OK, so anyone who has been paying attention to Beerploma recently knows that Dan has been doing an awesome job of writing up the recent Homebrew Con 2017 that took downtown Minneapolis by storm this past week. I’ve been interested to see his opinion on things as a first-timer and relatively recent homebrewer. Me? Oh, I’m a jaded old bastard for sure! I’ve been homebrewing for over 25 years and have seen a lot of changes in the hobby over that amount of time, including changes to NHC (National Homebrewer’s Conference) such as the name change to Homebrew Con. I’ll admit, it makes me throw up a little into my mouth every time I have to say that. Since Dan is the wide-eyed newb here, I’ll play the part of the curmudgeonly old man shouting “get off my lawn” at all the young punks out there!
Prologue: Back In My Day…
When I started going to NHC conferences (when it was in Minnesota last in 2010) these were organized by the local clubs and varied quite a bit from location to location and support. My homebrew club (Jack Of All Brews) was a relative newcomer to the scene then and none of us had ever experienced anything like it. That one was in the Blomington Sheraton in the same hotel that still hosts the massive geek-fest of CONvergence, and frankly even with hundreds of homebrewers we were pretty tame compared to that event. Since then, I’ve been these in Seattle, then Grand Rapids, then San Diego, and now back in my home court of Minneapolis. What was once a small Hopitality Suite with a club serving beers, and a few vendors and sponsors, has morphed into a Convention Center Expo with hundreds of vendors and displays as well as tons of commercial beers and homebrew flowing. My friends and I own a small company making pre-measured water salt additions for homebrewing called Beerdust, so I was able to get entry to some of the industry events and into the Expo at odd hours. Unfortunately I missed most of the industry events due to life complications…
Day 1: or Where Can I Find a Beer Around Here?
On the first day I got to the conference a bit late for the first lecture, but had time to wander the Expo looking at all the cool swag give-aways, sign-ups for drawings, games (Donkey Kong you kick my butt again), and of course beer samples. In a way I miss the intimate nature of the old Suite, especially when you had time to talk to the brewers of the beer you were tasting, but all this splendor is still pretty cool. I racked up several small bags of grain, new hops, new yeasts, and more on my walk around the area. I’ve already brewed an experimental IPA with some of these spoils and look forward to the result. This is really like kid-in-a-candy-store kind of action for a homebrewer–even one as jaded as I!
I did make one somewhat disappointing lecture that served some good beer samples but was mostly just Q&A. After this was Omar’s Keynote address (that Dan has gone into more detail on). But dude, why were you wearing a big white jumpsuit that made you look like the Orkin Man???
After dinner with several friends at the crowded Brit’s Pub we returned for the Kick Off Party. This used to be called Pro Night back in the day, but at least hasn’t changed much in practice. Many local (and a few from out of state) breweries served up beers for our own private beer festival minus the amateur Dude-Bros that infest most other beer festivals. I think Minnesota did well for itself with this event. Favorites of the night were Roet’s crazy Mango Gose; also Lupulin brought it strong with 4 amazing hop bombs.
On our way out we were invited to join some JAB members in their room for some socializing (drinking) and made bad decision number one of the weekend by going. What better to do after a beer festival (and samples all day) than go to a room party? What could go wrong here?
Day 2: or Who Am I And Where Are My Pants?
9 AM lecture? I do not think so.
I did get up, caffeinated, and showered in time to get to the 10:15 Meadmaker’s Panel though, and discovered that some of my friends had actually survived the previous evening! It was dicey for a few I think. Several samples of strong meads later (10:15 AM remember?) provided a little Hair o’ the Dog for us during this entertaining talk. I next went to Liquid Time Capsules where Dr. Patrick McGovern discussed the collaborative brews he has done with Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. As a holder of a BS degree in anthropology I got a lot out of this lecture and ended up buying his new book Ancient Brews later in the conference. The second half of that talk was meadmaker Ken Schramm talking about the more modern history of beer, wine and mead making as well as the future of honey production. This talk was a little bleak for those selling commercial mead, but the boysenberry meads he served up were outstanding! Lets hear it for more mead in the morning!
After some much needed lunch and more time wandering the Expo, I went to another talk on Northeast IPA making that pretty good, but I wanted more info on actual hopping rates. I’ll make one soon!
After a hearty dinner of Pho at nearby Lotus we were ready for the crowning glory of the entire week: Club Night. This is where clubs from all over the country set up tables and displays and serve homebrews to a big audience of thirsty homebrewers. This is pure chaos. Brownian motion in homebrewer form. Some of the best beers and meads of the week were served here. So were some of the worst. Like playing the lottery, but if you lose–just clear the palate with something else! My club mates at Jack Of All Brews had a good showing, with some really stellar beers and cool poker themed display for our booth and jockeybox. I’m proud of my club and it’s really fun to see how far we have come since that first NHC in 2010.
Being in the center of the meadmaking mecca that is Minnesota we tried a bunch of great meads (loved Al Boyce’s ginger sorrel mead). Meads are mostly strong. Just so you know. Even in small sample glasses. Other highlights include: Mike Sutor from La Crosse Area Homebrewers served me up a great pilsner and maple barrel RIS. One group set up a booth that looked like Wayne’s World’s basement set. Party on Wayne. Minnesota Homebrewers created a wall of ice with taplines coming out of it and manned the wall with armed members of the Night’s Watch! The Primary Fermenters dressed up like mad scientists and served us beers from the Beerodic Table. Did I mention lots of mead? Maryland’s Free State Homebrew Club Guild served up a Kung Pao Baltic porter that shouldn’t have worked but did.
Chris Burns from BABBLE Homebrewers served up a Nut Goody beer that rocked my world. And…more meads!
And bad decision number 3: Hey let’s go back to Ben’s room and share more beers! If you missed bad decision number 2 it was in the paragraph above…
Day 3: or I Can’t Believe I Drank The Whole Thing
Day 3 dawned (or more accurately nooned) upon a very tired and partied-out couple. I made it to a couple of lectures after some very necessary coffee. But there was never enough caffeine to completely burn through the haze.
This final day of Homebrew Con used to involve a banquet for those who wanted to spring for it, followed by the award ceremony for the the National Homebrew Competition. This year they opted to get rid of the dinner. I think this is just fine since it was always somewhat disappointing for the cost. We jumped right to the awards this year. None of my close friends won any medals this year, but plenty of folks in the audience were excited for sure!
Another new aspect of this year’s event was the Knock-Out party immediately after the awards. They were serving up many bottles of Surly’s commemorative beer, some homebrews, and the extra unlabeled beers from the second round of contest judging. That was kind of interesting–a totally random style and beer if you care to gamble! They had some limited food and snack options as well but not enough for a bunch of hungry homebrewers.
Overall, despite my curmudgeonly take on it, I had a great time at Homebrew Con 2017. It was great having it in our own backyard, and much easier for having your homebrew club have a stand at Club Night. On the other hand, having been to most of our local breweries and beer bars, I didn’t feel the need to go explore these. I kind of like when the conference is in a new city and will take extra days off to go explore the area. Next year is Portland, Oregon!