On one of the hottest days of the year, Rebecca Sandidge and Beck Herrick were in a backyard in South Berkeley, bent over 11 gallons of simmering brew. Weeks from now, this will be a kolsch-style ale. But at the moment, the two were trying — only semi-successfully — to keep it all from boiling over. A small audience was seated in a semi-circle of deck chairs nearby, gathered for the monthly meetup of Queers Makin’ Beers (QMB), a homebrew club for the Bay Area queer community.
“I say that when I’m moving the foam off, you just pet it,” Sandidge said. Herrick demonstrated, clearing the froth away with a few light strokes from a spoon as Sandidge reduced the heat.
If they were making a pale ale, Sandidge explained, they would only boil the brew for an hour total. But with a kolsch it takes an hour and a half. It had already been 30 minutes, so there would be another hour of stewing. In the meantime, they measured and added the hops.
“This is the reason why I’m here,” said Stephanie Braun, who was seated in a deck chair, beer in hand. Braun recently relocated to the Bay Area from Vancouver, British Columbia. “I’ve only brewed once,” she said. “So I’m here to learn how to brew, drink a brew and meet new friends.”
Queers Makin’ Beers started in 2015 as a way to do all three. Co-founders Rebecca Sandidge and Kate Summerill met at a Meetup event, which was a fail in one way — the pair were the only two to show — but which succeeded in another, as it led to the formation of QMB. As the two talked, they bonded over their shared love of homebrewing and shared identity as queer.
“In the beginning we just wanted to make beer with other queer people,” said Sandidge, “and we hadn’t really put words to why we felt that, or why that mattered.”
Sandidge and Summerill met up to brew a test batch. “Our first beer ended up being pretty good and that gave us a false sense of confidence,” said Sandidge, who has a Ph.D. in biology from Cal. While there is a lot of biology in beer, Sandidge’s studies were on ecology and fire ant diets. She even poured molten aluminum down ant nests with entomologist Walter Tschinkel on a field study in Borneo. Adventurous, but daring of a different kind from brewing beer for several dozen people.
“And as soon as we started [the group] a ton of people showed up,” she said. “There were 15 people at our first meeting, and there were 30 people at our first brew. And we thought, ‘Oh God, now we actually have to figure out how to make beer.’”
The beer part of QMB is fairly straightforward. By Sandidge’s own admission, there’s nothing all that queer about the beer. “We’re a pretty standard brew club,” she said, brewing simple ales, lagers and pilsners. The queerness is in the company.
But what defines queer and queerness is somewhat malleable. The words have different meanings depending on the user and can be used to cover sexual orientation, politics and personal values. Some use queer as an umbrella term to cover all individuals of the LGBT+ spectrum. For others, it makes up its own separate band, the Q at the end of the rainbow.
The group’s website articulates queerness as, “a theory, an identity, a body of research, a set of core beliefs that seek true equality.”
“Queer culture and beliefs generally regard heteronormative expectations as negatively impacting every person in our society. Perhaps you have experienced pressure to marry, wear heels (or not wear heels) to work, earn enough to provide for a family on your own, or enjoy an exceptionally bitter IPA, and you’re not really digging that. Queer people get it.”
QMB succeeds because of a spirit of relaxed challenge to expectation, with a side aim, in its own well-hopped way, of the subversion of power by advocating for themselves and causes often on the margins of the mainstream narrative.
Although unable to legally sell their brews — the group is not a licensed brewery — QMB donates beer, or money raised at their own events, to groups like Brown Girl Surf, CounterPulse, Queer Lifespace, Dining Out for Life, and the surf zine Seawitches. (Outside of the queer and homebrew crowd, surfing is Sandidge’s other passion.) The group hosts an annual Queersgiving, a queer-centered dinner held each November where friends and allies are invited to enjoy QMB’s beer, a meal and, if they can, to throw down some bills for charities like Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL. Further afield, the group held a successful GoFundMe to cover the equipment and web fees to get a Bend, Oregon, chapter of QMB up and running after co-founder Summerill relocated there.
Within the industry, QMB is hoping to get more queer-identified people brewing, with the goal of creating more queer breweries, or at least more queer-friendly ones.
“There aren’t a ton of queer home brewers who are as fanatic about [brewing] as there are 50-year-old straight white men who are fanatic about it,” said Sandidge. “That will change over time. It just takes years to develop that sort of obsession. But it’s happening.”
In the meantime, Sandidge wants to expand what QMB can offer to the broader community besides great beer.
“I’ve found QMB is a valuable resource for breweries that are owned by straight people,” she said. “And generally, they’re owned by straight white men. Even if they’re well-meaning, they’ll say things that are offensive, and it’s totally unintentional, but they just don’t understand the language of queer culture.”
“If breweries want to do a Pride event, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the straight owners of a brewery to just say ‘We’re having a Pride event. All the gay people should come,’” she said. “Really you should be partnering with a queer or LGBT group and bring them into your space.”
An example of that can be found a few years back, when QMB landed on Viceland during Golden Road brewer Meg Gill’s search for local brews to feature in her proposed, somewhat controversial, later amended, and finally canned Temescal taphouse. (Remember that?)
Sandidge was aware of the controversy, but liked Gill’s business sense, and saw an opportunity to work change from within the system. Though things didn’t work out with Golden Road, Sandidge wants to keep at it, perhaps even directing QMB into an advisory role for local brewers.
“It’s really good for them to have some sort of guiding body that’s willing to answer questions and just have really honest conversations without judging people,” she said.
In the meantime, readers interested in QMB’s beers and in open conversation can attend a free monthly brew, or find QMB’s tent at this year’s Dyke March in San Francisco. Beers are available at both on a donation basis.
It’s hard to say whether it’s the group’s commitment to social equality, or to eminently drinkable beer that makes QMB succeed. Sandidge doesn’t hold back with her own take.
“If we were queer and made shit beer, nobody would come. Not a single person would show up,” she said. “I wouldn’t show up.”
Herrick gets something more than just good beer by being a QMB member. Herrick homebrewed for a decade but took a break three years ago after a brain cancer diagnosis. “Once I got well enough, I wanted to get back into home brewing,” Herrick said. Herrick was also in the midst of some family difficulties that resulted in a relocation to Alameda from Antioch. QMB was part of the healing process, serving the double function of making it easier to return to brewing while making new friends in the local queer community.
“I just moved back here and I have friends here, but they’re all partnered and they’ve got their lives,” said Herrick. “I wanted to kind of immerse myself back in the community, so this was the perfect thing that existed.”
“It’s fun to just hang out and be around queer people,” Herrick said.