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Some of 2000 kegs at NHC
Some of 2000 kegs at NHC

National Homebrewers Conference 2013 in Philadelphia

Sly Fox Bruclear Rye Saison
Sly Fox Bruclear
Rye Saison

The car was packed so we hit the road in the direction of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for our first National Homebrewers Conference (NHC). Earlier in the Spring we had booked our tickets to join 3400 other homebrewing enthusiasts for an event which had sold out in just 20 hours! This compared with 1800 tickets selling out in 40 hours the year before for the west coast location of Seattle, Washington.

Once we had checked in to our hotel on Wednesday June 26 we headed over to the Marriott hotel, where the conference was being held to register, and beat the rush the following morning. Registration was quick and simple using a print out of our email confirmations and as well as getting a name tag plus wristband we collected our goodie bags that included a commemorative tasting glass, a can of Cluster’s Last Stand Pilsner and a 75cl bottle of Sly Fox Bruclear Rye Saison plus a program and various literature.

Brauhaus Schmitz

Brauhaus Schmitz Das Boot
Brauhaus Schmitz
2 liter Das Boot!

Earlier in the week we had been contacted on Twitter by Brauhaus Schmitz to recommend to visit their German Bierhall on South Street so we decided this would be a good way to spend our evening and headed over to the other side of downtown Philly. Inside was busy with the waitresses wearing authentic Bavarian Dirndls and we managed to secure a couple of stools at the bar. The beer menu was very impressive with 15+ German beers on taps and good descriptions of each one, they also had a large selection of bottled beers (including Belgian beers). Over the evening we tried the following beers:

  • Schwaben Brau Hellerbock
  • Kulmacher Monchschof Schwarzbier
  • Hofbrauhaus Traunstein 1612er Zwickel
  • Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
  • Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock
  • Ettaler Benediktiner Weissbier

Normally we would comment on which beers were our favorites but from the above they were all superb and none showed any signs of the long journey across the Atlantic from Germany. Whilst sampling the various beers we also opted for some classic cuisine with a platter of sausages which was sufficient to feed an army!

Day 1 – Thursday June 27, 2013

Homebrew Suppliers
Homebrew Suppliers

The first day of the conference had a relaxed start to allow people traveling on the same day the time to arrive and check in so we began with a visit to the Liberty Well Social Club which featured three Homebrew Clubs from around the country pouring samples of their beers. Throughout the conference this rotated through different clubs over the three days. Also in the room were booths from various industry suppliers promoting their wares.

Our first talk began at 2pm with ‘Process Improvement and Beer Enhancement: The Nano Experience’ by Andy Tveekrem of Market Garden Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio. It was very interesting to hear about the equipment used by this small scale brewery who had a restricted amount of space and I think most homebrewers in the audience could sympathize with some of the limitations and challenges faced. Market Garden Brewery is very close to Great Lakes Brewing Company so we will definitely be paying them a visit next time we are in Cleveland.

Pro-Brewers Night
Pro-Brewers Night

Next up was ‘Beer Recipe Design’ by Brad Smith and a must see for us as we are keen users of his Beer Smith software on our brew days. Brad took us through his approach to recipe design which began by choosing the target style, then research and selection of ingredients and onto the application of brewing techniques. Also covered were areas such as bitterness ratios, mashing temperatures and first wort hopping. I think most people would agree that Brad had plenty of good tips to offer.

The evening began with a Welcome Toast and Pro-Brewers Night. We turned up and 7:15pm for a 7:30pm start to find a huge long line leading back from the PA Convention Center Hall across the bridge to the Marriott Hotel – this we had not expected but once the doors opened the line quickly filed into the hall. 60+ breweries from the region and across the country were pouring and this provided a great opportunity to sample a vast range of commercial beers. Once this finished at 11:30pm we headed back to the Liberty Well Social Club to try some more homebrew from another three clubs. What a first day!

Day 2 – Friday June 28, 2013

Gordon Strong
3 x Ninkasi Winner
Gordon Strong (right)

Some talks began at 9am but this was not going to happen for us after a 2am finish to the first day so our first session was ‘Brewing Better Beer: Practical Applications’ with 3 time Ninkasi Award winner Gordon Strong. The hall was packed out and Gordon appeared humbled by the popularity of this hour long session. On hand were a number of hints, tips and findings from his book ‘Brewing Better Beer’ which included:

  • Adding calcium to the water can help throughout the whole brewing process.
  • Not all additions to the Mash will end up in the Boil therefore further additions may be needed.
  • Adding dark grains to the Mash changes the pH of the water so an alternative approach is to create a tea from the dark grains (like in a partial mash) and add that to the Boil thus avoiding some additions to the water to obtain a pH of 5.2-5.5.
  • Keeping the pH of the Mash below 6 to stop 170F+ Sparge Water from extracting tannins from the grains.
Jake Keeler
AHA Governing Committee
Chairman Jake Keeler

The Keynote address was given by Tom Peters of Monk’s Cafe who is a co-owner of four beer-centric restaurants in Philadelphia. Tom went through his experience of discovering Belgian Beer and how he has helped transform the beer scene in Philly by introducing quality brews from across the Atlantic Ocean into what has become a vibrant city on the East coast of the USA.

Next we attended the AHA Members Meeting where a number of key discussions and recognitions of important work by Governing Committee and sub-Committee members have been accomplished over the past 12 months. Speakers included, amongst others, Gary Glass (AHA Director) and Jake Keeler (Governing Committee chair). What struck us, as first time visitors to the NHC, was the low number of attendees to this session out of the 3400 at the conference given no other events were happening at the same time…!

Club Night
Club Night

Friday evening began with the ever popular Club Night which featured 80+ homebrew clubs from around the country pouring from a hand full to around 20 different beers, ciders and meads. Each booth had a theme and various people were dressed up in all sorts of costumes. The beers on tap were of top quality and this gave us the opportunity to sample a wide range of styles and chat with the brewers to find out about their club and gain some homebrewing tips of our own.We also had the opportunity to speak with Jamil Zainasheff from Heretic Brewing Company, as well as Gordon Strong and Ray Daniels who are all top homebrewers as well as renowned authors.

Once complete we headed once again over to the Liberty Well Social Club and managed to speak with Justin Crossley from The Brewing Network and AHA Governing Committee Chair Jake Keeler.

Day 3, Saturday June 29, 2013

Malt vs Hops
Malt vs Hops:
A Smackdown with Cheese

The final day began for us with ‘Hops vs Malt: A Smackdown with Cheese’ by Janet Fletcher who is a leading author & co-author of 20+ books on food and beverage. The room was filled with tables and packed out. Each attendee was presented with a taster sheet of 5 cheeses and 2 beers. The aim of the session was to taste each cheese and 2 beers (one hoppy and the other malty) and the room voted on which beer paired best with each cheese.

The cheese selection consisted of:

  1. Humboldt Fog (Goat’s Milk) by Cypress Grove, McKinleyville, CA.
  2. Toma (Cow’s Milk) by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, Point Reyes Station, CA.
  3. Cave-Aged Marisa (Sheep’s Milk) by Carr Valley Cheese Company, La Valle, WI.
  4. Two Year Cheddar (Cow’s Milk) by Widmer’s, Theresa, WI.
  5. Barely Buzzed (Cow’s Milk) by Beehive Cheese, Uintah, UT.

The beer selection consisted of the following by North Coast Brewing Company:

  1. Acme California IPA
  2. Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
Grand Banquet menu
Grand Banquet
beer pairing menu

For our final session of the conference we attended ‘Fermenting on the Flip Side: Alternative Fermentations & Practices’ by Mary Izett. Mary helped open our minds to a wide variety of alternative types of alcoholic beverages that can be homebrewed in addition to the traditional beers that we are used to. Some of these included using wild yeasts and bacterias as well as varied fruits and spices. Some of these beverages can be ready to drink within 3-4 days and can be brewed in 1 gallon batches which really grabbed our attentions.

The evening event was the ‘Grand Banquest and National Homebrew Competition Award Ceremony’. Prior to the NHC was the first round of the National Homebrew Competition which was held regionally. The winners from these regions moved on to the second and final round at the NHC.

The three course meal was prepared by Sean Paxton who used various beers in the food and also paired each dish with beers from Rogue Ales as follows:

National Homebrew Competition
National Homebrew Competition
Award Ceremony

After the meal followed the awards ceremony which included:

  • Bronze, Silver & Gold medals for each Category from the BJCP Styles.
  • Ninkasi Award – David Barber, Orwigsburg, PA.
  • Homebrewer of the Year – Annie Johnson, Sacremento, CA.
  • Meadmaker of the Year – Mark Tanner, Oak Harbor, WA.
  • Cidermaker of the Year – Tavish and Laura Sullivan, Bothell, WA.
  • Homebrew Club of the Year – The Brewing Network, Martinez, CA.
  • Gambrinus Club Award – Lehigh Valley Home Brewers, Bethlehem, PA.
Some of 2000 kegs at NHC
Some of 2000
kegs at NHC

For details of the Category winners and the Award winners’ clubs please click here.

Next we were given a presentation about NHC 2014 which is to be held on June 12-14 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Following our trip to Grand Rapids in May 2013 this should be another fantastic event – see our Founders & Vivant – Grand Rapids (MI) Breweries blog.

After the Awards Ceremony we headed to the Liberty Well Social Club for the final time and as well as three more Homebrew Clubs pouring we could also sample bottles of beer from the Final Round of the National Homebrew Competition and taste for ourselves the top quality beers that made the grade.

Cluster's Last Stand Pilsner
Cluster’s Last Stand
Pilsner exploding can!

The following day we packed up the car and headed back home. One final surprise was whilst unpacking I lifted out the commemorative can from my bag of literature collected at the conference and in the process the can of Cluster’s Last Stand Pilsner exploded due to the heat in the trunk which had expanded the can! We had been warned at the conference that there had been problems with some of these and it was suggested that we drink them before traveling. We took that to suggest that airplane hold pressures might pose a risk but this did not turn out to be the only risk… so if you have cans left we urge caution.

For us NHC 2013 was a great experience and an event that we will definitely be attending next year!

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