I just returned from the 35th Annual National Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia, PA. The event was from June 27 to 29, 2013, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. The event brought 3,400 homebrewers to town with their brewery T-shirts, cargo shorts, and kegs of homebrews. This was the first time the conference was held in Philadelphia and its first time on the east coast since 2006 when it was held in Orlando, Florida.
What an amazing three days. I increased my homebrewing knowledge, socialized with fellow homebrewers, met people in the industry, and served my own homebrewed beers. Experiencing the conference with my fellow Berks County Homebrew Club members made it even more memorable.
On our first day, we enjoyed a meal at the Field House before heading to the Convention Center for Pro-Brewers Night.
This event began with a welcome toast by Gary Glass, director of the American Homebrewers Association, and Charlie Papazian, founder of the AHA. The commemorative beer for the toast was Iron Hill’s Headbanger IPA.
Almost 50 breweries from across the nation poured beers for the eager homebrewers including Rogue, Tröegs, Sierra Nevada, and Bell’s. A few “celebrities” were in the house serving beers as well, including Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head, and Mitch Steele, brewmaster at Stone Brewing Company. It was great to see my friends from Outta Hand Brews, Joe Moran and Matt Kennedy, as well as accomplished homebrewer, Wardell Massey.
So, the conference was not just about drinking. There were also some interesting and informative seminars. One notable seminar was run by Dr. Brad Smith, author of BeerSmith homebrewing software, the book Home Brewing with BeerSmith, and host of the BeerSmith homebrewing podcast and blog. He is a former rocket scientist and satellite engineer who gave it all up to pursue homebrewing full time in 2010. He spoke about Beer Recipe Design at the conference.
Another highlight for me was attending Dick Cantwell’s seminar. He is the author of The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery. I met him after the seminar, and he gave me great advice and encouragement about my future aspirations after signing my book. (I lugged almost my entire library of brewing books along to get signed by the various speakers.)
Other speakers included Larry Horwitz, regional brewer at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant; Mitch Steele, Brewmaster at Stone Brewing Company; Stan Hieronymus author of For the Love of Hops; Jamil Zainasheff, author of Yeast; Gordon Strong, president and highest ranking judge in the Beer Judge Certification Program; and Mary Izett from the Fuhmentaboudit podcast.
The Keynote Address was on Friday after the seminars. While I enjoyed Manayunk Brewing Co.’s Philadelphia Porter, I listened to an inspiring speech by Tom Peters. Tom is co-owner of Monk’s Café (“Simply the best Belgian Café in the United States” according to famed beer writer Michael Jackson), Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, Grace Tavern, and The Belgian Café, as well as co-owner of The Anderson hotel and restaurant in Fortrose, Scotland. He was also Knighted into the Belgian Brewer’s Guild in 2004 and named an Ambassadeur Orval since 2008.
As awesome as all of that was, the highlight of the conference for me was Club Night. This is the night when homebrew clubs serve up their own beers in a “beer fest” atmosphere. I was there with the Berks County Homebrew Club along with 86 other homebrew clubs from across the nation. We served up homebrewed beers from Colin Presby’s 20-tap tower system, including my Jalapeño Saison, which was well-received by the thirsty crowd. I honestly didn’t want that night to end! There is nothing more rewarding than serving your own beers.
The conference ended with the Grand Banquet and Awards Ceremony with a dinner created by the Homebrew Chef himself, Sean Paxton.
Annie Johnson earned the Homebrewer of the Year award with her Lite American Lager, becoming the first woman in 30 years to win the award. David Barber won the Ninkasi Award for winning the most medals, also earning his homebrew club, Lehigh Valley Homebrewers, the Gambrinus Club Award.
Next year’s conference will be held on June 12-14, 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Hopefully I will be there!