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)

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