Each year in June, homebrewers converge on a major U.S. city for Homebrew Con, a week filled with homebrew competitions, immersion, education and celebration. This year’s convention was held in Providence, Rhode Island. I had to forego the brewery tours most attendees go to at the beginning of the convention in order to attend meetings for my positions on the AHA and BJCP boards. Aside from solving the outstanding issues facing large, popular organizations, we also found time to have a beer or two. The keynote speaker for the Welcome Toast was Dan Kleban, whose story of the founding, operation and growth of Maine Beer Co. really resonated with me. He’s about 10 years further along on his brewing journey than we are at StillFire. In addition to producing great beer, I hope we will also share a similar connection to the community that he has.
Throughout the convention, there were welcome parties and get-togethers for diverse groups such as the Homebrew Industry, Experimental Brewing, and Fem Ale. Many famous brewing authors were available for book signings, and the convention floor was teeming with vendors and a rotating set of homebrew clubs pouring beer in the hospitality area. The equipment, supplies, ingredients, and accessories ran the gamut from basic to professionally sophisticated. The BJCP held exams for beer, mead and cider for both new judges and those wanting to advance in rank.
The first seminars of the conference were on Thursday and covered an array of topics such as yeast banking, beer dispensing and grain milling, new beer, mead and cider styles, getting the most out of your hops, and even how to plan homebrew club events and invite guest speakers. As a member of the AHA Board, I was asked to introduce my friends Casey Welsch and Toby Johnson from Atlanta, who recounted the history of Imperial Stout dressed as time-traveling experts complete with period costumes and beer samples. Another one of my planned introductions was Michael Ferguson, the Emmy-nominated host of “Beer Geeks,” who spoke about the trials and tribulations of opening 127 breweries in his career — 126.5 more than I have. The seminars cover every conceivable subject, experience level, and degree of difficulty. Many include beer, mead, or cider samples, so even non-brewers have something to look forward to.
The final rounds of the National Homebrew Competition (NHC) were also judged on Thursday. With more than 9,000 entries, it is the largest beer competition in the world. I was assigned to judge two rounds as well as judge the Cider Best of Show (BOS), which determined the Cidermaker of the Year. Having judged the Beer BOS several times previously, I will likely have another turn soon. All the beers, meads, and ciders that were judged on Thursday had already won a ribbon in one of 13 regional contests. The Kick-Off Party also took place on Thursday, during which professional breweries served beer in the main ballroom. Fun was had by all, yet it was still technically only Day 1.
Friday was a continuation of the scheduled seminars and demonstrations. We had an AHA and BJCP members’ meeting, but the key event wasn’t until that evening. For anyone who has ever attended this conference, the crowning glory of the event is Club Night, where homebrew clubs from around the country set up themed booths complete with costumes and, of course, beer. The tap setups alone are worthy of an extensive blog. If you can think of an experimental, popular, or classic beer style, someone is probably pouring it on Club Night. It is the best beer party you will ever attend. While I have many friends who attended the conference who are in a club, many didn’t have the club numbers in Providence to support a full booth. Enter someone with eight years residence and a total of 16 years of personal connection to New Orleans to fix the issue. Sometime after Club Night was well under way, I led a Mardi Gras parade complete with flags, banners, Charlie Papazian T-shirts, and beads to kick the party up a notch. The bronzed rubber chicken that beer author Michael Jackson once held was the King of the Krewe and was carried around on a stretcher. I brought MOAB 4.0, the Mother of All Boomboxes, to lead the parade. The 2019 version consisted of seven battery-powered speaker units, with a total of 17 speakers and a combined 1,000 watts of tunes that requires a dolly to roll it. Besides the displaced club members, my friends from the Foam Rangers in Colorado paraded with us by pulling their two mobile beer wagons. All in all, it was the best way I know of cranking it up to 11.
While Saturday always seems to be a bit of a letdown, there was still a half day of seminars and, most importantly, the NHC Award ceremony. My first national recognition came in this contest numerous times over the years, but I was a mere spectator at this year’s event. Many of my friends won awards, which is always great to see. After the awards ceremony, the conference ended with the aptly named Knockout Party. One of the highlights of the party is, in addition to commercial and homebrewed beers, the beer entries that didn’t win a Gold Medal are sitting on ice organized by category for people to sample. One of the after-conference events was the Brewing Network’s 14th Anniversary Party. Brewing Network founder Justin Crossley hosted hundreds of convention attendees at a local music venue, Fete Music Hall, with awesome beer from locals such as Melvin and numerous guest taps. The surprise guest was Providence School of Rock who performed a long set of classic rock. Liver don’t fail me now!
Homebrew Con 2020 will be held in Nashville, Tennessee, from June 18-20. I know a lot of my homebrew friends from Georgia will be making the trip. I will be there, and I hope StillFire will be logistically able to have a booth at Industry Night. As far as being ready, the Tank Fairy showed up in Suwanee while I was gone. That will be the subject of my next blog.