The 39th Annual National HomebrewCon took place at the Minneapolis Convention Center last weekend. Homebrewers, Beer Judges, and beer geeks converged on Minneapolis for 3 days of non-stop education, libation, and celebration. Myself and Eric Wentling were there to cover the entire conference for Beerploma. Eric has been to numerous Homebrew Cons and is a decorated homebrewer. Homebrew Con 2017 was my first and I am very much a homebrewing novice. We both are going to be penning our experiences from different perspectives. There is at least one thing that these pieces will have in common: Homebrew Con 2017 was a spectacular time.
National Homebrew Con 2017: Day 1
Since this was my first Homebrew Con, I appreciate that the AHA(American Homebrewers Association) provided a myriad of resources for first-timers. I wanted to be able to enjoy and learn as much as I could. Knowing it is a 3 day event, it is a marathon and not a sprint. I had to make sure I was sampling the beers and keeping a clear head to be able to do my job of covering the event.
Everywhere you go on the Homebrew Con website, there are constant reminders to stay hydrated. The day before, you would have thought that I was going in for some type of ultrasound I was drinking so much water. Hydration is important at an event like the Homebrew Con. Beer is literally available whenever you want it and with great power comes great responsibility.
Paranoia about getting too into my cups seemed to get the better of me. I brought enough gatorade and food to sustain a 4th ring suburb. After an uneventful Lyft ride from my house (another thing that is a must if you really want to enjoy yourself) I made it downtown around 1:30 on Thursday. I checked in, got my badge, and picked up my swag back. The swag bag had hop pellets, yeast samples, fruit puree samples, a bottle of Whales Brah from Surly, and a nice bottle of mead.
Homebrew Expo and Social Club
I was anxious to get to the show floor to walk around. My eyes were as wide as a Budweiser endcap display in a liquor store as I gazed around the area. A colossal expanse of beer exhibits as far as the eye could see. My focus rested on the middle area of the warehouse-sized room at the gigantic pint glass. I was home!!
As soon as I met up with Eric and Sarajo I said, “I need some beer!” and Eric told me that Lupulin’s Hashy IPA was being poured right around the corner at the YCH booth. I got a pour of Hashy in my tasting glass and we began to walk around. As I thought to myself that this place is Disney World for beer geeks, the homebrew equivalent of Walt Disney, Charlie Papazian, walked by. Charlie Papazian, the father of homebrew and Founder of the Brewers Association, is someone whose passion for homebrewing and writing inspire me. I hesitated a minute to get his attention. However, Sarajo, being the go-getter that she is, flagged him down. Before I knew it, I was getting a fist bump and a picture with him.
After meeting my first beer celebrity of the day, it was off to all the fun displays. Briess Malting, Brewers Supply Group (BSG), Rahr Malting, Country Malt Group, Anvil Brewing Equipment, Beer Dust, Spike Brewing, More Beer, Blichmann, and BeerSmith all had displays. The floor was a smorgasbord of brewing toys and gadgets. At the BeerSmith table, the inventor of the BeerSmith software himself, Brad Smith, was talking with people. I listen to his BeerSmith podcast religiously. It was fun chatting with him in person and he gave me some great pointers on some equipment to buy to up my homebrew game. I was also excited that he was going to be giving a talk on Saturday about recipe creation. Speaking of sessions, the time was drawing near to go to my first session!
Hold My Beer And Watch Me Science
If you know me, you know that Science is not my strong suit. I can pinpoint the place where I totally disengaged from learning science in high school: the mole road map. However, I thought it would be a fun session. It is never a bad idea to learn more about science if you want to become a better homebrewer. The session did not disappoint. The presenters were fabulous. Denny Conn and Drew Beechum from Experimental Brewing and Malcolm Frazer and Marshall Schott from Brülosophy comprised a fantastic panel of experts. Sarcasm and repartee were sprinkled in amongst a rich discussion about fine-tuning your homebrew. By using triangular testing and a little bit of science, they explained how you can make your homebrew better. I thought that this session was approachable despite my scientific and intellectual shortcomings.
After that session, my brain hurt and I headed back to the social area to get some beer and decompress. I had about 20 minutes to kill before the keynote address by Omar Ansari, the founder of Surly Brewing Company. I also realized that between now and the kick-off party, I would have to get some food. Remembering that water is your friend and food is your guardian angel, I planned to get to Britt’s Pub for some fish and chips after the keynote.
Keynote Address From Omar Ansari
In a rather warmish auditorium, there was a keynote address from a luminary of the MN beer scene. It seemed apropos that Omar Ansari, a man who put a lot of time and effort into getting the taproom bill passed back in 2011. This legislation transformed MN into a craft beer destination. Ansari delivered the narrative of his early days as a homebrewer and how that brought about the idea of Surly. The speech had moments of humor which I liked. The sentiment that Surly will always work to be different than macro beer resonated with the crowd.
Surly detractors might find these words ringing a bit hollow after all that has transpired with Surly in the last couple years. Recently, Surly announced the closure of their Brewer’s Table, a fine-dining option at Surly, and the departure of their Head Chef, Jorge Guzman. This comes on the coattails of a year when Todd Haug, their brewmaster, left the brewery to move onto Three Floyds. Some in the beer community feel that Surly would be an ideal candidate to be acquired by a larger entity. However, it would seem that Ansari has no plans to put Surly up for sale.
Regardless of where you stand on Surly’s transformation over the years, Omar’s passion and love of beer is as steadfast now as it was back when he first started homebrewing. To me, that was the real take away from the speech. Ansari even joked about breaking the Internet in MN when he tweeted that he and Jacob Leinenkugel (owned by SAB Miller at the time) had a big announcement. As far as keynotes go, his story was fun to listen to and it definitely generated a lot of fun dinner discussion.
After a nice walk to Britt’s Pub and a base layer of fish and chips, it was time for the Kick-Off Party. The Kick-Off party is a collection of local and regional breweries pouring some fantastic beers for the Homebrew Con attendees. Several breweries showcasing beers brewed with ingredients furnished by the Country Malt Group and YCH Hops were on display. I certainly wanted to try these beers along with many others.
There was bean bag toss and live music to create a beer festival atmosphere. There was ample seating at the Kick-Off Party. I appreciated this because after being on concrete for the entire day my feet were killing me. Walking around, it seemed like they could have done a better job spacing out the booths because there were some areas that created huge bottlenecks of people.
I did my best to get around and try all the breweries. However, with over 50 breweries and no backup liver, that wasn’t happening. I was being really picky about what I drank. If it was something I had tried before, I skipped it. After all was said and done, I think I did a pretty good job of making my way around. Here is a truncated list of beers that really stood out:
Dangerous Man Oyster Stout
A nice roasty, chocolaty stout with decent body and a touch of salinity from the oysters. This is one of only a handful of oyster stouts I have had and made me want to try more. The line for the beers at Dangerous Man were long all night and I believe that they were the first to run out of most of their beers.
Tin Whiskers Session Pale Ale
This was made with malt from the Country Malt Group. Tin Whiskers’ Head Brewer, Derek Brown, told me that this is something that will make an appearance in the taproom because of its balance. He really liked the body this beer achieved and I have to agree with him.
Urban Chestnut Zwickel Bier
This was a guest brewery from St. Louis, another craft beer hotbed of activity as of late. This beer stood out to me because it was clean and crisp. A perfect style for summer that is woefully underrepresented in our local craft beer market. I was happy to try several beers from Urban Chestnut and would gladly visit their brewery the next time I am in St. Louis.
Roets Brewing Mango Gose
Refreshing, balanced, and fruity are terms that you can use to describe this fantastic beer from Roets Brewing. This style has really come into its own and I am happy that brewers are taking it a step further with different fruit flavors. I didn’t want to be greedy, but I did go back for several tastes of this fantastic brew.
Modist Brewing Red Tide Session IPA
Perhaps the most appropriate beer of the night because it was the beer that Josh Hoover brewed for a pro-am competition. The beer took 2nd place in a competition and he sent the recipe to Modist. Modist then brewed it on a large scale and used Red X and coffee malt from the Country Malt Group in the beer. This might be my favorite Session IPA to date. I don’t normally like Session IPAs because they are thin and too astringent for my palate. However, this one had a nice malt character to balance the hops.
There were other beers of course, but the time was waning. I ordered up my Lyft back home. Of course, it wouldn’t be right for me to go a whole day without a strange Lyft experience. I always make sure to enter in a drop-off destination so that the driver knows where they are going. Perhaps my mistake is assuming that a Lyft driver would know anything about the local streets and highways. After getting into the car, the driver enters in my address (I watched him do this) and I could see the route on the screen of his phone taking us to St. Paul. His next question was, “So, we are going to Brooklyn Park, correct?”
Well, after I had to prompt him pretty much every step of the way to get on the highway, I made it home no worse for the wear. I chugged a glass of water and set my alarm for a nice rest. Tomorrow was going to be a fuller day and I wanted to get a good seat for my 9 am session.
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