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!

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.

Spawn of Duvel Goes to Michigan

Brewday went nearly perfectly --- gravity was spot on at 1.061.

Brewday went nearly perfectly — gravity was spot on at 1.061.

Update: Unfortunately, the beer didn’t place in the second round of NHC. It did get pretty good scores however. I’ve uploaded the score sheets, in case you’re curious.

I’ve had some good luck in the first round of this year’s National Homebrew Competition. Both my Vienna Lager and Belgian Blond ended up taking first in their respective categories. I’ve always thought that placing 30% of your entries in a competition of this size is a great average, so I was pretty stoked to have pushed through half of my entries.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any additional fresh bottles of either ready to go, so re-brews were in order. My biggest concern brewing this beer is that the Duvel strain (Wyeast 1388) can be a bit finicky. The krausen almost always drops early, followed by a slow period of 5-10 days in which CO2 continues to be produced and the beer continues to dry out. Additionally, this yeast seems to produce a lot of banana ester early which dissipates and becomes much more mellow after a period of lagering at near freezing temperatures. I am a bit apprehensive that both of my second round entries will be younger than I would like.

As a Belgian Blond, my Spawn of Duvel recipe is well below the low end of gravity for the style. That said, it still tastes like a great version of the style. For my re-brew, I’ve slightly bumped up the gravity in hopes that it can stand-up to the higher gravity beers it will be competing against in the second round.

Spawn of Duvel 2.0 Recipe

Recipe Specs:
Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 78.0% (anticipated)
Brew Date: 4/19/14

Original Gravity: 1.061 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.015 (measured)
Color: 6.09 SRM
Alcohol: 6.04% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 22.8 IBUs (calculated)

7 lb (85.5%) Belgian Pils – Dingemans
.5 lb (6.1%) Pale Wheat Malt – Weyermann
4 oz (3.1%) Belgian Biscuit – Dingemans
3 oz (2.3%) Acidulated Malt – Weyermann
4 oz (3.1%) White Table Sugar – Added to Boil

Mash Schedule:
60m Saccharification Rest – 154 °F
10m Mashout Rest – 168 °F

23 g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 60 m
0.5 oz Saaz (3% AA) – 15 m
0.5 oz Saaz (3% AA) – 20m Whirlpool
1.25 oz. Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 20m Whirlpool

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

WYeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale™ (1400ml starter on stir plate)

1. Chill to 62°F and keep at 66°F until activity slows.
2. Raise temp to 74°F until CO2 evolution stops.
3. Crash to 32°F 5 days.
4. Bottle condition. Once carbonated, store cold 2-3 weeks.

Vienna Lager 4.0 Homebrew Recipe

Vienna Ready to BRewUpdate: Unfortunately, the beer didn’t place in the second round of NHC. It did get pretty good scores however. I’ve uploaded the score sheets, in case you’re curious.

You can probably tell by my history of posting Vienna Lager recipes, that I love brewing (and drinking) the style. It is a great sessionable lager, and a lot of fun to brew. With that said, brewing this batch had ulterior motives.

My last batch of this beer turned out great. Judges tended to agree as it placed in both Homebrew Alley 8, and the first round of the National Homebrew Competition. Unfortunately, the bottles I have left are starting to show their age and will be well past their prime when the second round of the NHC occurs this June. With that in mind, I decided to brew up another batch. The recipe below was brewed on 3/30/14. This is pushing the time frame that I would normally be comfortable turning a lager of this strength around in. With careful yeast management and temperature control, it should be just enough time for the mid-June second round of the competition.


Recipe Specs:
Size: 3.24 gal
Efficiency: 68%
Attenuation: 74%
Brew Date: 3/30/14

Original Gravity: 1.052 SG
Terminal Gravity: 1.014 SG
Color: 13.97 SRM
Alcohol: 5.07% ABV
Bitterness: 24.1 IBUs

3.75 lb (51.3%) Vienna Malt – Weyermann
1.25 lb (17.1%) Pilsner Malt – Weyermann
2 lb (27.4%) Munich TYPE II – Weyermann
4 oz (3.4%) Carafoam® – Weyermann
1 oz (0.9%) Carafa® TYPE II – Weyermann

Water Additions (in Mash):
Soft NYC Water
4g Calcium Chloride

My recipe employs a single step decoction mash.

A quick single decoction enriches the malt character… and it’s a lot of fun.

Mash Regiment:
20m – 144°F Beta Rest
Decoct to Alpha Rest
20m – 156°F Alpha Rest
Direct Fire to Mashout
5m – 168.0°F Mashout Rest

24g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 60 m
14g  Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (4.0% AA) – 10 m



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

White Labs WLP833 German Bock Lager – 1800ml Starter on Stirplate

1. Chill to 46°F and keep at 48°F until activity slows.
2. Raise to 58°F for diacetyl rest 24 hours.
3. Cool 6°F / day until back down to 32°F.
4. Rack to corny keg and lager at 32°F 3-4 weeks.

Vienna Lager Recipe and Tasting

Vienna Lager

Homebrewed Vienna Lager

What qualities would you want in a “desert island beer”? Personally, I’d want something with low enough alcohol to consume in quantity, something relatively dry with some malt intrigue, and something balanced; in other words, a Vienna Lager.

The Vienna Lager is a bit of an enigma. The classic Continental examples are pretty much extinct. I have yet to find a European version that matches what I imagine a classic Vienna Lager to be. Immigration of Austrian brewers to Mexico in the late 1800’s brought the style to the New World, creating the distant relatives of the modern beers we see imported today. Common examples like Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modelo (which are tasty in their own right), are adjunct laden, sweeter versions of their Austrian forefather’s beer. The best examples today come from American craft brewers. Places like Chuckanut Brewing and Devil’s Backbone make my favorites and are perennial award winners at the GABF. These incredible all-malt examples have a slight sweetness and complex, yet not overbearing malt character, finishing slightly off-dry. This is what I’ve tried to emulate; using a recipe that takes a similar approach as Brewing Classic Styles, blending the trifecta of Pilsner, Munich, and Vienna malts. I personally don’t feel like crystal malts have much place in a good Vienna Lager; perhaps a touch for head retention. If you’re at NHC 2013 in Philly, come by the NYC Homebrewers Guild booth during Club Night where I’ll have this beer flowing.


Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 67%
Attenuation: 72%

Original Gravity: 1.050
Terminal Gravity: 1.014
Color: 14.23
Alcohol: 4.7%
Bitterness: 24.8

2.625 lb (39.3%) Vienna Malt – added during mash
1.25 lb (18.7%) Pilsner Malt – added during mash
2.625 lb (39.3%) Munich TYPE II – added during mash
1 oz (0.9%) Carafa® TYPE II – added during mash
2 oz (1.9%) Melanoidin Malt – added during mash
1 oz (100.0%) Hallertauer Hersbrucker (4.3%) – added during boil, boiled 60 m
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – added during boil, boiled 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10 m
1 ea WYeast 2308 Munich Lager™

00:03:00 Dough In – Liquor: 5.6 gal; Strike: 159.87 °F; Target: 155 °F
01:03:00 Saccarification Rest – Rest: 60 m; Final: 155.0 °F
01:13:38 Mash Out – Heat: 10.6 m; Target: 168.0 °F
01:18:38 Transfer to Kettle – Volume: 6.04 gal; Final: 168.0 °F
(No Sparge)

Final Volume into Fermenter: 2.75 Gallons
Yeast Required: 196 billion (per Mr. Malty)
Yeast Production Date: 3/13/13
Yeast Starter: 1.6L @ 1.040 on stir plate (per Mr. Malty) = 6.5 oz. DME

1. Chill to 44* F and keep at 48* F until activity slows (1 week+).
2. Raise to 58* F for diacetyl rest 24 hours .
3. Drop temperature 2 * / day until at 34 * F.
4. Rack to corny keg.
5. Lager 4-6 weeks

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP category 3A Vienna Lager.

Aroma (11/12)
Subtlety complex toasted malt character with some biscuit and almost sourdough-like bread qualities. There is a hint of sweetness on the nose. Just a whisper of sulfur reminds you you’re drinking a lager. No esters, alcohol, hops, or diacetyl. Extremely clean.

Appearance (2/3)
Brilliant rich copper color with a white head. A little more carbonation would improve the initial head, but it could use better persistence.

Flavor (16/20)
Beautiful malt character that is toasty and crisp without being caramel-laden or too rich. There is a hint of graininess that seems to be coming from a pilsner malt. The malt is crisp and balanced. There is no hop flavor, but their presence is felt in a bitterness that is medium-low with enough intensity to keep the beer crisp while allowing a lingering malt sweetness to persist through the finish.

Mouthfeel (3/5)
This beer is slightly undercarbonated leaving it with a somewhat full mouthfeel. Beer finishes relatively dry and perfectly to style. More carbonation would help make this an even more drinkable beer.

Overall Impression (9/10)
This is one of my favorite beers to brew and consume. Creating a clean, low-alcohol lager is a well-rewarded challenge. There is some nice malt complexity that is clean and crisp making it easy to both drink in quantity while also stimulating your palate. It is a beer that can you can dissect the flavors and aromas of one-by-one, or simply slam a boot of. Next time I brew, I’ll likely add some dextrin malt to improve the head persistence, slightly bump up the percentage of Vienna malt (while lessening the Munich II), and go back to my favorite lager yeast (WLP833, the Ayinger strain) which seems to attenuate a little bit better.

Total: (41/50) Excellent