National Homebrewers Conference Highlights

by Karl | Last Updated: July 2, 2012

What happens when close to 2,000 homebrewers gather in the same place? A few words come to mind:

  • Fun
  • Geekery
  • Beer….lots and lots of beer

That describes the scene at the 2012 National Homebrew Conference in Seattle (Bellevue) Washington at the end of June. It was my first NHC and needless to say, I was pumped.

Here are some of the main events and highlights from the event.

Seminars

The seminars are the meat and potatoes of the conference. Experts from across the beer industry deliver educational topics that offer something from everyone.

Rather than transcribing every seminar I attended, the American Homebrew Association made it easy on me by posting every seminar in the membership area of their website. They have posted presentations in the past, but this is the first year that they recorded the audio and video to go along with the PowerPoints. This is worth the price of a membership alone.

If you’re still not a member (wtf?) and want some highlights, here you go:

  • You should be excited about Mitch Steele’s (Brewmaster at Stone) upcoming book on India Pale Ale. He delivered a great talk on historical IPAs, debunking common myths and offering a few recipes. If you’ve tasted Stone’s beers, you know that Mitch knows his hops.
  • A surprising finding in the Exploring Fermentation seminar – attenuation was measured in an experiment comparing different mash temperatures. A beer with a single infusion rest at 153°F actually attenuated more than one at 149°F, going against the common knowledge that a lower mash temp produces a more attenuative wort.
  • The Berliner Weisse presentation focused on how to make the beer as sour as possible. A number of different experiments were conducted where the yeast and  bacteria were pitched at different phases and the resulting acidity was measured. The “winning” formula was pitching the lactobacillus 7 days before pitching the yeast. They also passed around of Brett and non-Brett Berliners which was pretty eye-opening.
  • The Session Beer seminar really renewed my respect for these low alcohol brews. Jennifer Talley of Redhook is a master of making sessions, being from Utah where abv % is restricted. A tip for making a session pale ale – use 4 hop additions: 10 minutes after the boil, 30 minutes later, 20 minutes from flame out, and flameout.
  • If you have any desire for Going Pro, be sure to watch those seminars on the website. A couple quotes from the seminar I attended that really stood out: “Saying you don’t need to market your beer is like saying you don’t need a personality” and “Plan for success. If you under size your brewery to minimize your potential losses, then you set yourself up for failure.”
Along with the seminars were Poster Presentations by homebrewers. I wasn’t sure what this meant, but they were literally poster presentations. School style.

Same beer, 6 different yeasts

I loved this event. These were the nerdiest of the nerdy homebrewers. One particularly great presentation was the one in the picture above. The homebrew club brewed the same beer with 6 different types of yeast. Trying these side by side was eye-opening. They were all very different.

Pro and Club night

Pro night was a fantastic and unexpected surprised. I saw it on the schedule, but wasn’t quite sure what it meant. It’s basically a mini beer festival. Area breweries lined the conference room and handed out 4 oz pours. The best part was the opportunity to try beers from Washington breweries that I normally can’t get, like those from Black Raven and Chuckanut.

I thought it would be hard to beat Pro Night, but Club Night did just that. It wasn’t the quality of the beers. The Pros had better beer overall (as they should), but the atmosphere of Club Nigh was unreal.

The clubs went all out. Extravagant booths, costumes, the whole nine yards. Check out the booth for the Seattle Proper homebrew club below. They even made a time-lapse video.

A few of the beers were outstanding, most were good, and a handful went into the dump bucket. One of the really cool things was the chance to try beers from homebrewing celebs Denny Conn and Gordon Strong. Gordon’s mead is the first one I’ve ever enjoyed. Nice job G-man.

It was also my first time trying the famous EdWort Apfelwein. The homebrewer who made it used ginger. Man this stuff is tasty, and apparently stupid-easy to make. Time to brew some up.

Exhibitors

You’ve never seen so much drooling in your life. There were gadgets everywhere at the exhibitors display. Electric brewing systems, conicals, brew stands…it was a homebrewer’s dream. Blichmann was a particular favorite. The shine from their gear blinded the room.

The Blichmann Tower of Power setup up on a Top Tier

Grand Banquet and Award Ceremony

Sean Paxton aka The Homebrew Chef organized The Grand Banquet and it was absolutely incredible. Take a look at the menu and beer pairings. Everything was delicious and paired beautifully. I felt spoiled eating the perfect food while having waiters deliver bomber after bomber of beer to the table. The suds never stopped flowing.

Wild Mushroom Bisque – To die for

The final part of the night was the award ceremony. Winner after winner was called to accept their award for their style category. You have to be impressed with these guys. They beat out hundreds of other beers (630 entries in for Stouts – Jesus) to take home the gold. These are the best of the best.

Next year is Philadelphia, and I will do everything in my power to attend. I suggest you do too.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.