Wow, what a great time in Baltimore at Homebrew Con this past weekend. By now you have likely already read some recaps from my amigos Brian Hall, Marshall & Malcolm, and Ed Coffey, so instead of recapping the events of the Con, here are few thoughts that I had about the best weekend of the year.
Baltimore is a Cool City
I will admit that my only real exposure to Baltimore before Homebrew Con was from watching The Wire–which I hear from folks is both an accurate portrayal of the city, but also just one very specific view into its dark underbelly. There was definitely a vibe that there are some rough edges to the city, but I was super-impressed with how friendly everyone is and just how many cool/old-school/authentic businesses and eateries there are. I kinda did not get why Homebrew Con was in Baltimore this year before I came, but now I totally do. Pair that with support for homebrewing from both the governor of Maryland (who pounded a beer before getting up and giving a short talk) and a state senator–Maryland is a beer-friendly state I can imagine my southern amigos only dream of.
Baltimore is seafood heavy town, but even a seafood-phobic guy like myself found plenty of great food; I did not have a single bad meal during my stay! The highlight of the trip was visiting Matthew’s Pizza, the oldest pizza joint in Baltimore. They served a pizza that was old school in a way that I have not had since I was a kid. We shot the breeze with the owner and he treated us to a round of National Bohemian, official beer of Baltimore.
The Name Change
There were a lot of folks busting a gut over the name change from National Homebrewers Conference to Homebrew Con, but I just could not get myself worked up over it. I think Homebrew Con is fine, I thought National Homebrewers Conference was fine (though a mouthful). I think the logo and branding is well done and well coordinated and all of the conference materials were well made and well produced.
I do understand both points of view: NHC was constantly confused by folks since it was both referring to National Homebrew Competition and National Homebrewers Conference. The AHA wants to make it clear as possible and also revisit their branding. On the flipside, many folks I talked to were worried that the AHA was throwing away 38+ years of history in favor of pursuing the hotness of the Con scene.
I was a little disappointed there was no clear coordination around social media: Was there an official Twitter/Instagram account? Was the hashtag #homebrewcon, #homebrewcon2016, #hbc2016? Perhaps I am more progressive than most homebrewers in terms of social media, but I really wanted to see what everyone was tweeting/posting about, but had little success.
The People Make the Con
I do not feel like I came away from this conference as chock-full of new information like I did last year in San Diego, BUT I feel like I walked away with a ton of brand new best friends and connections that left me super energized and ready to brew. Highlight of the trip was seeing my fellow BrewUnited amigos again, whom I chat with online almost daily, as well as finally meeting IRL fellow panelists Ed Coffey and Matt Humbard, two crazy smart/talented brewers and bloggers I had the pleasure of sharing a panel with.
Do the best you can to hang out with cool people (you are a cool person too) and I guarantee you that you will make some memories that will last a lifetime!
San Diego Beer Is Back On Top
Big congrats to my amigos at QUAFF, who once again claimed the Homebrew Club of the Year–finally defeating the online juggernaut Brewing Network. They worked real hard and brewed their asses off, if anyone deserves it, QUAFF does! I really appreciate what an amazing community of homebrewers we have in San Diego, we are constantly pushing each other to brew better and share our knowledge with everyone else.
Milk the Funk Is Blowing Up
After two great meetups I can confidently assert that Milk the Funk might be the (not so secret) best homebrew “club” in the world at the moment. Holy cow, the number of people that are brewing some of the most interesting/cutting edge beers in existence is utterly mind-boggling. There was more world-class beer shared during that meetup than at all the rest of the Con. Both the gold medal winners of the NHC Sour and Specialty Beer categories are members of Milk the Funk.
The best part is how friendly/open everyone is: ask almost any member their techniques and be prepared to have a knowledge bomb dropped on you. If you have even the faintest interest in sour/funky beers do yourself a favor and read the wiki from cover-to-cover.
Milk the Funk drinking game: every time someone makes a self-righteous claim re: authenticity of Lambic-style beer, take a shot!
— Five Blades Brewing (@FiveBlades) June 17, 2016
Take it Easy
It is really easy to over do it at Homebrew Con: there is always something interesting going on and good beer to drink. Take it from me: your body is not meant to drink beer all day without sleep or food–I learned some hard lessons in San Diego. I made it a goal this year to sleep a decent amount and constantly eat a little something (especially important to absorb the large quantities of beer). Heh, if you read the recaps of my friends above you will note that each of them mention “Derek reminded me we have a big day tomorrow, so I pulled myself away from X to eat/go to bed.” Who is the Homebrew Dad now, Olan!?
My best advice: be okay with not doing every single thing at Homebrew Con. You likely miss out on some cool things, but that is okay! You will also do a lot of really cool things! Be bold, do some stuff you maybe would not do, but also be okay with saying “no.”
NHC Final Round Quality
The big revelation for me was the quality of the National Homebrew Competition final round. Many of the beers I judged were shockingly mediocre, falling squarely in the 30-35 range. Chatting with a few other judges their responses were the same, so what is going on!?
My hypothesis is that final round is all about freshness: lock down your bottling/shipping procedures and re-brew if possible. It seems most folks do not re-brew and the beers that end up at the final round are stale and oxidized at worst and at best have lost the magic that made them “pop.”
The flip side of this is that you should not be intimidated to enter NHC–if you can make a clean beer that is in the right ballpark you are already halfway there!
So there are my thoughts about Homebrew Con 2016. The overwhelming vibe is that folks are pumped for Minneapolis next year and I certainly am as well. See you there next year! 🍻