Thursday, June 16, 2016

HomebrewCon : Diary of a First timer

I haven't made a post in a long time but felt compelled to give a summary of my awesome experience at this year's National Homebrew Conference, er, HomebrewCon. I have been wanting to go the last couple of years but have always been busy with other things. This year another one of my club members showed interest and we made a pact to go.

HomebrewCon is the annual get together of AHA members to celebrate all things homebrew. Over several days there are numerous seminars, demos, meetings, special events, and social parties.

Decided to keep a diary of my experience.

Day 1 - June 9th - It's your birthday!!!

4:30 am - Andrew and I had a super early flight 5:40am, so we got at KCI at 4:30am to be surprised with huge lines. I'm officially starting to think we do need a new airport. Its a bit of a bottleneck in the tight space with lots of people lately. We stayed patient and made our flight. We thought about ordering some beer on the flight but decided to take the advice of many to "pace yourself" and just try to get a nap in. 

KCI is way too crowded for 4:30am
9:00 am - We landed in Baltimore got our bags and quickly got an Uber to take us to our hotel to drop off our bags. We stayed at the Biltmore Suites hotel in the Mt. Vernon area of Baltimore. It was a little over a mile from the convention center. It was an old Victorian home turned into a small hotel in a quaint neighborhood. Luckily our room was ready and the hotel let us check in early. It was nice to get settled before our long day.


10:30 am - There were ton of special local events through out town for the conference. I had made reservations at the Metropolitan for a Brunch and Beer pairing with RAR Brewing, a new up and comer brewery from Cambridge, MD. It was a small group of homebrewers about 15 participants plus some reps from the brewery including one of the owners. Our meal consisted of hot smoked salmon, crab quiche, duck taco, and a scottish egg!!! Beers worked well with each pairing. A couple hoppy beers and an Oyster stout. It was a great event to prepare for the conference. It was a beautiful day, 70's perfect breeze, so we decided to walk to the convention center. 

RAR Brewing Brunch and Beer pairing

12:30 pm - Once there HomebrewCon signs everywhere and a nice table to check in. They had sent a bar-code ahead of time for a quick scan check in. We were quickly given our credentials for the conference and then went through a line to get a goody bag, official beer, and the all important tasting glass. The Homebrew Expo was officially open so we decided to go explore all the new gear. First person I ran into was Michael Dawson, of BrewingTv fame, who served me my first beer of the fest, Every both we got some sort of swag, yeast, hops, grain, stickers, shirts, hats, etc. Our bag quickly filled up within minutes. We checked out the PicoBrew and all the new Blichmann gear. The Cornical looks to be pretty cool, a conical and corney keg in one. There were beers on tap at every booth. We sampled several before our first seminar.

2:00 pm - We attended our first seminar, Brew like an All Star with Homebrew Celebs, Denny Conn and Drew Beechum. There had a fun and entertaining talk which include a sing a long . The talk was about the types of homebrewers and identifying all stars in the community and what it takes to be an all star.

3:00 pm - We had planned to attend the next seminar on the fast lager method but were getting hungry and decided to check out the Pratt Ale house across the street from the convention center. Pratt Ale offers Oliver's Breweries English style beers. I had a great mild and ESB on Nitro. I had a great roasted turkey sandwich to refuel for the long evening. 

5:00 pm - It was time for the official Welcome and Toast which featured Sam Calagione of DogFish Head Brewing, Charlie Papizan, founder of the AHA, and the Governor of Maryland (first governor ever to attend a homebrew conference) We sat with two ladies from Jersey who owned a brew on premise shop and some local Maryland brewers. One was born and raised from Lee's Summit, MO... small world. The officially toast beer was Biere de Provence from DogFish Head. It was not my thing. Way too much clove. After the toast, the early flight was starting to take its toll. We were fading fast and found a local coffee shop to get some caffeine in us and a chance to just sit and relax before the Craft Brewers Welcome Party.

7:30 pm - Welcome Party was a lot of fun. Hadn't been to a beer festival in a long time where I didn't know most of the breweries. It was refreshing to have no opinions on most of the breweries there and just enjoy what they had to offer. It featured all the local Maryland and regional breweries plus many of the larger breweries in the US, including our home town brewery, Boulevard. Here are some of the notes I wrote down of beers I tried: Adroit Theory Brewery had a huge line all night for their beers. One of the most fascinating things I had was from Moonlight Meadery, Sour Imperial Stout Braggot! Lost Rhino had a huge line for a beer called Bretty McBrett Face. Ballast Point Sour Wench was a beer I kept coming back for. Mad Fox Brewing had the best IPA we tried all night, Orange Whip IPA. Love Sierra Nevada Otra Vez. Only offering from Boulevard was Sixth Glass, yes please.   

10:30 pm - We faded fast and made the smart plan to head back to the hotel early to get a good night sleep.

Great way to spend my 39th Birthday!!!

Day 2 - Time to Get After it

8:00 am - We woke up fairly early with excitement and decided to go get some hot breakfast around the corner of the hotel. Belvedere Bagels ran by two Russian guys made a big classic breakfast for me. Perfect fuel for my day ahead

9:00AM We went to the first seminars of the day. I picked how Specialty Malt influences Foam. This was probably the most technical talk I attended. Lots of info that went over my head but essentially if you want good head retention you want to use malt with lots of protein.

10:00 am - Identifying and Avoiding Oxidation - Probably the best talk I went to that really made me think about my current process in dealing with transferring beer. Lots of cool DIY tools to think about implementing in my home brewery setup. Several things to test out for myself. High recommend pulling this one up when it post to the AHA website. (Members Only section)

11:30 am - Small Beer Strategies. A pair of brothers talk about their barrel program. Biggest take away from this talk is the importance of having lots of different beers for blending purposes. It was good validation for what I've been doing with my small barrel program. 

12:30 pm - We knew we were going to go have an early dinner so we decided to just go back downstairs and hang out at the homebrew expo and social area. The first couple of times through the expo we were just grabbing swag. This time we took the time to talk to the vendors and listen to their sales talk and ask questions. The guys from had some awesome kits that actually included two recipes for the purpose of blending. Some really fun beers to try. Vanilla Stoutachino was my favorite. During this time there were a lot of book signings going on in designated spot. Andrew was really hoping to have John Palmer sign his How to Brew book but the line was too long for him. I stopped by the Sam Adams booth which was featuring the winners from their Longshot contest. Tim Thomssen from Lincoln, was one of the winners with his, Berliner with Raspberries. It's a great beer that I think you can still find around town. The Jaded Brewing guys convinced me to order one of their immersion chillers that will be a nice upgrade for my electric setup. We voted for the National bottle label finals. I ate most of my votes because they gave us smarties to put in the bottle's we liked. Grow a Pear was perfect. I was able to talk with Drew Beechum about his Guacamole Saison, look out Nanobrew Fest. We took the time to stop in the social area to try some of the local club's homebrew. Luckily I was a Boy Scout and I was prepared with some lunch snacks to hold us over until our crab dinner.

2:00 pm - How to Start a Homebrew Charity event - Great talk from a group in Pittsburgh that put on a nanobrew like fest for charity that raises almost 25k a year!!! Got me thinking about all the homebrew events we have going around KC. Really think the community needs to try to combine some of the events and put on a bigger style event for charity. I'm looking at you September events, aka, BrewTopia, High Plains, LS Oktoberfest, KC Homebrew Fest. We need to have a pow wow session for 2017 events.

3:15 pm - Craft Lagers - a very interesting talk about the history of Lager beer, pre-prohibition, and how some of the old recipes and labels are coming back to market. Had an awesome Dopplebock from Gordon Biersch during the seminar that I must of gotten 5-6 pours that made me start to feel happy. I need to visit KC's Gordon Biersch again its been too long. I wanted to stop by the Milk the Funk bottle share event after this seminar but we were hungry for crab, plus I didn't even think about bringing some of my funk beers to share.

4:30 pm- We knew at some point of the trip we had to go get some crab. I've been to Baltimore a few times for work and we always went to more of touristy style restaurant. I did my research and found that LP Steamers was the place to go. It was about 10 minute drive from the convention center on the south side of Baltimore. We got a dozen large crabs, some apps, and pitcher of Yuengling for under $100, great deal!! Perfect fuel for Club Night. As we were walking out I noticed an older gentleman that had a Lawrence Brewers Guild shirt on. Found out he was from Jersey and he had traded shits with an LBG member at the 2014 convention, such a small world. 

6:30 pm - We smell awful from dinner so we decide to go back to the hotel to take a quick shower and change clothes. My hands still smell like crab some how. It liked soaked into my skin. Oh well we got to get to Club Night. So I've heard for years that Club Night is epic. So my expectations were very high.

7:30 pm - Club Night!!! Holy Shit!!! Its like KC Nanobrew Fest on crack - We got there a few minutes early to arrive to a large crowd waiting to get in. Once the door opened we quickly got in to the sound of a live Blue Grass band with booths everywhere. Groups doing cheers and singing songs and of course beer just every where. I heard a lot of numbers being tossed around on how many kegs were at HomebrewCon, 2000, 3400, my guess it was somewhere in between. It was really cool to see the different groups organized by region. New Yorkers over there, dudes from Rhode Island in the corner, Texas, etc. Many of the groups dress in costume to represent their region. Homebrewers really know how to go all out. One of my favorite groups was from Staten Island, the Bru-Tang-Clan. I love the Wu-Tang Clan so they quickly became my favorite group and I demanded they make me an honorary member. I've got some bru-tang-clan swag now. It was hard to keep track of all the beers. I did notice some trends. Lots of Pineapple in different styles. Lots of Real Ale. Lots of Mead. Sadly I didn't have many good IPA's. The best beer I had was a simple Prickly Pear Wit from a lady in the DC Homebrewers group. It was excellent had several trips back to them. One of the weirdest things I had was a beer that included Jamican Jerk Chicken spice. I tasted like it was advertised. Surprisingly no Skeeterpee. Pics speak for themselves.

11:30 pm - Lets keep the party going, We knew we had to check out Max's Taphouse. Max's Taphouse is located in the historic Fell's Point area of Baltimore. Its basically their Westport but older and bigger. Max's is one of the top craft beer bars in America, featuring 1000's of bottles, 102 taps, and 5 cask. They had special releases and tappings all week from HomebrewCon. We decided to try a few local limited releases on tap and ended the night with a bottle of 2013 Boulevard Saison Brett, it was Saison Brett release week after all in KC. 2013 was wonderful I suggest you open it up if you have one sitting around. Beyonce was in town that night who played to a sold out football stadium. So Fell's Point was pretty electric with people everywhere. We were hoping Beyonce would stop by for a beer.

2:00 am - Last call at Fell's Point. It was a wild scene. I quickly convinced Andrew that nothing good is going to happen after 2am. We found a Joe's Pizza type place to get some drunk food in us, called for an Uber, and got back to the hotel. Oh crap, forgot this hotel is old and there is no elevator. Walking up 4 flights of stairs is not fun after a long day of drinking. We slammed some Gatorade and Advil and quickly passed out.

Day 3 - Let's Rally !!!!

8:00 am - Very painful waking up to sun shining in my face. Room still spinning a little. Thought about just sleeping in. My heart told me to get up and suck it up for the conference. I yelled to Andrew, Let's Rally!!!. Took a quick shower and pounded some water. Was able to slowly get a breakfast bar down my stomach. I could tell Andrew was struggling pretty bad but we rallied like champs and got to back to the convention center for the morning seminars. Hangover came in strong waves about every 5 to 10 minutes but we held it together like true champs.

9:00 am - History of the Grissette and Saison - Interesting talk on traditional Belgian techniques and ingredients. Grissette is one of those styles I've got on my brew schedule to try. Very light crowd and the ones that were there looked like the picture below.  

10:00 am - Starting a communal sour program - Best talk of the whole trip. Essentially a homebrew club dedicated to making nothing but lambics. They put out about 300 gallons a year and at the last festival they went too they served 17 different lambics. Lots of great details on the blending process and how to manage yeast and bacteria cultures. I'm going to try to get something going in KC. Look for a similar group in KC soon.

11:30 am - The Good Life - a Homebrew Club that makes crazy money.  Essentially they sell beer at a huge ren fest every year and also organize other events. This group has a 32k yearly budget and has donated over 100K to charities in the past 5 years. With all their money they are able to pay members competition entries and shipping, pay for group brews, pay to take awesome trips. Its amazing what people are capable of.

12:30 pm - We had hoped to attend a free Spiegalau seminar but by the time we got there it was full. It was a first come first serve event. AHA needs to do better here and make it a pre sign up. I really needed some new Spiegalau glasses but it was probably good we stayed away from the beer.

12:45 pm - We were feeling pretty crummy. We decided to walked to the inner harbor. It was a beautiful day with tons of people out in about. We were looking for a local BBQ joint that we had a free beer coupon but decided to keep lunch simple and went to Noodles and Company because sounded good for the stomach and really got the energy back up.

2:00 pm - Hoppy Sour Beers by the Mad Fermentationist. The Mad Fermetationist is one of the best beer blogs out there and Michael literally wrote the book on Sour Beer. We had the privilege to try several of his hoppy sour beers and got some great advice on how to use hops with sour beers.

3:00 pm - I really wanted to go to this talk about the Farmhouse Ale. It was from a guy in St. Louis that is starting a farmhouse only brewery, Wellspent Brewing Co. We were fading fast though and decided to go back to the hotel and get a nap in before the Grand Banquet. Hadn't taken a good afternoon nap in a long time. I highly suggest it.

5:30 pm - Alarm went off. Nap is exactly what we needed. We got dressed up which consisted of a work shirt and shorts and headed to the Grand Banquet. Apparently people wait in line to get the best tables and have a huge bottle share. 

6:00 pm -When we got there most the tables were full we were able to find a table in the back with some New England guys. Meeting new people at homebrew events is when of my favorite things. We reminisced about seminars and beers we tried the last few days. Talked about each others homebrew setups and clubs. These guys had an awesome hook up from Sam Adams. They get a freshly dumped Utopias barrel every year and do different projects. They currently have a Black Currant mead aging in Utopias barrel. I made sure to give them more info so they can send me a bottle.

6:30 pm - Dinner was okay. A little disappointing considering the price. I think I'm a little spoiled from the KCBM competition banquet which is incredible. I set my expectations based on that. I was also pretty worn out from the whole ideal. The first two courses were the highlight, Watermelon and tomato salad and Crab Paella. Main dish was a pork loin, potatoes, and collard greens. It was really good but really basic. Dessert was really disappointing caramel popcorn and chocolate covered pretzel. The beer pairings were okay too. My favorite was the Port City Pilsner with the salad.

8:00 pm - My excitement built up all evening in the anticipation for the Final round of the National Homebrew Competition results. There were almost 8000 entries this year at 12 First Round locations. I had a dopplebock in category 5. There were several other local guys in the finals but weren't' there. I didn't medal but it was still fun to have that hope of being able to go up there and get your medal in front of 3000 people. I did get to yell for a local guy, Sean McCambridge from ZZ Hops, who took a Silver for his English Barleywine!

9:30 pm - There was an after party after the banquet featuring some of the award winners but we decided we had enough and went back to the hotel to start backing up for the early flight home. 

11:00 pm - After going through our swag we estimated at least $150 worth of stuff was going home with us. We decided to do a quick chill on the officially beer of the conference, India Pale Lager by Flying Dog, and have one last toast to a great conference.

Day 4 - Going home , Thanks Baltimore

6:00 am - Uber to the airport. Have to say we didn't wait more than 5 minutes for an Uber all trip. Found out a lot of the drivers live in the neighborhood where the hotel was. 

7:00 am - We got through BWI super fast. I kind of hope when they build the new KCI they consider the BWI setup its a great airport. Got some coffee and ran into several people we had met through out the fest it was fun to say our good byes and hope to them again next year. We got home before noon with a quick layover in STL.

Have to say Baltimore was great. A lot of people have been grumbling about it being there this year because of recent events and overall reputation Baltimore has had. We had no issues. Everyone was friendly. Seem to be lots of new things being built around town. It was clean and a lot of fun. Wish we would of came an extra day to explore the city more. Royals were at Camden yards the night before. Group went to go see the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. tons of breweries around the area. I really wanted to take a 45 minute trip to Alexandria,VA to visit Port city. 

I highly recommend going. I've already got next year on the calendar. June 15-17 in Minneapolis. 6 hour drive should make a great opportunity to have a large KC presence. I know several of the clubs are already making plans to participate in club night.

A little break down of my expenses. 

AHA membership $43 annually - You have to be a member to register for the conference and compete in the competition. Magazine is worth it alone. Member discounts are great.

Full Conference Early Bird price $230 (early bird is just like $10 off) They do offer a $190 social only package which just includes the homebrew expo, Craftbeer Welcome party and Club night. 

Grand Banquet and NHC awards - $65 - I would prefer to have this option if I knew I was in the finals but it sells out quickly and they don't offer a no dinner option. It would be nice if they did have an option for people who made finals that just wants to come and listen. Met several people who had entries in the finals but weren't' able to get a ticket to the banquet. That isn't right. Hopefully they will see my comments from the survey on this subject and consider changing.

Flight - I was luckily and had enough Southwest Points to cover. You need to get a Southwest Rewards Card if you don't have one. Its a no brainer.

Hotel - Andrew and I both were able to take care of one night with our points and paid for one night at about $100

Uber Rides - We took turns paying. We each paid about $70 for Uber rides which includes round trip to the airport.

Food and extras - Around $200. I came home with a sweet Carhart AHA hoodie. 

Hopefully that gives you some idea on what to save for
Save $25-$50 a month and make your plans. We should be able to have a huge group from KC up there next year. 

Hope to get back to writing some more homebrew articles here in the future.


David Schumacher @schumacherdavid

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