Saturday, June 23, 2012

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.

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