National Homebrewers Conference – San Diego CA: June 11-June14, 2015

I haven’t blogged in a while since I’ve been pretty busy, but luckily some of the stuff that’s kept me busy has been beer related, so there will be some content soon! We’ll start out with a recap of the NHC Conference two weeks ago.

The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) conference in San Diego was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.  In fact, I joined the AHA purely to go to the conference, which is open to members only.  Even though I hadn’t been brewing for very long I knew the conference would be a great opportunity to learn a lot, and boy was I right, so much so it was almost overwhelming.

I had never been to San Diego before, so when I landed I dropped my stuff off at the hotel and then jumped on the trolley and headed down to the Gaslamp district.  I had a couple hours to kill before stuff kicked off at the conference and I wanted to head down to the Hard Rock and get a guitar pin (my wife and I collect them).  I walked down the waterfront for a little while and went down to the docks to see the USS Midway.  I didn’t have time to take the full tour but even from the outside it’s an impressive sight.

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Sadly, I didn’t have too much time to explore but I had enough time to determine that next chance I get I want to go back and spend some more time there.  I headed back to the Conference and jumped right into the action with my first seminar which was “Brewing with Experimental Hops” and it turned out to be a really cool presentation.  Basically the guys had Yakima/Hop Union had a new hop hybrid that they thought had some great potential, but rather than release it to commercial brewers first as the normally do, they are releasing it into the homebrew market first to see what kind of wild and crazy things homebrewers will do with it rather than your run of the mill Pale Ales and IPAs.  They let us taste beer made with the hops and also gave us samples of the hops to take home which I can’t wait to brew with.

The first night was the Welcome Reception which was essentially a beer festival with all the local breweries pouring samples for the attendees.  I jokingly referred to this as Pokemon night… as in “gotta catch them all”. Suffice it to say I did not catch them all.  There were way to many to get through safely in one night, but I managed to taste samples from Russian River, Rock Bottom, Oskar Blues, Stone, Mission Brewery, Belching Beaver, Coronado, Karl Strauss, Green Flash, Figueroa Mountain and probably a few others.  I got to try a couple of big name beers, most notably Russian River’s Pliny the Elder.  It had a long line but I figured I might as well try it.  I have to say, while it was quite good, it didn’t blow me away as the best beer I’d ever had. But it just got voted as the best beer in the World for the seventh year straight in the AHA member poll, so what do I know right?

The second day was all business, well… mostly.  I had several more seminars I wanted to go to.  I had so many scheduled in fact I had to drop a couple when I realized I would miss out on everything else since the seminars overlapped the hours for the expo and the other special events.  I ended up attending three seminars the second day.  Roasted vs Kilned specialty Malts, Intro to Professional Quality Assurance and Hands on Activities for Mastering Beer Styles.  Thankfully all the seminars are archived on the AHA website so I can go back and catch the ones I missed.  I also spend a good amount of the time on the Expo floor checking out ingredients, tasting samples and drooling over fancy equipment.  The one that impressed me the most was an all in one system that was essentially a fancy conical bottom fermentor with some added equipment and a grain strainer and you would do your mash, sparge, boil and then ferment all in the same vessel.  For someone who currently brews in a very small footprint this was very impressive.

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The second evening’s festivities was Club Night.  This was another beer festival essentially, but this time with homebrew clubs pouring the beers.  Clubs from all over the country participated although most were from near by in California.  Easier to drive with kegs than ship or fly with them.  As much as I hated to admit it for a homebrewing conference I wasn’t as excited about this night as I was the pro night the night before.  I also didn’t want to “party hard” two nights in a row, so I planned on taking it easy the second night but I still got to try a decent amount of beer, some better than others.  The great thing about homebrewers is they try all kinds of crazy concoctions… the bad thing is they don’t always turn out that great.  I heard rumors of a Clam Chowder Saison that was out there, and there were all kinds of sour beers since those are all the rage now.  Also in typical homebrew style, there were a couple of beers with just staggering alcohol percentages like a barrel aged stout that clocked in at 18% and several that were in the 10-11% range.  Taster beware for sure.  I fairly quickly had my fill and called it a night.

By the third day I was starting to get overwhelmed.  So much information to absorb and being around large crowds which absolutely drains me.  I was determined to press on.  I concentrated mostly on my seminars.  I was “Expo’d out” at this point.  There’s only so long you can walk around looking at the same stuff, most of which is equipment you can’t afford and don’t have room for so it starts to get discouraging.  I attended four seminars on the fourth day.  Mastering the Art of Hop-Fu (How to brew a medal winning IPA), Intro to Experimentation, Growing your own Hops and lastly Sensory and Flavor Training for Brewers.  The “brain is full” feeling lasted most of the day, but I finished strong in the last seminar which was a demonstration of some common off flavors and their causes which was extremely useful.

The last night of the conference was the Grand Banquet.  A plated dinner of some really awesome food all paired with beers from the evening’s sponsor Lagunitas.  We had a pilsner, IPA, Lagunita Sucks (double IPA) and finished with dessert and an espresso stout. Very tasty.

After the dinner a few of us headed out to a couple San Diego nightlife spots in the famous North Park neighborhood.  We stopped in at the Blind Lady Ale house which had a great selection of local brews plus a small on site brewery, and then the Toronado Public House, which had a great selection of local brews but also had bottled offerings from Cascade Barrel House and Hair of the Dog, as well as Deschutes Abyss on draft.  Great to see Portland beers represented in another beer crazy city like San Diego.

All in all, an amazing trip and I learned a ton, but still was able to cut loose and have fun a little bit.  I can’t wait for the next conference I get to go to.  Sadly, I already know I won’t make the 2016 conference in Baltimore, but here’s hoping for 2017!