In most major cities in the United States there is a community of homebrew aficionados. We usually congregate in groups, as friends, talk about and brew beer. There are even larger clubs that host beer club contests - an national beer leagues that authenticate such contests and even send experienced judges out to help to define the flavors and characteristics of differing types of beer (such as the American Association of Homebrewers). It is fun and exciting, and also helpful to attend meetings of your local homebrew club. If no such club exists in your area, or even if it does, it can be fun to join or start your own beer club!
My experience with the homebrew club comes from the point of view of collective brewing. Collective brewing is by far the easiest and most inexpensive way to make a variety of beers in a variety of styles. The main benefit of collective buying is that when you buy in bulk, you always get a better price on brewing ingredients. Another great benefit of starting or joining such a homebrew club is sharing equipment. Especially when entering the realm of all grain brewing, this can be very useful, as a whole slew of new home brewing equipment is needed.
Many a beer club or beer league has further benefits to joining. Some have a vast array of recipes on hand. Some have equipment or other resources to share. By networking with other brewers, you can meet those beer club members that have the skills you may lack. Workshops, lectures, and parties are all common functions put on by beer leagues and beer clubs. Often you can get enough tips and tricks just by talking to folks that you won't need all the pamphlets and books published on the subject - and you will learn from someone with hands-on experience. Especially if you are considering cultivating yeast cultures for your brew, I would recommend apprenticing under someone else with more knowledge than you.
The American Association of Homebrewers is one of the most active and largest of the homebrew clubs. Through publications, programs, and events, the American Association of Homebrewers educates people about and promotes the hobby of homebrewing. Events such as the "Big Brew" coordinate brewers all around the world to make beer on the same day. In 2006, it is estimated that 7,347 gallons of homebrew brewed worldwide at 210 Big Brew sites by 2,956 participants. More probably brewed at home in solidarity with this event if their homebrew club was too far away from a big brew site. The American Association of Homebrewers also offers a pub discount program that offers discounts on beer, food and/or merchandise at breweries, and brewpubs.
One mission that the larger beer clubs or beer leagues purport is supporting traditional, independent, and small craft breweries. The American Association of Brewers defines these traits in the following way:
"An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. Craft beer comes only from a craft brewer.
Small = annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels.
Independent = Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
Traditional = A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of it's volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor."
The main function of this association is to support small craft breweries (most micro brews fall into this category), but most brewing competitions supported by this organization, and other beer leagues like them, allow entries from home brewers as well. This can be an exciting way to test the quality of your homebrew in a competitive setting. The American Association of Homebrewers works closely with the Association of Brewers, as well, and both organizations promote and endorse homebrew clubs, and educate the public about the legalities of homebrewing.
Many people do not realize that homebrewing is still illegal in some states. The American Association of Homebrewers is one homebrew club dedicated to educating folks about this topic, and there is information about what you can do to change these laws available through their website. Although made legal at a federal level in 1978, the old home brew is still illicit to manufacture in certain states. Already, homebrew activists have changed laws in New Jersey and Georgia, and there are a few people in Utah and Alabama that are currently employing the tactics of education and grassroots lobbying in order to affect similar changes in those states. Brewing and enjoying one's own home brew responsibly is a right that every American should enjoy!