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!

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition - October 11th in Dobb's Ferry

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition – October 11th in Dobb’s Ferry

Update, Winner! I had a great time serving beers to the thirsty public at the festival. It was great to talk brewing, enjoy everyone’s beers, and eek out one last bit of fall weather. I also managed to take home the biggest prize, the Brewer’s Choice Award! I am collaborating with Yonkers Brewing Company to have the beer brewed commercially. It’s gonna be a blast! Stay tuned for details about where the beer will be tapped in the NYC area.


Join me on Sunday, October 11th, for the first annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale competition at Harper’s Restaurant in Dobbs Ferry. 20+ homebrewers (including myself) will be pouring ‘farmhouse’ style homebrewed beers. Thirty dollars gives you access to 5 hours of drinking, food, and live music. The grand prize winner will have their beer brewed commercially at Yonkers Brewing Company with additional winners for people’s choice, brewer’s choice, and Harper’s choice.

If you like saison, and the many creative and interesting permutations of the style, this will be a fun event to check out.

Oast House Saison

My entry for this competition is a new take on the prototypical Saison DuPont-esque saison. I’ve taken a base of pilsner malt, added a bit of rye to round the mouthfeel and accentuate the spicy phenolic yeast character, and then added some oats to give what is typically a very dry beer a soft roundness on the palate. I then took the beer and fermented it with a house-mixed culture that originally consisted of harvested Saison Dupont dregs, The Yeast Bay’s Brett Amalgamation blend, and a touch of White Labs’ Lacto Brevis.

I’ve run this culture through a number of trial fermentations and it tends to be very fruit forward with lots of melon and minimal brett funk. There is some tartness that likes to come out in low-IBU beers such as this one, but is pretty much non-existent in beers over 15 IBUs.

Post fermentation, the beer was dry-hopped with a blend of New World citrus-forward hops that play very nicely with the fermentation character and tartness in the beer. The resulting bright and juicy fruit character is amazing — a perfect blend of yeast and hops.

If you come out, please stop by and say hi. I’m very curious to hear your feedback on the beer!

Mixed-Culture Dry-Hopped Saison Recipe:

Size: 5.5 gal
Efficiency: 66%
Attenuation: 88%

Original Gravity: 1.052 (measured)
Terminal Gravity: 1.006 (measured)
Color: 4.88 SRM
Alcohol: 6% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 10.1 IBUs

9 lb (69.2%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
2 lb (15.4%) Oats Flaked – added during mash
2 lb (15.4%) Rye Malt – added during mash

Mash Regiment:
147 °F – 40m
152.0 °F – 20m
158 °F – 10m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
6g Gypsum (to mash)

8 g Centennial (10.5% AA) – 90 m
1 oz Citra™ (12.5% AA) – dry hopped 3 days
1 oz Azacca (10.3% AA) – dry hopped 3 days

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets – 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

1L House Saison Mixed Culture



NYC Craft Beer Fest – Winter Edition Preview

Winter Harvest

Winter Harvest – December 1

I love winter beer. I love beer festivals. When you combine the two, magical things happen. December 1st is the NYC Craft Beer Festival – Winter Edition which fulfills the festival half of the equation, but seems a bit light on the ‘winter’ half of the equation.

Gauging from the beer list that has been published, it looks to be pretty similar in size and scope to The Brooklyn Pour I attended in early October. I count 109 different beers or ciders from 64 different breweries. Frankly, for a festival billing itself as ‘featuring winter seasonal beers’, the list is very light on winter warmers or other body-warming styles of beer. The list is dominated by flagship brands with relatively few options to try things out of the ordinary or not readily available. Judging from the brands represented it seems that most are being brought by distributors and not the actual breweries themselves; a lost opportunity for breweries to win over the types of rabid beer lovers that attend these events. Mediocre list aside, there are a handful of gems on the list:

  • Dark Horse – Reserve Special Black Ale
  • Founders – Breakfast Stout – Commonly available, but oh, so delicious.
  • Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon – Not a Winter beer, but still outstanding.
  • Great Divide – Hibernation – One of the best winter warmers out there.
  • Maine Beer Co. – Peeper Ale – Not a Winter beer, but a great American Pale Ale.
  • Sly Fox – Christmas Ale – Solid winter beer.
  • Victory – Storm King – Classic Russian Imperial Stout

Originally scheduled for early November, Hurricane Sandy forced a change of date and venue. The organizers will be holding a supply drive for those in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens.

I’ll be there with a full review after the event has come and gone.


Fall 2012 Brooklyn Wort Recap

The Fall 2012 edition of the bi-annual The Brooklyn Wort was held this past Saturday, October 27th at Public Assembly, a venue in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Wort is an attempt to combine two of my favorite things: a homebrew competition and a beer festival. Local homebrewers sign up and pay an entry fee to serve 5-gallons of their beer to the public and have it judged by both professional brewers and industry insiders. There is a $1000 purse at stake, with a portion awarded by a professional judging panel and a portion awarded based on the popular vote of festival attendees.

Tacos From Cemita's

Ticket prices include pretty good tacos from Cemita’s.

From the general public’s perspective, this event looks like a lot of other beer festivals. You choose one of two sessions to attend and pay a $35 entry fee to sample twenty-five different homebrews and eat a light meal (two tacos from Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches and Tacos). You are given a tear sheet of tickets to give to each brewer in exchange for a sample as well as an empty slip to register your personal vote for the best beer.



First impressions are important. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the venue there was a large slow moving line that took nearly 20 minutes to get through. Within the venue, homebrewers were set up in two different rooms, both of which were way too small to accommodate the crowds on hand. Getting to the actual tables in order to receive a sample required quite a bit of maneuvering through the oversold crowd. Do not attend this event if you are claustrophobic or short on patience. When I showed up for the second tasting of the day, there was still a considerable number of people lingering from the first session, which significantly exasperated the problem.

Overcrowding and comfort aside, the most important part of a beer festival is the quality of the beer. In many ways I think the quality of the homebrew being served very much echoes the quality of homebrew in general. Homebrewing is still very much in its nascent stages with the quality improving every year, which means events like this are often a mixed bag. Of course, in a lot of ways you could say the same thing about a commercial craft beer festival. I managed to taste 22 of the 25 beers being served. Of these 22 I rated:

  • 5 Great – Would drink well next to solid commercial beers.
  • 5 Good – Comparable to an average commercial beer.
  • 7 Below average. Some technical flaws or balance problems. Comparable to a handful of bad commercial beers.
  • 5 had serious infections or off-flavors. I ran into some seriously phenolic beers, beers tasting like DMS (rotten cabbage), unintentionally sour beers, and beers with big diacetyl problems.

I had a great time chatting with the actual brewers and hearing their reasoning behind recipe formulation. I loved that many brewers were looking for genuine, unabashed feedback on their beers, and that many brought in their recipe sheets. When people ask my opinion (we all have one), it is difficult to tell whether they really want to hear what you are perceiving or simply want a pat on the back. I try to read people, but tend to give my opinion when asked (good or bad). Carefully articulated, honest feedback is the only way to become a better brewer. If you ask for my opinion, you should be willing to take it–good or bad. I expect the same treatment for every beer I make.

My top five brewers and beers:

  1. Rye Rye My Darling (Rye IPA) – Steve Hanson
  2. Trois PA (Pale Ale, 100% Brett) – Jonathan Moxey
  3. Judie Tuzke (Best Bitter) – M. Messenie & T. Lee
  4. Prunus Maximus (Porter w/ Plum & Chili) – Marco Trauzzi
  5. The Blushing Goddess (Saison w/ Hibiscus) – Peter Durning

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival Recap

Beer. Event. Bar. Brewery. Sleep (a little). Repeat. That is GABF in a nutshell. It’s been a few days since the last session of the biggest beer festival in the world and only now does cracking open a beer and doing some beer writing sound like a good idea.

My brain is (slightly) fried, but let’s see if I have enough gray matter left to crank out a reasonable recap. For brevity, complete descriptions of beers are omitted and replaced with a 5 point scale. Let’s get started… lots of pictures await you at the end!


Taster Flights at Oscar Blues

Tasting Flights at Oskar Blues

Thursday started early (4:30 am EDT), with a half asleep (and slightly cranky) beer blogger navigating his way via subway and bus to LaGuardia to catch a flight to Denver. A couple of Dunkin’ Donuts and 1500+ miles later, I arrived in Denver and met up with two good friends who’d be my partners in crime for this GABF. We hit the ground running, heading straight to Longmont, CO to squeeze in some beer tourism before hitting the first GABF session later that evening. We hit lunch at Oskar Blues; all of their beers were solid, as were the nachos. I had a great time working through a sampler tray and then finishing off with a Mama’s Little Yella Pils (4/5). Not far away from Oskar Blues is Left Hand Brewing Co., where we popped in for a quick pint before heading back down to Denver. I had the Wake Up Dead Imperial Stout on Nitro (3.5/5).

I always like to remind myself that GABF is the best opportunity in the country to sample beers from breweries you have never heard of and to make new discoveries. That being said, the goal of Thursday night’s session was to hit up breweries with solid reputations that I knew would be pouring some delicious rarities. New discoveries would have to wait. Highlights included:

  • Goose Island Bourbon County Stout – loads of vanilla (5/5)
  • Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout – had right after GI BCBS, very coffee forward (4.5/5)
  • Deschutes 2011 Abyss (4/5)
  • Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Ten-Fidy – wow, great surprise (4.5/5)
  • Allagash Coolship Resurgam – very brett forward / funky (4.5/5)
  • Fat Head Head Hunter (4.25/5)
  • New Glarus Enegma – quite sweet (2.5/5)
  • Devils Backbone Vienna Lager – beautiful clean lager (4.5/5)
  • Anchor Small Beer (3/5)
  • Russian River Toronado 25th Anniversary – reminiscent of Beatification (4/5)
  • Stone 2008 BA Imperial Stout – awesome, rich and smooth, great surprise (5/5)
  • Bear Republic Tartare – yogurty lemonade (4/5)
  • Olde Hickory The Event Horizon – best find of the trip, amazing beer (5/5)


Lunch at the Buckhorn Exchange

Lunch at The Buckhorn Exchange

First rule of GABF, don’t go out hard on the first night. Whoops. Unfortunately, I did some extra-curricular bar hopping after Thursday’s session, which left me feeling a bit raw on Friday morning. My friends and I managed to make it out to The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant for some lunch. Sitting under under the glass eyes of hundreds of dead animals, we ate some meat and drank some really good Stranahan’s whiskey. Feeling fortified by protein and distilled barrel aged goodness, we caught the train into Denver’s LoDo district for some more brewery hopping.

First up was Denver’s original brewpub Wynkoop. Started in 1988 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and leading the transformation of Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood, these folks are true craft beer pioneers. At Wynkoop, I had their equally pioneering (and slightly gimmicky) Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout (3.5/5). (For neophytes, Rocky Mountain Oysters are bull testicles.) Twenty-five pounds of bull balls were roasted and thrown into the mash of this 8-barrel batch. Apparently, bull testicles taste like licorice to me since this is the biggest flavor I got out of this beer. Maybe boiling the ‘oysters’ would have made it more ‘ballsy’?

Up next, we headed past Coors field over to Breckenridge Brewery. Open, spacious, and light, this was a nice venue to throw back a beer. I tried their Vanilla Porter, which was very nice although perhaps slightly artificial tasting (3.5/5).

Just across the street and down a block from Breckenridge is the fairly new River North Brewery. The place was packed, but of the 3 beers I sampled, they were all mediocre at best; perhaps they’re still getting their process down.

Our last brewery stop of the day was Great Divide Brewing Co. To accommodate the crowds they had a jockey box set up out back, along with tents and large tables. Cheap (great) beers, a friendly crowd, and plenty of seats made this an excellent place to have a beer or two. I had their Berliner Weiss which had a great funky nose, but fell flat on flavor and lacked the quenching acidity I like to see in Berliners (2.5/5). They also had Hibernation on tap, which is always great (4/5).

After the afternoon’s pub crawl, it was time for the Friday night session. Luckily, I was slated to pour at Big Time Brewery’s booth for that session, giving me a break from heavy beer sampling for a few hours. I did get the chance to finally try my pro-am beer. While not nearly as tasty as my original homebrewed version, the pro-am beer was still quite good with an enjoyable dark sugar character and just a whisper of the fig character that was so prevalent in my beer. I’m hoping to get a couple bottles shipped to me so I can do a side-by-side tasting.

The Basement 'Dead Soldier' Bottle Share

The Basement ‘Dead Soldier’ Bottle Share

After the session, I met back up with my brewer friends and attended the bottle share that is held in the basement of the Marriott hotel and features all of the leftover competition beers. This was a great perk of having a brewer’s badge and was one of the funnest moments of the weekend. It was entertaining to watch so many brewers scrambling through bins to find their beers. The point being that if you found one of your beers, it probably wasn’t a winner since they didn’t need the extra bottles for judging in later rounds of the competition.


Saturday started bright and early with the GABF competition awards ceremony. It was great to be able to watch the brewers get their awards. It seemed like this year a lot of the awards typically won year in and year out by a few select brewers were instead given to up and coming and sometimes off the beer-geek radar breweries. I think this is great as it challenges old breweries to constantly evolve and push their standards and creativity. I was especially happy to see Devils Backbone win one of the brewery of the year awards. Their awesome lagers made a huge impression on me last year and it’s great seeing them recognized.

Saturday afternoon we attended the members-only session where we tried a lot of great beers. The highlight was probably Sam Adams Utopias (nearly 26% ABV) which is something I wouldn’t normally buy, but is fun to try. I also went back to Olde Hickory and tried a few more beers in their lineup, which were all quite good. New Belgium’s Love Felix (actually poured by Kim Jordan) was also fantastic.

GABF is a great time. Each year I am blown away by not only the sheer number of beers poured and breweries in attendance, but more importantly by the overall quality that gets pushed higher and higher each year. Looking forward to next year.