Over the last several weeks in Minnesota, the atrocious and depressing weather has me waxing nostalgic back to my Beercation To Beervana. A big reason for that trip was to enjoy the Homebrew Con in Portland. The folks at the American Homebrewers Association were kind enough to provide me with a press pass to enjoy the festivities and here is my tale of the conference. After having a ton of fun the year before when the Homebrew Con was in Minneapolis, I thought that Portland would be a sensational experience.
The 2018 Homebrew Con is overtaking Portland, OR, for 3 days. Many refer to Portland as “Beervana,” and after spending ten days there, I can attest that the moniker is well-deserved. One thing that I loved right off the bat was how easy it was to get to the conference without having to drive. The registration came complete with a free Tri-Met card, which means every bus and light-rail ride wouldn’t cost a thing!
The other great thing about the conference being at the Oregon Convention Center is that it is close to many other things. Portland is an incredibly easy city to navigate. The downtown area is compact which makes brewery-hopping simple and hassle-free. Of course, with 3 days of access to masterfully made beers being poured from homebrew clubs across the country, I probably would not need to leave the convention center.
The Conference Expo
After last year’s rookie experience, I knew that to make the most of my experience, I would need to hit the Conference Expo displays early and often to take advantage of all the amazing freebies and giveaways. I loaded up on hops thanks to the amazing display courtesy of YCH Hops. Hops in all forms-pellet, whole-leaf, and Cryo-Hops®-were available and I grabbed a few. After being inspired by the Northwest Pale Ales of Oregon, I definitely want to try to replicate some of those piney and resiny bold hop flavors in my beer.
The BSG booth poured amazing beers the whole time and it was fun to have a chat with Juno Choi, a BSG rep and beer festival organizer from Minnesota. It is always nice to see a familiar and friendly face and we chatted about his Portland experiences over the years. He gave me some great suggestions of things to do while I was in town and I was grateful for that.
After a while, I went over to the social area, a place where different homebrew clubs are pouring beers throughout the conference. I do not understand why they were tucked all the way over in a dimly lit corner. Was the Elephant Man working the bar? The sketchy lighting did not deter me from sampling some wonderful brews. If one wanted to, they could have just sat there all day long and had the time of their lives. However, the Homebrew Con is a marathon and not a sprint and I had a session about malt to get to!
Homebrew Con Education Session Day 1
After looking at the list of Homebrew Con education sessions, I am not superexcited that many of the ones I like are taking place at the same time. Although, I guess if that is the biggest negative, I am doing ok. I select a session called All About That Base: Learning More About Malt Through Sensory Analysis. The session was fantastic thanks to the immeasurable knowledge of Jen Blair, who is involved heavily with the Craft Maltsters Guild.
The session helped me understand the nuances of malt in a deeper way. I also came away armed with much more robust lexicon of words to describe malt flavors in beer. Jen also explained why steeping malt is an expert way to taste and smell how a particular malt with effect your beer. Jen’s delivery of the information was an engaging mix of humor and valuable information. I sought her out on the showroom floor later to thank her and ask more questions about steeping malt.
The part of the session I found the most interesting was when everyone in the auditorium tasted malt samples at the same time and then yelled out the tastes and aromatics that they got from each of the malts. It was empowering to be in a room of people with knowledge and finding that you have the skills to discern the same things out of an ingredient as others. Thanks to this experience, I can approach malt in a much higher level of analysis.
Formerly known as Pro Night, the Kickoff Party is a showcase of local breweries pouring their beers. In 2017, Minneapolis had a generous showing of local and regional breweries. Each brought their A-game to show off the the region. Not only were MN local stalwarts like Dangerous Man, Urban Growler, Lupulin, and Tin Whiskers there, but regional darlings like Bell’s and Urban Chestnut were also on display. I will say that the array of Oregon breweries pouring at the Kickoff Party seemed a bit sparse. The Kickoff Party featured some heavy hitters like Pfriem, Ninkasi, and Full Sail. However, there were many empty booths and Great Notion-one of Portland’s best in my opinion-was nowhere to be found.
It also seemed like the place was only attended by maybe 35% of the people at the conference and as a result, the energy level of the evening felt tempered. I would classify the Kickoff Party as a total disappointment and I wound up leaving early. I was hoping to have access to a critical mass of everything awesome in the region, but that was not the case. The good thing is that there is still another full day of fun at Homebrew Con!
Homebrew Con Education Session Day 2
After yesterday’s session on malt, I thought that I would continue the streak of learning about one of the things I love about beer-pairing it with food. I had no idea how big of a treat I was in for. Jay DeLong of 7 Seas Brewing not only understands all the elements of pairing beer with food, but he also has an amazing sense of humor. I found myself as focused as I have ever been and I hung on his every word and one-liner.
For the first time, Jay helped illustrate pairing food and beer through a lens of simplicity and logic. His mantra is definitely all to contrast and compliment all the while striving for balance. This session left me with a wealth of ideas that make pairing beer with food seem less intimidating than before. I mentioned that Jay used a lot of humor-and a bit of profanity-in his presentation. He made a unique reference to the German Purity Laws when he said, “If you were Sumerian and you didn’t follow a beer recipe, you were beheaded. So, the Reinheitsgebot can go fuck itself.” Another great line was about oysters when he exclaimed, “The person who first shucked an oyster was extremely hungry.”
Amidst the laughs and knowledge, I was energized to get all this amazing knowledge to share with friends. This session really was one of the best I have ever had. I went and wandered around the Expo floor and visited the Homebrew Social Club to drink more beer and then went back to rest up before the main event: Club Night.
Club Night is a collection of homebrew clubs from near and far pouring their finest beers. The booths are not just your regular tables with some coasters, but rather, they are works of creative genius. Each homebrew club has a theme that they go all-out with and they are all awesome in their own special way.
As soon as I set foot in the convention center room, I felt invigorated. The energy level was ten times what it was the night before. I just felt like I was in for a treat. Hours later, when the dust settled, Club Night would have more than lived up to expectations. Below are some of the amazing photos from the night.
All in all, the Portland Homebrew Con was good. It got a bit overshadowed by all the other beer stuff in the city itself. The Kickoff Party could have been better. That being said, I also attended two sessions that were incredible. I would also say that the Club Night definitely exceeded my expectations. At the end of the conference, they announced that Providence, Rhode Island, is the location for the Homebrew Con 2019. That location doesn’t move the needle for me enough to make the jaunt out to the East Coast.
My hope is that maybe the AHA will pick a beer city like Denver or Seattle in the not-too-distant-future so that I can plan another trip around the Homebrew Con. Until then, I will finally go beyond reading about this incredible hobby and start brewing on my own!
If you want to hear the recap of our trip that includes a segment on the Homebrew Con 2018, check out our podcast link below!