can choose. They want something special and complex. They’re the same way with their spirits as they are with their beer.”

The high spirits at the Lunar Rendezbrew was self-evident as the homebrew tribe greeted friends heartily and non-members with open arms. If beer was a team, everyone in Seabrook was its biggest fan, only the wave was executed with the bend of 500 elbows — more if anyone was ambidextrous.

Frank Prochaska of the Shuttlecock Brewers in Clear Lake introduced a Knob Creek-laced porter that made many tastebuds do the happy dance. The robust taste gave way to a lasting flavor and finish that took over the tongue.

These space workers at the nearby NASA Johnson Space Center get together every Thursday and brew a different batch, learning through each step and logging precious brew time.

“What these guys are doing is gaining a lot of experience by working with a lot of styles,” said Scott “Xbox” Riehm of the hosting Bay Area Mashtronauts. “You only learn by doing it.”

Or perhaps brewing it.

The event featured the results of tastings that started in July. The number of entries for judging jumped up 20 percent to 540 individual beers, according to Taylor.

Kerry Martin of the Austin Zealots took the best of show beer honors with his Hellacious Helles. Cesar Gonzales earned best of show in the mead/cider category with his Size Her Up submission, while fellow Mashtronaut Bill Kilty nabbed best of show for wine with his questionably named Rambos Banana.

Kids got to compete as well as 11-year-old Robert White swept the homemade soda completion. Munchkins could also taste a flight of soda samples and mark their impressions on a worksheet using a crayon to make a smiley face or a frown.

Of all the free games available to play, not one beer pong or game of quarters was sighted. Besides darts, washers and beanbag toss, an oversized Jenga set provided the maximum amusement and a raucous clattering when the game pieces would tumble to the wooden platform upon which it sat.

A crowd would gather if the game lasted more than five minutes, some seemingly amazed at yet another pastime you can do while drinking a beer.

Though the serious players used both hands to tap on and identify easily movable pieces in this wood-balancing game — which consists of building a tower and removing pieces to make it higher — others kept one hand on their beer. Some were drawn to Jenga, while others stayed safely on the periphery, lest they be called out to play. 

Taylor, the event’s M.C., even commented on those seemingly intimidated by the uber-Jenga set.

“If you are scared of it, your manhood has been robbed,” he said.

Fast and furious was the pace during the “Blind Bubba,” a timed, blind taste test of six mass-produced light beers. Awarded for accuracy and speed, the participants slammed and swilled these “Bubba beers” and had to match the brand to pitchers marked only with a letter.

Of the 32 contestants, only two graded out at 40 percent — able to identify at least two out of the five beers.

Mark McKeever of Friendswood said he would be lucky if he got one of the lights right.

“They all taste the same,” said the member of the Backyard Brew Crew, which makes about 20 gallons a month. “It’s hard to compete with homebrew which is all about freshness and flavor.”

Homebrewing starts as an activity that creates a hobby that then draws friends and family, McKeever said. Producing tasty beer like their Debacle Bock, Triple-Eight IPA or Beetlejuice Spring Beer doesn’t hurt.

“When I think of hobbies like stamp collecting or baseball cards, you can’t really do anything with that,” McKeever said. “With homebrew, I think of a hobby that you can share with friends.”