(If you'd like to skip the words and head directly to the photos, click here)
If it seems like the brewniverse (sorry, not a big fan of that kind of hoppy wordplay but, yet, I find myself doing it anyway) has revolved around Philadelphia for the past month or so, you wouldn't be mistaken.
After another strong showing with ten days of Philly Beer Week in early June, the month closed out with roughly 3,000 homebrewers, vendors, and others associated with the "hobby" at the annual National Homebrewers Conference (NHC). Of course, for some it's a hobby and others it's such a serious passion that it's more of a mere stepping stone to "going pro".
While the conference is not open to the general public, card-carrying members of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) snapped up all available tickets in less than 24 hours earlier in the Spring. Whichever city/region is fortunate enough to have the NHC descend upon it —next year it's in Grand Rapids, Mich.— local homebrewers should count themselves lucky since traveling for the conference can typically amount to a small investment for which the family might rather prefer be allocated to a family vacation. To that end, there were quite a few families that I spotted that accompanied their homebrewing loved one in order to take the opportunity to visit Philadelphia.
Local homebrewers from the Philadelphia region certainly did did not miss the chance to make a strong showing during the three-day conference. From Club Night, where dozens of homebrew clubs from around the country showed off their best creativity and teamwork, to Awards Night, the Philadelphia region showed why it earned the right to host this year's conference.
Local brewers and publicans got in on the act as well, hosting numerous events taking advantage of out-of-town homebrewers and professional brewers alike being in town. Sam Calagione and Sean Paxton at Nodding Head. Mitch Steele at Alla Spina. A completely local tap takeover at Field House. Special brews at Monk's Café, City Tap House, and Strangelove's. John Maier at Barcade. The Brewing Network put on its eighth anniversary party with a blowout of great beer and live music at World Cafe Live. And, Devil's Backbone at Devil's Den.
While I didn't attend every hour of the conference, here are a few things I learned along the way:
~ While not technically a conference event, the Paxton/Calagione/Nodding Head event occurred for the third year and again proved to be one of the highlights of the year on the Philly beer event calendar.
~ Homebrewers, with no real surprise, proved their incredible passion for their hobby. From the conversations to the tastings to the seminars and the awards, the geekerie and the excitement could be felt all around the conference.
~ Tom Peters of Monk's Café fame (really of all things Belgian beer fame) proved his position in the beer hierarchy with an informative and entertaining keynote address. I wonder if it's been recorded anywhere for future viewing?
~ The Brewers Association, for all the fun that beer is, runs a tight ship and well-organized conferences. Kudos to a lineup of educational and fun seminars, social hours, and platform for showcasing great commercial and homebrewed beer.
~ There are way more homebrew clubs in the Philadelphia region than I was aware of. Case in point, the Berks County Homebrew Club, in the neck of the woods of my youth.
~ Mike, "Tasty", McDole, has long been an accomplished homebrewer who was brought to national attention when he won the Longshot Competition with Sam Adams back in 2007. There was little reason for me to doubt his popularity before Philadelphia, but during the conference seeing the number of women, and men to be fair, that flocked to him for a picture, a quick word, etc. was astounding. Doesn't hurt that he's an extremely nice and approachable man.
~ I was astounded by the presence of mead, cider, and perry at the conference. From the seminars to the number of associated awards, I learned that the NHC is not exclusively about beer. Michael Fairbrother (Moonlight Meadery) gave an excellent and enthusiastically passionate presentation about his meadery and views on the industry.
~ Speaking of enthusiasm, professional brewers are quite supportive of the homebrewing industry and the people that make it up. I was taken by how many professional brewers from outside the Philly region showed up to speak, pour at Pro Night, and/or show up at off-site venue for events or meet 'n' greets. It probably doesn't hurt that many of them come from homebrewing roots and this is just one form of giving back. That, plus maybe looking at the talent pool for future brewing employees.
Here again, a link to my Facebook gallery of pictures from NHC 2013. Enjoy and Cheers!