The 39th Annual National Homebrew Con 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. My article chronicling day 1 of the Homebrew Con is here. 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.
Homebrew Con 2017: Day 2
Mr. Lyft’s Wild Ride
With day 1 in the books, I set my sights on day 2 of Homebrew Con. I downsized to one bag so I could travel a bit lighter. I made sure that I had gatorades, extra phone battery, and pens. This time I brought my copy of Microbrewed Adventures by Charlie Papazian to get signed. After doing a checklist I scheduled my Lyft pickup and awaited my 4-door sedan chariot. In my naieveté, I hoped for a driver who could understand Google Maps and navigate the city.
Funny thing about hopes and dreams, when they don’t turn out or come to fruition; it is a nightmare. A gentleman picked me up in an older Lexus and something seemed a bit off from the start. He began taking obscure side streets. Fine, maybe there was traffic or construction. However,when he started to pull off into the MN State Fairgrounds, I piped in and asked him what the heck he was doing.
He claimed that there was construction on Snelling. While he was correct with that assumption, it was in the complete opposite direction of where we were going. So, I get him on the right track and assure him that if he stays on Snelling to 94W we are all good. He nods his head, which I assume means he understands. The next thing I know we are weaving our way through the neighborhood over by Newell Park and I am really getting nervous. I did leave with plenty of time to spare, but if this joker was attempting to take a route that even the city planners didn’t know existed, I was certainly going to be late.
We emerged onto University Ave. and I figured we were back on the right track. I was wrong, he blows past the exit to 94 West and I am thinking that this ride has turned into a parade of homes tour. It isn’t until we avoid our 3rd chance to get on 94 that he explains that his GPS isn’t working. So, now not only are we lost, he is driving dangerously because he is trying to restart his GPS. I was maintaining a calm presence of mind until I realized that we were now pretending to be in Britain and driving on the wrong side of the road. I piped in, “Dude, what the hell?!?!” and he went back into his lane.
I saw the light at the end of the tunnel as we were going towards the 94 exit. However, at the last minute, he darts into the 94 East exit lane and I yelled at him using language that left little room for confusion. A few middle fingers and a horn blast later, we were on our way to get on 94 W and I am looking at my phone which says 9:01. At this point I am furious. I wanted to get a good seat for the Charlie Papazian session and now I was a minute late and Mario Andretti still needed to figure out the streets of downtown Minneapolis. I directed him to the Convention Center, got out as the car was stopped at a light and bid him farewell.
Power walking and cursing silently to myself, I speed down the hall to the room where my 9 am session is already underway. I get in at 9: 12 and to my relief, there are some decent seats left. I grab a spot on the aisle and get out my camera. The session is being moderated by Chip Walton and Tom Dalldorf. It is a very interesting question and answer session with Charlie Papazian. This session stood out to me because of its historical nature to how beer has evolved recently in this country.
Charlie is a very soft-spoken and affable presenter. He talks with candor and humor. I like that he still brews once a month using very simple equipment. He made it clear that he likes to keep it simple. An audience member asks Charlie if he ever thought about opening up a brewery. Charlie’s answer is priceless, “Yes, I’ve thought about it. And that is why I will never open one.” Charlie understands that running a brewery is a ton of work and he is content to homebrew every now and again and enjoy beer.
My takeaway from this is session is that Charlie believes that homebrewing is still a great way to enjoy beer, educate yourself on what beer can be, and that we shouldn’t get take it too seriously to the point where it isn’t fun. After the session, I approached Charlie with my copy of Microbrewed Adventures, and asked if he could sign it. He was happy to do so and I was, again, starstruck.
Lagers to Lambics: Hard Stuff the Easy Way
As someone who wants to attempt lagers at some point, this session appealed to me. I knew I would learn a lot about some styles that definitely take a high level of expertise to brew. I did not realize how many times I would find myself laughing at the dry humor that that Brian Hall and Derek Springer infused into their presentation.
Thanks to the knowledge I gleaned, lagers make a lot more sense to me. Lambics will at some point make a lot more sense to me, but the foundation of knowledge is there. Derek shared a cool tidbit of knowledge that he learned from Patrick Rue of the Bruery in regards to brewing big beers.
In order to not stress out the yeast, hitting the beer with small doses of sugar at a time during fermentation is the way to go. This method keeps the fermentation process going constantly will get your beer’s gravity up over time effectively.
Brian Hall is definitely someone who has a wealth of knowledge about using fruit in beer. If I were ever to approach that process, what he taught us about process and sanitation will come in handy. He also made it clear that using the same fruit again can result in some really fantastic beer.
Social Club Time
I had reached a point in my brain where it would have been difficult to fit in any more information. It was time to head to the Social Club area and sample some homebrew from some of the clubs that were pouring. One of the local MN homebrew clubs, The Primary Fermenters, that I have followed on Facebook was there pouring a plethora of great homebrew. There were so many of my favorite styles to choose from and I was definitely in my happy place. What struck me about the Primary Fermenters was the absolute high level of quality in the beers that they were serving. To he honest, there are some commercial breweries that could learn a thing or two from these folks.
In between sips of great beer, I had a lot of fun chatting with some of the Primary Fermenters folks. They are truly a fun group and cordially invite me to attend a meeting sometime. I think that I will definitely take them up on their offer. Some of the beer highlights for me where the Tripel, Coffee Stout, and Blueberry Ginger Ale that they had on tap. Such quality and depth of flavor in all of their offerings.
While I would have liked to hang out at the Social Club all afternoon drinking fantastic homebrew, I had another session to learn about identifying off-flavors in beer.
Common Beer Off Flavors and Fixes
Ok, get the jokes about Bud Light Lime out of your system because that is not what this section is about. Have you ever tried a beer and it just tasted off? Again, not talking about Bud Light Lime. Maybe you tasted butterscotch, or heaven forbid, smelled sweaty socks? Believe it or not, those are some of the many off flavors that can exist in beer when it is not brewed, handled or stored properly.
Amaey Mundkur and Pat Fahey are both experts when it comes to sensory training. As someone who drinks a lot of beer myself, I felt that this session was a must. The presenters took us through how to properly taste and smell the beer we drink. This may sound like a no-brainer, but believe me, there is quite a bit to this. No, proper tasting technique does not involve shotgunning a beer.
The session also covered 4 of the more common off flavors in beer. We all started with five glasses, one was filled with Surly Hell. This was the control sample. The other four samples of Surly Hell would each be hit with an off flavor.
DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide)
This is a flavor that often smells like creamed corn or sweet corn to people. To me, it is a very tricky flavor to pick up because I don’t think that I have ever actually eaten creamed corn. Like any problem, it is important to know how to avoid it. DMS can be avoided by boiling your wort vigorously and then cooling it down as fast as possible to the temp where you can safely pitch the yeast.
This is off flavor smells and tastes buttery or like butterscotch. The weird thing about this off flavor is that it is acceptable in style like ESB in smaller amounts. However, most of the time, it does not belong. To me, if I think about candy corn when I taste the sample, the Diacetyl jumps out of the beer. Diacetyl is formed when yeast is fermenting sugars into alcohol. It can be avoided by doing what is called a Diacetyl rest during fermentation. You don’t have to worry about this as much if you are brewing an ale, but you do need a Diacetyl rest if you are brewing a lager.
In order to do this, you need to bring the fermentation temperature to a 55-60°F and leave it there for several days near the end of fermentation. When you do this, the yeast will clean up the Diacetyl in the beer and then you can continue on with your fermentation. Props to Eric Wentling for explaining this to me in great detail!
This off flavor often tastes and smells like green apple or freshly carved pumpkin. Amaey made the point that with all these off flavors, you need to have a personal point of reference. To him, Acetaldehyde tastes like mung bean, a food he grew up with. It would be really tough to get freshly carved pumpkin out of this off flavor if you have never carved a pumpkin before. Making sure that you are using healthy yeast and not exposing your beer to oxygen will go a long way in avoiding this off flavor in your beer.
When they passed this sample around, I was suddenly in the mood for buffalo wings. Not because I was hungry, but because this off flavor smells like blue cheese to me. Isovaleric off flavors develop in your beer if your hops are not stored properly and degrade over time. This flavor is described as sweaty socks, gym bag, and vomit. This is also a sign of wild bacteria in your yeast. To me, this is by far the most offensive of all the off flavors. It is also the easiest to identify.
The presenters made all this information accessible with humor, which I greatly appreciated. The comedic highlight occurred at the end of the session when some dude a few rows behind me spilled his glass of all four off flavor samples on his shorts. His friend commented, loud enough for all to hear, that his crotch is going to smell like blue cheese and vomit for the rest of the day. And with that, I decided I needed to get to my next session.
Although I was excited about this session, a small part of me that hoped it would be a local community acting troupe combining beer and Night Court in a one hour improv show. There was no improv and instead, I got a metric shit-ton of great information about evaluating beer from Gordon Strong. This session also served beer, which rocked.
While I have never judged a beer competition, I do a lot of beer evaluation for the blog. This session buttressed my base of knowledge with a lot of new ways to think about beer in terms of evaluation. Gordon Strong threw a lot of information at us in a short amount of time, but at no time did I feel lost.
The session was coming to a close and we had a dinner plan to get some Vietnamese food before the main event, Club Night. I was beyond excited for this because many people had been hyping it up the entire conference.
In the space where commercial brewers poured samples of their beer the night before, a contingent of homebrew clubs set up their displays to showcase their beers. Each homebrew club had a different theme to their display. Many of the clubs actually dressed in costumes and had magnificent displays. Others were just pouring their beers with some signage. Either way they chose to do it, the beers on display were nothing short of amazing.
From Pilsners to Meads, the continuum of flavors and styles was awe-inspiring. I did my best to take good notes, but after a while, I decided that the best way to enjoy the night was to put my camera away and just taste the beers and chat with people.
Rather than list beers off that I had, I am just going to say my top 5 homebrew club displays and why I liked them. These are in no particular order, because they were all stellar in their own way.
Their theme was all about Moe’s Tavern from The Simpsons. Moe, the Sea Captain, Lisa, Marge are all in costumes. I think my favorite offering was the Don’t Lay a Finger Butterfinger Stout. This offering was fantastic because of its depth of flavor and mouthfeel. Also, it harkened back to my favorite TV show growing up. They have a crazy line and people really loved their beers!
Midwest Mead Masters
I am a complete novice when it comes to mead. I have been to the Redstone Meadery in Boulder, CO and that is the extent of my mead tasting. The Midwest Mead Masters had a line that went almost across the entire middle of the space, so I had to try what they had. My first mead was something called Julio, a mead made with orange-blossom honey, passionfruit, and green chiles. This had some heat that stayed with me, but not to the point where it was overpowering. I also really enjoyed their A Common Disaster, a mead with mesquite honey, roasted pineapple, and chipotle peppers. This was perhaps one of the best things I tasted all night and the Midwest Mead Masters really showed me that I need to try more meads.
When you combine homebrew and Game of Thrones, I am powerless to resist. These folks had the coolest display of the night in my opinion. They poured fantastic GoT-themed beers, they were dressed as members of the Night’s Watch, and their beer was dispensed self-service via an ice wall. What is not to like about that! I think I tried off of their beers and they had some of my favorite offerings of the night. From their Direwolf Drool (English Porter) to their Ygritte Ginger Sorrel (Mead) I kept coming back for more. The imposing Night’s Watch policing the area with swords and ready to slice your tasting glass in half also added a fun, yet terrifying, element to their display.
Perhaps my favorite name for a beer was brewed by my fellow Beerploma writer and club president, Eric Wentling. The aforementioned Beaver Mittens, I know, the jokes are still rolling around in my head, was a treat. Velvety smooth and roasty as hell, this beer was putting smiles on faces all night long. Their jocky box was hidden by a felt table top resembling a blackjack table. The Beaver Mittens was not the only really awesome stout. I also really liked the Put This Bitch on Nitro beer.
La Crosse Area Grain Enthusiasts and Related Specialists (LAGERS)
This amazing confluence of German Styles was located directly behind the Jack-of-All-Brews display. Much to the delight of my liver, they had many low ABV offerings that were spot-on representations of some of my favorite styles of beer. Their Kölsch-style, Pilsner, Zwickel, Alt, and Doppelbock are all fantastic.
The Club Night was a fantastic array of beer and people. This evening epitomizes why people love to homebrew. There are no style boundaries and you don’t need to make something that everyone has to like. You brew what you want to brew with passion.
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