Wednesday, July 3, 2013

35th Annual National Homebrew Conference - Recap - Philly 2013

A while back I posted I was one of the lucky few to secure tickets to the AHA's 35th Annual National Homebrew Conference 2013 in Philadelphia, PA.  It was an amazing event and a "must" for any homebrew fan at least once in their lifetime.  For anyone who has not been, or even those who have, I hope to document a slice of my 4-day experience for you to enjoy. I will break it down by the major events and throw in some other tidbits of info here and there.

NHC 2013 Brewing Up a Revolution

Seminars

The Conference is a two-headed beast: learning and partying.  The first head, at least for me, was the real "meat & potatoes" of the conference .  I love learning new things about this hobby and absorbing information which will increase the quality of my beer.  There were somewhere around 36 different seminars given over the course of 3 days, which were broken down into different sessions.  You had to pick and choose which ones you wanted to attend, but luckily they will be posted online to AHA members later so I can listen to any I missed. I will share with you my five favorites from what I attended.
  • Stan Hieronymus - Because Not Every Beer is Stone Enjoy By IPA: Preserving Hop Aroma: Stan is man when it comes to hop knowledge.  He has written a book on it, but he is constantly researching and keeping tabs on the most recent hop informaiton out there.  If anything, this talk basically alludes to the fact that we currently know like 5% to 10% of all there is to know about the hop and how yeast, and fermentation affect the crop in beer.  This is an aspect of beer, especially hoppy ones, that still has a lot room for expansion.
  • John Gasparine - Alternative Wood Aging Techniques - John has collaborated with some of the most recent wood age beers crafted by Dogfish Head and Heavy Seas.  There were quite a few jokes surrounding the sexual connotations of the word 'wood,' but it was pretty unavoidable as I got excited from talking about this topic, too!  Some really good pieces of info I took from this seminar in regards to wood aging beer was to measure your wood by square inches per gallon.  This will help the brewer be able to produce repeatable results in future batches - weight is not the best measurement.  The second is through John's research, he finds that the first 3 weeks of aging a beer on wood really produces a lot of harsh tannins - but DO NOT fear!  After 4 weeks, the tannins drop out and the wood flavor really starts to come through and mellow with the beer.
  • Mitch Steele - Current Techniques and Recent Developments Used for Brewing Great IPAs - Being served the Enjoy by IPA by Mitch at Pro-Brew night was pretty awesome - there was a twinkle in his eye as I gave a hearty "THANK YOU" to him after receiving the beer.  Mitch glazed over his slides to really talk about and discuss some of the research Stone has done in evaluating new hop varieties.  He made some good points for potential commercial brewers - don't make any beer heavily focused on one hop or ingredient.  If this ingredient becomes scarce it will cause problems with replicating the beer in the future.  He also discuss the best practices on dry hopping amounts and contact time - which some researching is pointing to 1-3 days tops!
  • Josh Weikert - Brewing with Induction - Josh is the President of the Stoney Creek Homebrewers club, a pretty decorated bjcp medalist, and one of this years conference local committee organizers (I think?).  He gave a great talk on using induction burners for easy indoor brewing.  This is a system I had been researching for a while, and this talk just reassured it is the direction I want to go for my brewery.  Some proponents for this system is decreased evaporation rate.  This also results in less steam, which Josh claims he does not even need a hood to take away moisture (still a little skeptical about this).  He also states that because of the power limitations, his maximum capacity allows him to walk away without fear of boil overs.  Look for more on induction brewing from me as I look to move to smaller batches and brewing indoors!
  • Michael Fairbrother - Mastering Mead - Michael, who is the owner of Moonlight Meadery, gave out a ton of mead over the conference.  It was actually my first samples of mead, and all can say is "wow."  His mead is absolutely amazing.  This session, unfortunately, did not provide a whole lot of technical info on how to make it - was more 60 minutes of how much of a badass he is, but I think it definitely sparked a lot of brewers interest in mead (if they weren't already)
Stone Enjoy By
Stone Enjoy By

Social Events

The other part of the conference were the nightly social events, although there were other social events throughout the day at the product expo and ongoing "social hall," the following were the "main events."

  • Pro Brewer's Night - Thursday Night - Everyone at the conference headed over to  Convention Center (luckily this traverse could be made entirely undercover, as there was lots of rain!) to sample beers from 25+ commercial breweries.  I was grateful for the pretzels, nuts and water provided by the convention center - without these salty treats to absorb and the water to rehydrate, there would be (more) hungover brewers than usual.  The only disappointing thing about this event was that half of the beers offered were IPAs or Pale Ales.  Don't get me wrong, I love hoppy beers and Stone's Enjoy By was AWESOME, but I was hoping for more variety.  I found some malty offerings by Yard's and Troeg's - 2 PA local breweries.  I also found it by getting my first taste of Moonlight Meadery's 'Desire.'  Other notable events of the night was the beer fountain provided by Laguanita's - I was a few rows over, but I saw a streaming fountain of beer geysing about 25 feet into the air, followed by raucous cheering.  Afterwords, my friend and I turned into bed so we would guarantee waking up in time for seminar's the next day.
Moonlight Meadery
Moonlight Meadery

  • Club Night - Friday Night - I think this is event everyone looks forward to because you get to try the best beers all the homebrew clubs have to offer.  Each club also embraces a theme of some sorts to make their booth stand out.  Some of the costumes were way over the top and awesome, other clubs lacked in the costume dept, but definitely redeemed themselves in the beer dept.  I was able to try some truly amazing beers not limited to the likes of Palo Santo Aged RIS (WHALES), a great Oatmeal Stout (Brew Free or Die), an IPA through a randall of chinook (tasted almost like watermellon from ), a Strawberry IPA (some random guy drunk guy from jersey), and a handful of delicious sour beers.  I also like the fact that the Maryland homebrew clubs all were placed in the same corner and collaborated for a raffle - had to sample a beer from each club to enter.  A little after 11pm we were kicked out and forced to move things back over to the social well in the Hotel. 
FOAMs Booth
FOAMs Booth

WHALES booth
WHALES booth


Baltibrew's Booth
Baltibrew's Booth
C.R.A.B.S. Booth
C.R.A.B.S. Booth

  • Beer Dinner and Awards Ceremony  - To culminate the weekend, we headed down to stand in  line to get seats at the dinner.  Most of the time, I hate lines, but this is the homebrewers conference so waiting really consisted of sampling beers and chatting it up with other homebrewers while waiting to get seats - not really a normal line-waiting atmosphere.  The dinner, sponsored by Rogue Ales and crafted by the Homebrewed Chef Sean Paxton, was pretty tasty.  The mustard dressing used for the salad was pretty young, and thus very spicey.  The amber ale paired with it really cut the heat and kept the salad refreshing.  The main course was stromboli based off of the famous philly sandwhich from Tony DiNic's containing roasted pork and broccoli rabe. It was good, but the portion sizes weren't even amongst our table.  Lastly, was the dessert.  A Philadelphia cream cheese cake, with hazelnut and crystal malt crust served with Rogue's hazelnut brown ale, and a side or raspberry oatmeal stout sauce.  By far the best part of the meal.  After the meal, the awards were announced.  A lite american lager took Best of Show, which was pretty surprising!  After the awards, we went to the social hall, where to my surprise the unconsumed entries from the final round were being handed out in a free-for-all!  I was able to grab a table with members of my BJCP tasting class and we sampled a bunch of really great beers!  I can only imagine what the NHC winners beer's tasted like!
First Course
First Course

Entree
Entree

Dessert
Dessert

Lastly, there were a bunch of games to win free stuff!  My buddy Jon of JB Brewing scored 2 free FastRacks, a Star Hill hat, a MoreBeer hoodie and I got the MoreBeer tshirt!  Not bad, heh?

Free Schwag
Free Schwag

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