Monday, June 25, 2012

National Homebrewers Conference 2012, Day Three

The Seminars

Day Three was more about satisfying my inner beer geek than about socializing. The first seminar we attended was given by Neva Parker from White Labs and was titled “Fermentation Mythbusters”. Neva looks like P6230040she’s in high school, but the perception is completely dismissed when she begins speaking. She’s a director at White Labs, and she knew her yeast. She had a great format for her talk with an introductory pop quiz, which set the tone for what would be a very educational seminar. Asking the audience to answer about ten questions as true/false, she then went into each question, dissecting the myths associated with it. “If my yeast is clumpy, it’s bad.” (False) “If I leave my yeast at room temperature in the vial, it will die.” (It depends.)

Then there was the Q&A from the audience, everything from something relatively easy like, “If I add my starter to a wort that’s warmer/cooler, will it shock the yeast?” to something like, “What are the boundary mechanisms that effect my finished beer and how if I ferment in a conical versus a carboy?” Neva demonstrated an astounding breadth and depth of knowledge. I can hardly wait for the AHA to post her presentation.

P6230042Ray Daniels, author of “Designing Great Beers” and founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, gave a talk titled “Think What you Drink”. I knew a little about Ray, and I’ve read most of his book. I didn’t realize to what extent he’s been involved in the development of the homebrewing hobby, nor for how long he’s been involved.  His talk was less technical than Neva’s, but he had some great material, too. I would hope it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone brewing beer, but Ray’s main point was that you should be thinking about your recipe in terms of the flavors you want to get out of your beer as a finished product. This is a different approach than designing “to style”, and ultimately, likely to produce more pleasing beers overall. But if style is your gig, you ought to be able to combine this idea with your current practices to really improve your brews. 

Probably one of the most interesting components of Ray’s seminar was his brief overview of a multi-dimensional approach to classifying hop flavors. Most brewers are familiar with terms like spicy, floral, citrusy, and earthy to describe hop flavors.  Putting those four dimensions on a single graph, and putting a dot on each axis for the intensity of the flavor, you could draw lines to get a “spider diagram” of the hop profile. The Barth-Haas group out of Germany has done something like this with about twelve different hop flavors.  They’ve published a whole book of as many hop varieties as they could source, and tried to characterize both wet and dry versions of them using this multi-dimensional spider diagram approach. Sound a bit dry? To the contrary, it was quite fascinating.

The third seminar we attended was given by Nicole Erny—the first woman Master Cicerone—titled, “Focus on Flavor”. Another enthralling personality who demonstrated a mastery in both breadth and depth of her subject matter, Nicole walked the room through how she became a Master Cicerone. In addition to providing a whole new set of flavor vocabulary, she provided me news ways of thinking about flavor as a beer judge. One of my favorite quotes of Nicole’s was, “If a flavor is worth describing, it’s worth describing its intensity.” To demonstrate some of the variety we could use as beer judges in describing chocolate, she passed out cacao nibs, Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, and dark chocolate cooking chocolate discs for us to compare. Then she put a list of chocolate descriptors up on the screen; another fascinating set of tools for the homebrewer or judge.


Nicole’s talk was interesting in more than just the practical approach she took in teaching herself about flavors. She has some very natural teaching abilities, and it made the class that much more interesting. Her ability to describe the physiological connections between flavor and parts of the brain. She gave us all a great excuse to keep drinking homebrew and craftbeer when she told us that practicing our flavor sensing abilities was developing neurological connections in our brains. And who wouldn’t want to encourage brain development by drinking beer?

The last seminar we attended I won’t bore you with. The talk about homebrewing lagers was delivered by a local brewer who seemed much too nervous in front of a crowd to have been tasked with the challenge. His speaking was so engaging I may have dozed once or twice. May have.

The Hospitality Suite

During various breaks throughout NHC, homebrew clubs host a hospitality suite. The last day’s suite session gave us access to some very interesting beers. One of the north Puget Sound clubs made several “Harry Potter Brews” with names like, “Harry Potter’s Golden Snitch” (saffron and dill), “Polyjuice Pale” (a pale with tart cherry and brewed with a hair from Charlie Papazian’s head), “The Fiery Redhead” (a cream ale made with Red Hots and Cinnamon Jolly Ranchers), and “Severus Holdscipes Potion” (a dark English mild with black pepper), the group paid a great homage to the franchise. As a beer judge, I try to maintain constructive feedback when reviewing beers. Instead of individual reviews, let me generalize and say these were interesting recipes.


The Banquet

Having been to a really phenomenal beer and food pairing dinner just five nights prior (read more here), it’s hard to be fair to the banquet’s offerings. My picture of the menu is really poor quality, so I’ll just type here what was on it:

Reception Beer

Chatoe Rogue Single Malt Ale

First Course

Wild Mushroom Ale Bisque

Rogue Ales Mocha Porter

Second Course

Pacific Northwest Salmon on a Root Vegetable Mash with an Orange Hazelnut Parsley Gremolata

Chatoe Rogue OREgasmic Ale

Third Course

Coffee and Doughnut

Rogue Ales XS Old Barleywine


The menu was the work of Sean Z. Paxton, aka The Homebrew Chef, and you can see more of his work at  My favorites were mushroom bisque/porter p and the coffee and doughnut/barleywine pairing.  While good, none of the dishes nor pairings were truly outstanding. The bisque could be improved with actual mushroom pieces in the soup and, of course, more bacon.  The dessert stood out in comparison to the other dishes. The caramel was the perfect consistency and the whipped cream was not too sweet, as can sometimes happen. Topping the creation with raw cacao nibs was a great idea for the texture and additional coffee and chocolate flavors they provided.

As with my last pairing experience, I found the company to greatly improve the dining experience. We were able to sit with fellow South Sound Suds Society members Karinn and Ken Reister, and brothers, Matt and Clay Hanson. We got to meet a couple of brewers from Eugene, which Beth lovingly refers to as “the Oregon’s Olympia.”  With a backdrop of National Homebrew Competition awards, and the good news that Facebook friend, Aaron Smith took a silver medal with his Classic American Pilsner entry, the conference was a huge success, and we were extremely grateful to attend.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recaps of each day. Stay tuned for more from Bill’s World.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

National Homebrewers Conference 2012, Day Two

Quick Trip to Spokane

We started Day Two, the first full day of homebrewing seminars, with a trip to Spokane for Grandma Fishburn’s funeral. I didn’t take any pictures, because it seemed somehow irreverent to snap some shots during the service. Suffice it to say that the Catholic mass concelebrated by Father Nigro and one other clergy member was temporally appropriate (read, “thankfully short”) for the circumstances. My cousin Chazzz wrote a particularly poignant recap of the event at It’s worth your time to check it out and read it.
It was a quick over-and-back trip, and I wish I’d had more time to spend with friends and family, but I won’t get another chance to attend the NHC in my own backyard for some time, I’m sure. Hopefully they all understand.  When I was younger, I always thought funerals were a way of honoring the dead. That may be true to some extent, but now I believe they’re more about giving the living a chance to honor their memories of the dead. Everyone grieves in their own way. Funerals are not my way.

Club Night

After grabbing a quick bite at our perennial favorite, Dick’s Hamburgers in Spokane, we headed back to Bellevue. We arrived back at the Conference at 8:30, and Club Night was in full swing. Club Night at the NHC is incredibly fun. All the clubs have an opportunity to represent themselves. Those in attendance can bring as many beers and people as they can transport. They get to decorate their booths, and themselves, any way they want. There were some great booth decorations and some even better costumes.
Gary Glass (left, Director of the AHA), Charlie Papazian (center), and me at the AHA booth
I tried really hard to remember to write a beer review, but I failed. However, the highlight of the evening—and of the conference—for me was having Charlie Papazian in the South Sound Suds Society’s booth, trying my beer. The father of the modern homebrewing movement in America, the founder of the AHA, and the man responsible for existence of the National Homebrewers Conference. In our booth. Drinking my beer. In-completely-amazingly-effing-credible!

Again, I was struck by the camaraderie and fellowship among homebrewers. That a simple hobby can bring so many people together, from so many walks of life, is nothing short of amazing.
P6220012This baby girl was at The Brewing Network’s party the night before the conference started. Mom hauled her around Club Night, too, and we never heard a peep out of her. Mom works for The Brewing Network, and I was really impressed she took Baby to the festivities. I was more impressed with Baby. She is living evidence of my long-held belief that kids can and will adapt to whatever we throw at them. As far as that goes, the I think the same is true regardless of age. We are amazing creatures.
My homebrew buddy, Peter Twigg. This man was responsible for the organization of the beer competition. He was also the guy who selected and bought the beers for my BJCP exam classes. P6220014
Some of my favorite pics from Club night.
KatIe Brown (Finance Assistant, AHA), Jill Redding (Zymurgy Editor, AHA), Barbara Fusco (Sales & Marketing Director, AHA)
AHA staff members, from left, Katie Brown (Finance Assistant), Jill Redding (Editor of Zymurgy), Barbara Fusco (Sales & Marketing Director)
Drinkbusters. Who ya gonna call?
Hop-upy NHC—”Less cops, more hops.”
Drinking for a cause…
From left, Steve Wilkes of Basic Brewing with South Sound Suds Society club members Clay Hanson, Garrett Milam, and Dave Losh. Garrett scored an interview with Steve. We hope to see it in an upcoming episode of Basic Brewing.
Greater Everett Brewers League’s campaign to get on the cover of BYO Magazine.
Steve and his wife. Steve is a member of WAHA and does a ton to support homebrewing in our state.
Some fellow Intel employees who were visiting from Chandler.
One of the more creative booths. I can’t remember where this club was from.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

National Homebrewers Conference 2012, Day One

Morning Recovery

Day One of NHC 2012 got off to a slow start. After a night of very ambitious sampling, there were only two things we needed: Headache medication and coffee.   Looking for aspirin or something similar, we realized we’d left the shaving kit at home—60 miles away. Arriving at the hotel’s restaurant, we found out it was out of coffee. I don’t know how you offer a free, AYCE continental breakfast and run out of coffee, but they managed.  Then again, what do you expect from a hotel that offers only in-room wired LAN access (no wireless), and charges $50 more per night for rooms when you book within 30 days of a major conference? I’m done whining now. Thank you for listening.

After minimal nourishment and absolutely no caffeine, we headed in search of a drugstore to replace sundries and to try to find a wireless connection. It gave us a chance to check out some very cool cars at Bellevue dealers (non Washingtonians reading this need to know that Bellevue is one of the wealthier, more affluent cities in our state, which translates to the cars being Porsches, Mercedes, Ferraris, etc.). It also gave me the chance to do a little visioning (or daydreaming, if you prefer that term). This Fisker’s EV has a very high cool factor, and I had to snap a shot because we recently saw it on Top Gear.


We picked up our swag bags and got a glass of Alaskan Summer Ale before heading to the Opening Toast. The commemorative glass and program sport AHA logos and Sasquatch silhouettes.




Opening Toast

The Opening Toast was at 1pm and was kicked off by AHA Director Gary Glass who left us with the quote, “There are literally over 1000 beers here. You won’t be able to try them all.” He then turned it over to Mark Emiley. The empty seats in the first few rows below were the last to fill in, but they did. It was awe-inspiring to see so many homebrewers in one room.


Mark is the president of the Washington Homebrewers Association (WAHA) and, coincidentally, my BJCP certification instructor. After a brief recap of WAHA’s efforts to reward the state with a homebrewers conference, and a review of the previous status of homebrew laws in Washington state, Mark introduced Retired State Senator Ken Jacobsen. Senator Jacobsen was responsible for the bill that made it legal to transport and share homebrew within Washington State.  I loved his toast, “There is a lot of beer. There isn’t much time. Let’s get started.”  Unfortunately, my photo of Senator Jacobsen delivering the toast is so blurry, I don’t want to torture you with it here.  Instead, I’ll share this photo of me with three of the guys from The Brewing Network.


Sessions, Hobnobbing, and Two Obligatory Reviews

After attending a brewing gadgets session titled, “Brewgyvering”, our group headed to the Lagunitas suite in a nearby hotel. Our Club President intended to submit a Hop Stoopid clone, but decided last minute—literally while we were in the suite—not to submit it for judging by Lagunitas’ Brewer Jeremy.  This was a really cool, low-key function.  Munching on baguette sandwiches and fresh fruit, about four or five people were able to pick Jeremy’s brain, listen to him talk about Lagunitas’ brewing practices, and watch him judge a couple of the clone entries. He gave feedback directly to the homebrewers in a thoughtful, articulate, extremely well-educated, and constructive manner. We also chatted with their publicist who arranged the party. A guy who stores beers in a tub? You just know he’s cool, no pun intended. I’m not kidding about the tub or his cool factor.



Then it was time to head back to the Hyatt and the Hospitality Suite. The Hospitality Suite is where suppliers and homebrew clubs come to show off their latest wares and accomplishments. Some pro brewers are also present, and they’re quite accessible. In fact, the cool thing so far about this conference is just how accessible everyone has been.  And if you’re not familiar with the craftbeer community, you might be surprised to learn that accessibility also means supportive.  The brewers we’ve talked to are seem sincere and genuinely interested in sharing tips and tricks, in improving processes and recipes, and even in giving guidance to wannabe pros. 

You might have noticed my lack of beer reviews at this point. I’m finding it very difficult to take tasting notes and turn them into anything meaningful. It’s probably because I’m such a journalistic hack, but I haven’t figured out a system for this. If you follow me on Untappd, you’ve seen my nano-reviews. Maybe I need to pick just one beer—my favorite for the night, perhaps?—and review it. We’ll give it a try, so stay tuned.  As far as that goes, Day One was Pro Brewers night after 8pm, and two of my favorites were Icicle Brewery’s Kolsch and Naked City’s Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout.

Icicle is from Leavenworth, WA, and their Kolsch was a great representation of the style. Brilliantly clear with a thick white head and very pale gold color. It was a very crisp beer with some interesting yeast-derived spicy hints, which may not be entirely to style, but were tasty nonetheless. The thing I liked about this beer was they don’t use any spices in it, like some other Kolsches represented this week.

Naked City is a Seattle brewery, and they had the best stout I tried all night—hands-down. Black and completely opaque, the espresso and chocolate aromas coming off the beer were mind-blowing. Then the bourbon hit with a follow-up oak vanillin aroma. The flavors were no less intense, and showed up in about the same order as the aromas. The mouthfeel is delightfully thick with a creamy smooth finish.  While significant, the alcohol warming was not burning or harsh. Sure, it’s completely on the other end of the light-to-dark spectrum from the Kolsch, but trust me on these recommendations.  (See? I try to provide something for everyone.)

Some of my favorite pics from Day One…



Beth and me with Rob Widmer


Me and John Blichmann


Me, my eyebrows, and my honey


Shortest to tallest: Me, Jamil Zainasheff (Heretic Brewing, The Brewing Network), Brandon Horn (one of my BJCP certification instructors and Conference Commemorative Chair)


Brewer Jeremy (Lagunitas) and me (you knew I wouldn’t make it through the conference without putting something on my head)

National Homebrewers Conference 2012, Day Zero

So the day was pretty incredible. Despite a stressful morning trying to take care of some last-minute details before the National Hombrewers Conference, we managed to leave with four kegged beers and samples of our regional Silver Award winning Double IPA, Hoptopus.

Travel to Bellevue

As part of the preparation for the European leg of my sabbatical, we’ve been learning to use a Garmin Nuvi 2405 GPS unit we bought for this specific purpose.  It was particularly fun ignoring all of its travel recommendations as we made the trip north to Bellevue for the 2012 National Homebrewers Conference. It could be anthropomorphizing on our parts, but the voice always seems a little irritated when it has to reroute. Thankfully, traffic was still relatively smooth and trouble-free—or so I’m told. I apparently fell asleep on the way there.

Beer Drop-off, BJCP Reception and the Great NHC SNAFU

If I were to make suggestions to AHA about improvements for the conference, the first would be to address keg delivery instructions. This could apply to the hotel as well, though, since I’m pretty sure the signage for their delivery dock is their responsibility. After going twice around the block, we figured out the sign directing us straight-ahead to the dock, really meant we needed to turn right.
This slight delay caused us to be a little late for the start of the BJCP reception, but what really messed up the plans was the fact that our reservation apparently didn’t register with the AHA. I remembered getting the real-time, on-screen confirmation, but of course, I sent it to my offline, Outlook-downloadable email address instead of my Gmail account.  Working with Chris Williams of the AHA to find our records proved to be time-consuming, and we arrived in the reception much later than we had hoped.  Still, a talk on Saccharomyces Pastorus was only partially completed, and we there was time remaining to participate in the detailed reviews of Altbiers and CDAs.
The things I’d like to remind you about  CDAs are 1) black pale ale is an oxymoron and should not be contemplated as a style name—I hope the BJCP adopts the AHA’s approach and style name of “American Black Ale”; 2) despite some mega-craft brewer’s (who shall remain a nameless Arrogant Bastard) assertions if something isn’t what’s it’s called, it doesn’t mean you need to call it what it isn’t. I’m not fond of the CDA moniker, because it seems to be exclusive in a community that is otherwise inclusive. Sure, many German styles are named for their region or city—Dortmund Altbier, Bamberg Rauchbier, Kolsch—but we’re not Germany. We don’t pay much heed to German style naming or the Rheinheitsgebot, so why should we regionalize beer styles in the US?  I hope that doesn’t sound like a nationalistic sentiment; it’s not meant to be. I’m just trying to say we should true to the inclusive nature of the craftbeer community here.
Climbing down off my soapbox, and backing up a couple of steps, I cannot say enough good things about the AHA staff at this conference. The conference sold out in two days, due to limited space. I purchased my tickets on-line, and I invested in the whole shebang—this was going to be during my sabbatical, and I wanted the full experience.  Unfortunately, some glitch caused those tickets to not be charged to my card, for my records to not show up in the AHA database, and for our registration to not be completed. The only proof I had was an email I sent to Beth and the club president dated the day I registered. Chris Williams, Event Registrar, graciously made space for us, and the only problem remaining was finding tickets to the banquet.

Brewing Network Party at Elysian’s New Facility

The BN party at Elysian’s new facility in Georgetown (south of Seattle’s SoDo district) was phenomenal! Staff from the podcast series were on-stage throwing goodies almost all night, the music was great, and there were some really great breweries represented. While there were several memorable beers, one of my favorites was Odin’s Ginger Kolsch.
Karinn (left), Beth (middle), Ken (right)
The now-famous hop grenade of The Brewing Network, the creation of two of my homebrewing heroes, John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff

Club President Ken with Beth at the BN party

The Elysian Tour

Initially, a member of Elysian’s staff (Ed Hall, Production Manager) told us they weren’t allowing tours due to safety concerns. I’m not sure what changed, but I’m grateful it did, because we got to go on a two-part tour hosted first by Brewer Marcus and then by a member of the packaging staff, whose name I completely missed.
Brewer Marcus in front of the Elysian mash tun explaining how they use this automation screen (right) to control the process
The scale of the operation was overwhelming. They currently have ten 240-barrel fermenters installed (yes, 2400 barrels of fermenting beer) with plans to install at least ten more. With two brewers, they can brew up to three batches per day. I think he said it takes three batches to fill a fermenter. I’ll let you do the math, but I’ll summarize by saying that’s a crap-ton of beer. Kudos to Elysian for the expansion and their employment efforts.  And kudos to whomever made the decision to allow the tour. We got to meet one of the brewers and some very nice fellow homebrewers.P6200314
How cool is this shot? I somehow lucked out and caught the boxes in mid-air. Probably couldn’t have timed it this way if I’d been trying.
Elysian uses this big hurkin’ centrifuge to remove yeast and other particulates from their beer prior to bottling. I think the amount they said they give to local livestock farmers was somewhere around a million pounds a year. Process waste liquid goes into a pre-treatment tank on the brewery floor before entering the city’s waste water stream.

Meanwhile, Back at the Party

The cool thing we are learning about NHC is that you can meet people from all walks of life. We met a couple during the tour who head up a homebrewing club  out of Proctorville, OH. They host at least two beer/food pairing parties every year, and say that they have more foodie-oriented attendees wanting to try homebrew than homebrewers now.  They are also archery elk hunters, fly fishers, and beer judges.  Then there were the guys from Houston, a place Beth has lived.  One of them had never been to the Pacific Northwest, and one of them makes dog biscuits from his spent grains. We first started talking to him because of his shirt.P6200328The Universe attracts people to each other in mysterious ways. We have contact info and will be sharing learnings.
The real highlight for me was meeting John Palmer of “Learn to Homebrew” and Brewing Network fame. I was hoping to see him there, but when I finally did, all the questions I’d been wanting to ask suddenly vacated my “slightly” beer-addled brain in a moment of debilitating star-struckness. P6200331Fortunately, John was gracious enough to let us snap a photo. If you look closely, you’ll see his shirt reads, “Y u no RTFP?”. It means, “Why didn’t you read the effing Palmer?”—a gift from a South American brew club referencing his book. If you’re new to homebrewing, and you haven’t read it, I’d ask you the same question.
After meeting John Palmer, the rest of the evening was a bit fuzzy. There were a lot of give-aways, a lot of eff bombs, and a lot of beers. Here are some pictures from the evening.
Then there was a bus ride followed by a nearly one-mile walk from one hotel to another. Bed came too late, and morning came too early, and then it was Day One of the National Homebrewers Conference.