Back in January, I listed five cooking techniques I wanted to learn this year. One wasn’t actually a cooking technique. Pairing beer with food came in at number five on my list. I wasn't sure how I was going to go about learning it, but an answer to that came quickly.

Shortly after writing about it, I was invited by my good friend Lisa Howard-Fusco (to the right of me in the photo above) from Eating in South Jersey to go to a beer and chocolate pairing hosted by Beer for Babes.

It was perfect. I wanted to learn about pairing beer with food. The first event I was invited to involved chocolate, and it was being held at a restaurant less than 10 minutes from my house. How could I not go?

Beer for Babes is the brainchild of journalist Tara Nurin (to the left of me in the photo above) who writes about beer for several publications and is the co-host of "Still Crazy After All These Beers," a cable and Internet show about craft beer. She started the group for beer lovers of any experience who want to become beer savvy. Only condition — you’ve got to be a woman to join. The group is South Jersey’s only women’s beer club.

In fact, at the second Beer for Babes event that I attended two weeks ago, Mike (gentleman on the right in the picture at right with the Beer for Babes group), the representative from Stoudts Brewery in Adamstown, Pa., told us that we were the first women only group he’d ever spoken to. He’s been doing this for a while.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you about a Beer for Babes group and not perhaps an Organic Beer for Babes or Sustainable Beer for Babes group. It turns out, when craft beer is involved, there’s a lot of sustainability going on. Small producers often get many things right when it comes to sustainability.

I’m also being introduced to things I had no idea about like that Stoudts Brewery not only brews great beer, it also has the Wonderful Good Market on the premises. The market sells local, organic and natural food and items. On Sundays at the brewery, there are more than 300 antique vendors who come and help give a new life to old objects.

I’m discovering new restaurants, too. The two restaurants that have hosted the events I’ve attended support local producers. I didn’t know that. In fact, the restaurant that hosted the Stoudts Brewery dinner supports local in a way I’d never thought of. Carolina Blue in Pitman, N.J., smokes its own meats. They buy local wood from peach trees to smoke the meat.

South Jersey has many peach farms. When Carolina Blue buys the wood from trees that are no longer producing, they’re giving these local farms an additional stream of income. I’m all for finding creative ways of keeping the farms in South Jersey financially sustainable so the small farmers don’t need to sell off their land to developers. This is an excellent way to do that.

So, if like me, you’re looking to increase your knowledge of beer, I suggest you find a group that focuses on craft beer. There’s a good chance you’ll end up learning a lot more than just beer. The group doesn’t have to be just for babes, either.

Know of any craft beer groups in your region that are open to new members? Tell us about them in the comments, please. 

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