This year was my fourth time attending HomeBrew Con, and third year straight starting with San Diego 2015. This is a long read and I tried to break it up into sections that talk about specific things, so if you’re interested in hearing about only specific parts of the weekend you can skip around. I’ve added some of the pictures I took over the weekend, but added more to my Instagram if you want to check them out.
As HomeBrew Con was in the midwest this year it was driving distance! I hit the road with a couple of friends from my home brew club, the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, leaving Tuesday after work. We drove to Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana for dinner and a couple of pints. I’ve had some 3F beers in the past, but never been to the brewery/pub. It was a nice space with an eclectic almost divey feel. The food menu was as good as the beer. I had an open face salt baked pork belly sandwich with nduja ricotta and drank a Double Man Bun and Alpha King along with it.
We made it to my parent’s house just north of Chicago to stay Tuesday night, and set out bright and early Wednesday morning en route to New Glarus. I’ve been to New Glarus before and was surprised at how much it had changed in a few years. There was an entire courtyard outside I don’t remember and they were actively building a new expansion on their tap room and bottle shop. Since I was up next to drive I volunteered to skip the beer, opting to buy a few bottles to bring with me.
We rolled into Minneapolis around 4:30, got checked in to the hotel, and I was immediately on my way to attend the SoperTour.
A friend of mine started the SoperTour after the last Minneapolis conference, it occurs the Wednesday night prior to HomeBrew Con. It’s named after his last name and ‘getting sopered’ has become a thing to look forward to every year. This year we had so many attending we needed two buses! Our stops included Utepils Brewing, Modist Brewing Co., and Indeed Brewing Company. All three had some great beers on tap, and the tap room styles were as different as could be.
Utepils was a larger brewery in an industrial park with high ceilings, tons of space and a German-industrial fusion feel. Modist was in a mixed-use area that seemed to be converting old warehouses and industrial space to living space. They had a very modern feel to their tap room, and I got to spend some time talking to the head brewer about their awesome mash filter system. Our last stop to Indeed felt like a more homey space with warmer lighting and lots of wood. It was on the lower floor of a commercial building adjacent to a neighbourhood. It was a great mix of breweries to visit and really showed the diversity of businesses in the brewing industry sharing a common purpose.
National Homebrew Competition
Thursday of HomeBrew Con is the National Homebrew Competition. As I did last year I volunteered to steward all day. One day I’ll take the BJCP exam and judge instead of stewarding, but I actually find stewarding very enjoyable and recommend everyone do it at least once. For the morning session I supported another steward working the Wood Aged and Smoked Beer tables. This is a particularly challenging set of beers for judges and stewards alike given that the beers can range from a sessionable grodziskie to a palate wrecking bourbon barrel RIS. We had to do a lot of extra work to reorganise the beers to prevent palate fatigue from clobbering a more delicate style late in the round.
For the afternoon session I was assigned my own table, so apparently I did something right in the morning, and stewarded Pale European Lagers with some organisational support from one of my HomeBrew Con roommates. Not having to reorganise 36 beers allowed the afternoon to run like clockwork and towards the end of the session I was offered the opportunity to help steward the Best of Show round – something I was quite honoured to be asked and I definitely accepted.
Best of Show involved setting up 140 cups, 28 for each of the five judges. The top beer from each category is given to the judges and from that they basically pick the one that stands out amongst the rest. Interestingly they had all pretty much agreed on the beer that eventually won pretty early on, but they went back through and did their diligence to make sure nothing was missed and spent a good amount of time deliberating between a few final contenders. It was a fun process to watch and not entirely as somber or serious as I expected, with a couple of judges injecting their characteristic big personalities into the proceedings throughout.
Sessions and Events
To better group common things, I’m grouping the events and sessions separately instead of chronologically.
I spent less time overall in sessions this year than previous years. There seemed to fewer talks I was interested in on the whole, though I recognised some as repeats from past conferences, if not in name but in content. That’s not a problem, as I get better at brewing I’m going to be looking for the more advanced sessions.
My top two sessions were Lagers to Lambic: Hard Stuff the Easy Way and Harcore Mild. The first was given by two well respected blogger and brewing community members, Brian Hall of Brouwerij-Chugach and Derek Springer of Five Blades Brewing. The talk presented a good, albeit somewhat high level view, explanation of some beer styles considered more difficult and brought them down to an accessible level. The second was by someone I didn’t recognise, Adam Stine, and I was skeptical going in given my love for milds and all beers English. I wouldn’t say I learned much in the talk, but it was good and well presented. I was happy to see someone with a similar passion putting the spotlight on a fantastic style of beer. I think my top take away was to try mashing higher than I previously had, up to 160F from my current 158F. I also want to try few different recipes rather than just sticking to my one known good recipe. The last takeaway was a little trick I’d not heard of before to mimic a hand pulled cask beer. Pour a beer and leave some headspace in the glass. Then take a 5 mL syringe, like the kind that come with infant acetaminophen, draw up 5 mL of beer and quickly squirt it back into the glass. Only do this with a low carbed beer, but you get that nice cascading effect and a big foamy head as a result. I’ve tried this already with my mild and enjoyed the result. There are a handful of sessions I wanted to see but didn’t. I’ll check them out when they are uploaded to the AHA website.
The first event I attended was the Milk The Funk Meetup. It wasn’t an official event on the schedule, but there was a great turnout and some really good beer being poured. Happily both beers I brought to the event were really well received, I should have brought a couple more bottles as I had enough in the end, but that’s hindsight.
Immediately following the Milk The Funk Meetup was the Kickoff Party. This event is basically a big beer fest with mostly local breweries. It is a great opportunity try the local beer that’s not within easy reach of the conference, as well as others that travel in. Minnesota definitely has some good breweries, and many seem to be quite new, like HeadFlyer Brewing and the aforementioned Modist. Some of the standouts from the evening were a Zwickle from Urban Chestnut Brewing (St. Louis, MO) and Wonder Stuff, a Bo Pils, from Bauhaus Brew Labs. I guess I was in a lager mood that night.
Friday evening brought us the best night of the year: Club Night. If you’ve never attended HomeBrew Con then Club Night is probably the best reason to go. It is a hall full of home brewers serving home brewed beer, and everyone is having an absolute blast. Some clubs go wild with their themes, others focus just on the beer with simpler booth setups. The AABG went down the middle this year with a solid beer theme and a nicely setup but not over the top booth. Our beer theme was “Michigan Made”, where each beer focused on one or more ingredients grown or made in Michigan. Mine was a farmhouse style ale using Michigan malts, homegrown hops and spruce tips, and a Michigan caught wild yeast. I ran it through a randall with more spruce as I didn’t think the spruce came through enough. It ended up exactly as I hoped. Most of that night I walked around with sour beers in hand; people are apparently attracted to someone carrying a green champagne style bottle at a beer event likes moths to a flame. Though I had some great beer I didn’t take care to mentally catalog any of it.
On Saturday there were two more events, the National Homebrew Competition Awards Ceremony and the Knockout Party. The awards ceremony was quite short, thankfully. No one from the AABG won, which is somewhat surprising as we usually get a couple. There was some stiff competition in the categories we had entered though, so it’s not entirely surprising. One of the highlights of the ceremony was that not only did a South Korean brewer win a gold, but he had flown out for the conference and was able to accept it in person! He received a well deserved standing ovation.
The Knockout Party was a break from HomeBrew Con tradition. Normally Saturday evening sees the awards ceremony and a beer pairing dinner combined, but due to increasingly low ratings for the beer pairing dinner the AHA scrapped it in favour of this year’s format. I think it worked well and hope they continue it. The 2 hour event was immediately following the awards ceremony, and they served a nice spread of hors d’oeuvres alongside all the unopened beer bottles left over from the competition. It was fun to play a bit of beer roulette, especially as the bartenders had NO idea what they were pouring. Beer? Mead? Cider? Barrel aged? 4%? 10%? Let’s find out!! It was kind of weird to end Saturday so early, but that afforded my club the chance to go to dinner together, which was a nice way to end.
I wouldn’t say the Minneapolis HomeBrew Con was my favourite, but it was a solid conference that gave me everything I’ve come to expect. I can’t stress enough that if you have never been to HomeBrew Con then you are missing out and you should make every effort to go. I know it’s not cheap and that cost is a major limiting factor for many, but if you can find a way you have to go! The camaraderie, the knowledge, and the beer that you have access to during the conference is simply unattainable anywhere else.