Homebrew Con 2016 – Baltimore

Homebrew Con 2016 - One Motley Crew

One motley crew at Homebrew Con 2016.

It seems like only yesterday I was a doe-eyed, neophyte homebrewer enamored by the spectacle of the National Homebrewers Conference, my first being Bellevue in 2012. Four years, hundreds of batches, and four conferences later (I missed Grand Rapids in 2014), I’m only slightly less doe-eyed, but equally as enamored with what is undoubtedly the marquee event of the homebrew calendar.

For those unfamiliar, Homebrew Con is the annual conference hosted by the American Homebrewers Association. Every June, the conference lands in a different city for three days, bringing along with it over two thousand fanatic homebrewers ready to learn more about the hobby they love and to hang out with the community of people that makes the hobby so great. Conference days are generally spent in a variety of seminars, whereas social events keep you busy at night. In between, plenty of informal drinking happens via an abundantly stocked hospitality suite located in the middle of an exceptional trade show displaying the wares and gadgetry from different vendors around the country.

The Seminars

Charlie Papazian Giving a Slideshow

Charlie Papazian gave us a high-paced photographic tour through the last 30 years of homebrewing.

The seminars at Homebrew Con form the backbone of programming for the overall conference. In terms of content, the AHA seems to strive to address a broad spectrum of interests and levels of complexity, from beginner discussions about simple brewing techniques to highly technical overviews of contemporary research into brewing. At times, it was necessary to make difficult decisions about which seminars to attend; luckily, the AHA posts video recordings of all the seminars on their website.

Several seminars stood out for me this year:

Homebrew Bloggers Roundtable – The folks behind Brulosophy, Five Blades Brewing, Ales of the Riverwards, and A Ph.D in Beer gave a great talk about some of the issues surrounding some of the (bigger) homebrew blogs out there. Certainly inspired me to write more!

How and What to Brew With S. eubayanus – A tremendously interesting talk (and tasting) by Jared Spider about a fairly recently discovered species of yeast called S. eubayanus. Modern genetic sequencing has led us to believe that lager yeast (S. pastorianus) is actually a hybrid S. eubayanus and S. cerevisiae. There are tremendous implications in terms of what this means for the possibilities of creating new hybridized yeast without the need for genetic modification.

How to Fail at Starting a Brewery – Nicole Carrier from Throwback Brewery gave an amazingly insightful presentation on what it takes (beyond just good beer) to create a successful brewery. The need to differentiate beyond simply making great beer was driven home, as were her thoughts on creating a personal connection with customers and making them become strong advocates for your brand.

Unlocking the Genetic Code of Brewing Strains – Chris White teased the audience by previewing some of the scholarly research White Labs is conducting utilizing DNA sequencing of yeast. He let it slip that, genetically speaking, White Lab 001 and Wyeast 1056 are not the same strain of yeast—pretty cool stuff!

Pro Night (AKA Craft Beer Kickoff Party)

Pro Night kicks off the social event schedule with the pouring of beer from dozens of local breweries (along with a few non-locals, like Lagunitas and New Belgium). In general, this year’s beers were a bit…boring. With exception of a few, most beers fell firmly in the ‘okay’ to ‘good’ range with a number being flawed and dipping below the mediocre line. There were many breweries listed on the conference website that appeared to have cancelled, leaving a noticeable population of empty booths on the tasting floor. The lineup was lacking in terms of star power—with the exception of Adroit Theory Brewing Company whose line was the longest of the night, but whose beers, to my palate, were a bit overspiced. Hands down however, Kleinevriend, a dry-hopped, slightly sour, saison from Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company, was an easy favorite and highlight of the night.

Club Night

The Golden Girls make a rare appearance at Homebrew Con 2016 Club Night

The Golden Girls make a rare appearance at Homebrew Con 2016 Club Night.

Without a doubt, the best night of the conference. Dozens of homebrew clubs bring their best beers to pour for their homebrew peers. The costumes, booths, and beer coalesce into a convivial and exuberant celebration of beer brewing. Club Night this year was outstanding. The quality of beers was great—I’d argue that they were better than the beers poured the night before at Pro Night. It was a bit of a blurry night, but I managed to scribble down my favorites as the night progressed. In no particular order:

  • Gueuze – NYC Homebrewers Guild
  • Czech Lager – Keystone
  • Red IPA – Lancaster County Brewers
  • Dark Mild – MASH
  • Cherry Pie Beer – Annihilated
  • Consecration Clone – South Shore Brew Club

Awards Banquet

Making some new friends at the Grand Banquet.

Making some new friends at the Grand Banquet.

The best part of the awards banquet are the friends you make in line and around your dinner table. This year was no different. We had a great time hanging out with brewers from around the country while enjoying some good beers, passable food, and watching the best homebrewers in the country step up to claim their medals from the second round of the National Homebrew Competition. This year I had a Cream Ale and Marzen in the competition, but didn’t manage to snag a medal. Maybe next year!

The Conference In Photos

Next year, Homebrew Con travels back to Minneapolis, MN. Hope to see you there!

NHC 2015 Recap

Category 5: Awarded second place for my Eisbock

Category 5: Silver medal for my Eisbock

The sun has set on another National Homebrewers Conference. As I look back on the time spent touring California and attending the conference itself, it is tough to know exactly where to start my recap. The copious notes I took during the seminars describe the analytical information and anecdotes given during the seminars, but aren’t that interesting to read. Your time would be better served listening to the actual talks once they’re posted on the AHA website. Instead, it’s much more fun to talk about the individual events and paint with broad strokes some of the more interesting moments at the conference.

Brewery Visits

Leading up the conference we took some extra time to not only visit friends and family around California, but also tour a number of breweries that have popped up in recent years. Informally, this trip is serving as a yeast hunting expedition with the goal of sourcing sour and wild beers that were brewed with interesting mixed cultures. Luckily several of the stops were selling some great bottles whose microbes will eventually find their way into some new beers I am developing.

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales

We had a great time at our first stop, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Santa Cruz, CA. Located in a nondescript commercial strip mall, the exterior belies a comfortable and somewhat ‘rustic’ interior pouring about 8 different beers on draft. SARA was pouring a number of tasty hop-forward beers–typical of the West Coast style–with huge tropical and citrusy hop aroma, but a bit excessive with some of the grassier dry hop flavors. They were also pouring an excellent gose, which was refreshingly tart and had a nice mellow salinity, as well a great dry saison. By happenstance, our visit coincided with the release of bottles of Cellarman, a sour saison that is really delicious, and whose microbes I am looking forward to propagating.

The Rare Barrel

The Rare Barrel

The Rare Barrel

Our next stop was The Rare Barrel located in Berkeley, CA. The Rare Barrel creates only barrel-aged sour beers and has seen great success in what is a growing segment of the craft beer market. The taproom is located within the barrel warehouse and provides an inviting environment for sour beer consumption. While at the TRB, we sampled 5 or 6 different sour beers. TRB contract-brews through Heretic Brewing three different base beers (golden, red, and bruin) which they then ferment in-house and age in barrels using a variety of different yeasts and bacterias. From these three base beers, they’ll add different adjuncts (fruit, spice, etc.), ferment with varying cultures, and blend in different proportions to create their portfolio of beers. All of the beers we consumed were very enjoyable with bright lactic acidity and fairly substantial malt, providing a counterbalance to the acidity. All of the beers were very approachable; a strategy that I’m sure TRB is employing to grow their customer base. Perhaps my only complaint would be that the beers felt overly simplified and one-note (lactic acid). I’d love to see if a bit more funk in these beers would provide for a more interesting drinking experience.

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Firestone Walker Barrelworks

Our last stop en route to San Diego was Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks located in Buellton, CA. At this magical stop we not only sampled a number of the clean barrel-aged beers most people are familiar with (Parabola, Stickee Monkey, Abacus), but also a large selection of sour beers from their growing portfolio of wild beers. Standouts were Maltose Falcons (a big barrel-aged beer brewed in collaboration with the Maltose Falcons homebrew club), Sour Opal, and Bretta Rosé.



Welcome Reception (AKA Pro Night)

The conference kicked off with a rambling talk and toast by The Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur followed by a welcoming reception of (mainly) local San Diego breweries. This was a great chance to sample a ton of different beers that don’t make it out to the East Coast. San Diego lived up to the stereotype of being home to the biggest, most in-your-face samples of IPA. Booth after booth featured hugely punchy, dry IPA’s with massive hop aromas. At one point we sampled an old standby, Pliny the Elder from Russian River. While delicious, the intensity of the hopping seemed muted compared to the levels many newer San Diego breweries are pushing their beers to. When I first had Pliny many years ago, I would have never been able to imagine the levels that hoppy beers are presently being pushed to.

Club Night

The hallmark event of the conference lived up to its reputation. Year after year, the quality of homebrewed beers gets better and better. The vast majority of beers being served were excellent, while a few really shined. Standouts for me were a oatmeal raisin cookie beer (club name forgotten) and a delicious barrel aged Flanders poured by the San Luis Obispo Brewers (SLOB). The creativity and willingness of homebrewers to push the rational limits of beer making to new levels was on full display during the event and gives an exciting preview of what professional craft brewers may soon be producing.

Awards Ceremony

The awards ceremony for the National Homebrew Competition signals the end of the conference and what for me was over a week of beery fun. This year the AHA changed things up a bit and had their executive chef prepare the meal in lieu of chef Sean Paxton, who has done it for many years past. While the logistics of preparing a three-course meal for thousands of people tends to temper my expectations, I thought the food this year was reasonably tasty–much more so than the Paxton meals I’ve had at two previous conferences.

This year I had two beers in the competition, one of which managed to win a silver medal in Category 5, Bock. Winning a medal in a competition with over 7,600 entries is a great personal affirmation and provided a wonderful ending to the conference. The real fun, however, was talking and learning about beer for three days straight amongst the brewing peers that make this such a great hobby. I highly recommend this conference to brewers of all levels–it’s a blast.

See you all next year in Baltimore!

Photo Gallery

Headed to the National Homebrew Conference

Club Night

Club Night 2013 – Philadelphia

For the geekiest of homebrew geeks, there is no event bigger and more exciting than the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference. This is the Superbowl of homebrew events filled with learning, camaraderie, and old-fashioned homebrew-fueled hijinks.

This year over 3,000 enthusiastic homebrewers will converge upon San Diego, June 11-13, to enjoy the biggest and baddest conference yet. I haven’t been to San Diego in over a decade and am really looking forward to the conference and visiting the likes of Stone, Pizza Port, Modern Times, Societe, Lost Abbey, Alesmith, and Green Flash, who all call the San Diego area their home. There are still tickets available, so check it out!

The Highlights

While I’ll be on pins and needles waiting to see how my beers in the National Homebrew Competition make out, I’ll be enjoying the variety of events the conference offers. The entire conference is a blast, but I’m most looking forward to…

Opening Reception

The opening reception is in essence a three and a half hour long commercial beer fest. The list of breweries that will be pouring is very impressive and showcases a wide spectrum of talented breweries drawn primarily from Southern California.

Club Night

Dozens of clubs pouring beers to thousands of homebrewers make this the highlight for many of the attendees. Club Night puts on display the creativity and innovation that is the hallmark of craft beer, which firmly has its roots in the homebrew community. The variety of beer and electric atmosphere is amazing. By no means is every beer being poured a homerun, but this is a great opportunity to really see the future direction of craft beer.


The seminars are the primary reason I like to attend NHC. I always learn a lot about brewing at these events and really enjoy geeking out about some of the more technical topics involved with brewing. Below, I’ve highlighted a few of the seminars I’m looking forward to. You can see the full list here.

Brewing with Coffee: Approaches & Techniques from Dry-Beaning to Home Roasting
Speakers: Amy Krone Jacob McKean Michael Tonsmeire

Brewing With Experimental Hops: A New Hop Variety Just For Homebrewers
Speakers: Jason Perrault Karl Vanevenhoven Vinnie Cilurzo

From 5 to 5,000 Gallons: What to Look for in a Brewery Space
Speaker: Scott Katzer

Intro to Professional Brewing Quality Assurance
Speaker: Rick Blankemeier

Ménage à Myces: Blended Yeast Fermentation
Speaker: Chris White

Czech Lagers: History, Brewing, Judging
Speakers: Bob Hall Randy Scorby

How to Brew, Blend and Maintain an Acid Beer
Speaker: Jeff Crane

Mastering the Art of Hop-Fu!
Speaker: Kelsey McNair

Say Hi!

This year I’ll be sporting some The Pour Report swag. If you see me, say hi! I’d love to chat with my readers and share a beer. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for coverage of NHC as well as pre-NHC beer exploits as I travel around California leading up to the conference.

National Homebrew Conference – Philadelphia 2013 Recap

Brewing up a RevolutionFree flowing beer, seminars given by people whose beer knowledge dwarfs my own, camaraderie with fellow beer geeks, and the chance to mingle with the pseudo-celebrities of our niche hobby are just a few things that awaited those who headed to Philadelphia for the 2013 National Homebrewers Conference. The conference has made a habit of being in my back yard two years in a row now, so making the trip to Philly was an easy decision. This was my second NHC, and from my limited experience, I’d say this is one show you don’t want to miss.


Each day of NHC offers between 3 and 5 separate seminar sessions to go to and learn about a variety of topics. Frankly, the seminars vary wildly in quality. Without sounding too much like a douche asshole, many of the presentations are either geared towards very basic topics, or presented by those that can’t seem to effectively present the thoughts in their heads. Since there are multiple seminars happening during each time slot, you have to make some educated guesses when picking which to attend. My strategy was to look at the credentials of the presenter first and choose seminars that seemed like they had a good chance of not sucking. My advice to the AHA would be to somehow pre-qualify their speakers. Additionally they could offer different seminar tracks based on a brewer’s level of knowledge or particular interests. Seminars are an opportunity to present new research or otherwise interesting information within the broad spectrum of topics that brewing embodies; unfortunately this is rarely the case. I’ll briefly run through each seminar I went to in a minimal fashion. If you’re an AHA member you can delve into each with more care, by (someday) downloading the presentations off the AHA website.

Process Improvement and Beer Enhancement: The Nano Experience – Andy Tveekrem
I was really hoping this seminar would discuss the trials and tribulations of operating a nano-brewery and challenges of process and quality control brewing on a small scale presents. Instead we got a brief overview of the speaker’s background and then a rundown on the basics of homebrewing. Not really worth the time unless you’re completely new to homebrewing and don’t know the basics of things like sanitation, yeast management, etc.

Methods of Maintaining a Wild House Culture – Kyle Kohlmorgen
The information that was presented was far too basic. I was expecting a talk about plating and isolating cultures, selecting for strains with positive brewing attributes, maintaining them in cold storage, and then propagating and blending to create new and interesting fermentations…or at the very least a talk about building and creating a consistent house culture.

Blame the Maltster: An Overview of Malting Operations and How They Influence Beer – John Mallett (Bell’s Brewery)
John presented a balanced in insightful talk about the decisions a maltster must make during the malting process and the balancing act that is required in order to create the best end product. A fair amount of the seminar was spent discussing malt analysis sheets. Hearing the perspective a large brewer brings to developing their malt specification and analyzing the specifications they actually receive was pretty interesting.

Because Not Every Beer is Stone Enjoy By IPA: Preserving Hop Aroma – Stan Hieronymus
While this seminar was mainly an overview of topics covered in detail within Stan’s hop book, his seminar did get the wheels in my heading turning on the topic of the bio-transformation of hop oils during the fermentation process. It is kind of mind-boggling that two different hop oils can be present pre-fermentation and be transformed into completely different compounds via yeast metabolism.

The Science of Beer Flavor – Roger Barth
A great speaker (with a PHD) presented what is happening on a neural level when we are experiencing the taste and flavor of beer. Well presented, humorous, and definitely worth revisiting.

Cider Revolution: How to Brew Great Cider from Everyday Ingredients – Christian Banker
Really dull, and somewhat insulting to those who spend a lot of time making ciders and blending apple varietals in order to create the end product they envision. Not really any new or interesting information.

Alternative Wood Aging Techniques – John Gasparine
One of the top three seminars. The speaker is not a professional brewer, but does consulting for those looking to add interesting, and unconventional wood flavors to their beers.

Brewing Chemistry 101: pH and Buffering – Bob Hall
This seminar managed to take water chemistry as it relates to mash pH and make it very clear and easy to understand. If you’ve been boggled by the nuances of mash chemistry, this seminar presents a fairly complex topic in a brief and easy to understand manner.

Step up Your Starters: Insight into Yeast Propagation for Homebrewers – Kai Troester
While there weren’t any earth-shattering new ideas presented in this seminar, watching Kai and getting a better understanding of the methodologies he uses was a joy. Kai is the mad scientist of homebrewers; any information he presents is always welcome.

Current Techniques and Recent Developments for Brewing Great IPAs – Mitch Steele (Stone Brewing)
The biggest idea and realization made in this presentation was that popular breweries who make great hoppy beers (like Stone) are often blending in portions of hops most homebrewers typically wouldn’t use in an American IPA as a way to add complexity and accentuate the beer’s hop profile. Hearing Mitch call Sterling one of his favorite hops was pretty eye-opening and makes me consider a lot of hop varietals I would have previously written off.

Hops vs Malt: A Smackdown with Cheese – Janet Fletcher

What can I say? Great beer is nice with great cheese.

What can I say? Great beer and cheese is a no-brainer.

­­Hospitality Suite and Trade Show

Tricked out stealth-bomber-like brewing rig by Brew Station.

Tricked out stealth-bomber-like brewing rig by Brew Station.

The hospitality sweet was great this year. While perhaps one in every five beers I sampled featured some sort of off-flavor, in general the beers were quite good. It was a lot of fun grabbing a homebrew and walking around the exhibition floor to check out all of the cool gadgetry. Blichmann in particular had some cool new products, including a stainless steel RIMS coil that plugs into their hop rocket shell and works with their controllers. There was also a company called Brew Station building some incredibly tricked out stainless rigs. Jess Caudill and Greg Doss were omnipresent at that Wyeast booth to answer your yeast questions. And of course, Sabco had their rigs setup at the show giving me an idea of what my homebrewery would look like should I win the lottery.

The ‘Big’ Events – Pro Night and Club Night

Opening Toast at Club Night

Opening Toast at Pro Night. No idea what was said, but fun none-the-less!

Pro-Night was a blast, although somewhat forgettable aside from Lagunitas having a fitting blow on one of their kegs sending a beer geyser 20 feet into the air. Don’t get me wrong, the pro-beer was great, but that really isn’t what NHC is about. That honor of course is reserved for Club Night, where the true creativity and skill of homebrewers is put on display. There were some phenomenal booths with unique designs and smart draft setups. Theatrics aside, it is really about the beer. There will always be dumpers when you’re sampling this quantity of homebrews, but in general the quality was very high. I was especially impressed by the large number of outstanding sour beers. This has to be the biggest trend that I noticed this year, along with the large variety of outstanding meads and ciders that were available. I was able to sample a lot of beers from a ton of different clubs and had a great time. If I had to choose one club that absolutely knocked it out of the park, it would be the Woodbridge Homebrewers Ale and Lager Enthusiast Society. Their booth was simple, but everything I sampled from them was outstanding, including some insane iced ciders.

New York City Homebrewers Club Booth

New York City Homebrewers Club Booth – The club that has taken in this lost West Coaster.

Club Night

Whatever the topic of conversation was, you know it was awesome.

Club Night

The wives of C.R.A.B.S. club members serving up some great beer.

Club Night

5 Santas, a Penguin, and an Excited NYCHG Club Member

Steam Punk Inspired Draft Setup

Steam Punk Inspired Draft Setup

Grand Banquet & Awards Ceremony

No homebrew competition awards ceremony has the energy present at NHC. It was a ton of fun watching the winners of the National Homebrew Competition collect their hardware. I didn’t enter this year, but knowing first-hand how much fun going up on stage to collect your medal is, fueled my excitement for those I was watching. Charlie Papazian was noticeably missing from the ceremony; hopefully he’ll be back next year.

The banquet food kinda sucked, and furthered my perplexity as to why people give so much praise for Sean Paxton’s (The Homebrewed Chef) meals. I’ve had three now, and all have been mediocre. I don’t expect much from banquet meals such as this, but it was pretty bad.

The Commemorative Beers

He never had a chance...

He never had a chance…

Boom goes the can! Seriously. Numerous cans of Round Guys Brewing’s – Cluster’s Last Stand commemorative beer literally exploded. Some faired a bit better only becoming rock hard and over-carbonated. One can I saw had its concave bottom popped out like a pregnant woman’s belly button — that’s a lot of pressure. I can’t help but chuckle at the irony that the  commemorative beer given out by the AHA was infected and produced can bombs. Over carbonation aside, the flavor was a bit butyric and phenolic (plastic) affirming the suspicion of infection. The other beer given out, a rye saison by Sly Fox, was better received and pretty tasty.

Next Year…NHC 2014

Next year the NHC circus travels to Grand Rapid, MI… also known as the hometown of Founders Brewing company, and apparently a lot of great homebrewers. Yes, Michigan is in the middle part of the country, but don’t hold it against them; they make outstanding beers. I for one am completely stoked to travel their next year and do it all over again!