NHC 2014 in Grand Rapids was great fun, alas we missed NHC 2015 in San Diego due to personal reasons, but we were glad to be able to make NHC 2016 in Baltimore.
It was a short three hour drive from State College down through the PA State capital of Harrisburg. We arrived Wednesday afternoon so that we could checkin by 6pm on June 8th and get our goodies in our ‘swag bag’ back to the hotel so as not to drag them around the conference on the following day.
Commemorative beers were down from two to one this year with an IPL (India Pale Lager) from local Flying Dog Brewery. This beer was 7.1% ABV and described as follows:
Listening to a radio interview with Charlie Papazian ignited Flying Dog Brewmaster Matt Brophy’s passion for craft beer. At just 17 years old, Matt was captivated by Charlie’s description of the craft. The same day, he ran out to buy “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” and never looked back.
Innovation through homebrewing continues to be a backbone of craft beer’s success. There’s proof in not only Matt’s story, but also in this beer, which reunites Matt with Charlie. Both self-proclaimed hopheads, they dialed in an expert blend of Centennial, Citra, Galaxy and Mosaic hops with a lager fermentation for a beer that’s as light on the palate as it is intense.
With not being hopheads ourselves we found the beer to be far too intense for our palates.
Day 1 – Thursday June 9, 2016
This year’s conference was accompanied by the ‘Homebrew Con 2016’ app for both Android and iOS smartphones. This included lists of exhibitors, seminars, maps, meetings, sponsored demonstrations and the timing of events. It was possible to select which seminars, meetings and events we were interested in attending and adding them to My Planner – this saved leafing through the conference program and in our opinion was a great help.
Note from the above that the National Homebrewers Conference has been nicknamed HomeBrewCon which was met with mixed reactions.
First up for us on day 1 was the Homebrew Expo & Social Club which opened at 11am. This was held in one of the two main halls and included a vast array of exhibitors that encompassed equipment manufacturers, ingredient producers, various homebrew retailers, and some commercial breweries. A number of these were pouring beers as well as showing off their wares.
In the center of the hall was the Social Club which had five booths, each of which had a homebrew club pouring their beers in two hour slots.
We spent a couple of hours wandering around the 70+ booths sampling some beers, talking to vendors, examining equipment, and collecting more swag which included dry yeast, hops and grain samples as well as gadgets, sanitizer, and hats & t-shirts plus much more.
On day 1 we attended the following seminars:
- Sources of Beer Flavor and the Importance of Sensory Training in Producing Great Beer by Amaey Mundkur
- Frankenbrew: Are Pieced-Together Systems Still Viable by Tom Hennessy
After the seminars was the Keynote & Welcome Toast which was introduced by Gary Glass (Director of the American Homebrewers Association). The keynote speech was given by Sam Calagione (Founder & President of Dogfish Head Brewing). Sam gave a very enjoyable speech in his usual enthusiast manner about his journey through the setting up and growth of the brewery.
In the evening was the Craft Beer Kickoff Party including Maryland Homebrew Clubs which was in effect a craft beer festival and extremely enjoyable with some 70 breweries and clubs pouring a wide range of styles.
Day 2 – Friday June 10, 2016
The second day of the conference started with a brief visit to the Social Club to grab a beer then we headed into the following seminars:
- How to Fail at Starting a Brewery: Focus Just on the Beer by Nicole Carrier
- Going Pro a Pint at a Time by Mike Pensinger
Both seminars were very useful and informative, especially to the number of homebrewers who were in the process of starting up their own breweries as well as an even greater number who were considering such a move.
The next event was the AHA Member’s Meeting which included an introduction to the Governing Committee members present and covered various areas such as the organization’s balance sheet, member growth figures, and updates from the heads of some of the sub-committees. One key announcement was the upcoming release of the Beer Guru app for smartphones which would give AHA members access to various content and deals including alerts and other useful features.
The evening session was the ever popular Club Night featuring AHA Member Clubs. This was held in the same large hall as the Craft Beer Kickoff Party and was a fantastic event with each club pouring a wide variety of beers from themed booths and even included some mobile pouring booths such as a pirate ship.
Day 3 – Saturday June 11, 2016
The third day got off to a slow start which must have been a reflection upon how good Club Night was… this time we did not need a beer for the sole seminar that we attended, water sufficed!
- Troubleshooting Off Flavors in Beer by Brad Smith
This seminar was well attended and the author of the BeerSmith app gave an excellent presentation as ever.
From 1-3pm our State College Homebrew Club poured 11 beers in the final session of the Social Club which included the following styles:
- American Light Lager
- German Pilsner
- American Pale Ale
- American Wheat Ale
- Rye Session IPA
- Double IPA
- Black IPA
- Bourbon-Barrel Porter*
- American Porter*
- Coffee Porter*
* these beers came from the same 15 gallon batch at a group brew day by the club and were fermented and aged differently within separate carboys.
It appeared that all of our beers were very well received and we even got a 30 minute extension of pouring time.
The evening was dedicated to the Grand Banquet & National Homebrew Competition Award Ceremony which included a four course meal with accompanying paired beers. Following the meal was the presentation of the various awards:
- Bronze, Silver & Gold for the 31 beer, cider & mead categories
- Ninkasi Award
- Homebrewer of the Year
- NHC Homebrew Club Award
- Cidermaker of the Year
- Meadmaker of the Year
- Gambrinus Club Award
In addition to the paired beers our table also shared a bomber of homebrewed Belgian Golden Strong Ale that received 34/50 in the First Round of the competition as well as two 750ml bottles of New Glarus Raspberry Tart and Strawberry Rhubarb brought all the way from Wisconsin.
The evening and conference then concluded with the Social Club: National Homebrewers Competition Final Round Beers being served. This gave the attendees the opportunity to taste quality homebrewed beers that had reached the final round. There was some confusion because the only identifiers on the bottles were category numbers and everyone was unsure whether they were from the BJCP 2008 or 2015 style guidelines – it turned out they were neither and that they were a merged version especially for NHC 2016.
Overall we thoroughly enjoyed NHC 2016 and found the format to be more similar to NHC 2013 in Philadelphia rather than NHC 2014 in Grand Rapids. Next year’s conference will be held in Minneapolis which we will definitely be attending.
If you have any comment or questions on the above, or indeed also attended this event, please leave them below.