Homebrew Con 2018 Portland, OR

When we moved into our new home and officially became home owners, a new fire was lit inside me in the homebrewing apartment. I always loved to homebrew, but brewing in an apartment was limiting at times and I would keep my brewing for special occasions and holidays. With all the extra space and detached garages at our new home, it allowed me to really dive into homebrewing and take the hobby to new heights. With me newfound love for homebrewing came excessive research into the homebrewing community.

As I plugged into many homebrewing podcasts and started diving into numerous books, the AHA (American Homebrewers Association) was an organization that was frequently mentioned. The AHA is a non - profit organization founded out of Boulder, Colorado by Charlie Papazian in 1978. The organization boasts 46,000 members and is responsible for advocating rights for homebrewers in the United States, organizes/recognizes various homebrew competitions around the country, serves as an exceptional education resource for homebrewers everywhere and are the brilliant people behind Homebrew Con. I immediately became a member which granted me access to invaluable education resources and access into nationwide AHA sanctioned Homebrew Competitions, which I have since had some really great success in. My membership also opened the door for me to plan my first adventure at Homebrew Con.

As I mowed through countless hours of podcasts in my first year of being a homebrew fanatic, I heard tales of Homebrew Con pasts....I heard stories of the club night parties, legends of what happens in the expo and feedback from some of the invaluable education sessions that take place throughout the conference. Homebrew Con is an annual conference (or pilgrimage to more appropriately describe the experience) open to members of the AHA. The conference consists of over 60 educational sessions lead by key authors of homebrew literature, hosts of homebrew podcasts, malt producers, hop growers, etc. , a homebrew equipment/ingredient expo, a pro night and a club night. I decided late this past winter that 2018 was going to by my first year attending Homebrew Con...This year's location? Good ole' Portland, Oregon!

Flight was booked, passes to Homebrew con were purchased and a small basement apartment just outside of the city was arranged. The day snuck up on me, but I was excited to embark on this journey. A few members of my homebrew club were planning on going as well so I knew that I had a few people I could reach out to if I felt lost in anyway - part of me wanted to just fly solo and take it all in. I took the later flight into Portland and arrived around 8pm. The other guys from the club had already been in town for a few hours and already had their fill of beer and were heading back to their hotels to rest up for day one of the conference. I checked into my AirBnB, scoped out the layout...no tv? hmmmm

Well, I was rather close to one of my favorite breweries in Portland, Great Notion Brewing Company. I hopped in an Uber, ordered some dinner, indulged in two juicy IPA's and headed back to my apartment to get some rest before the first big day of the conference.

Being fresh off a trip to Portugal, my internal clock was beyond jacked up. I woke up bright and early at 5am. Oh yea...there's no TV in this AirBnB.....Thankfully, the World Cup was on and upon doing some research I found a brewpub that opened early for all of the games. I shot over to Kells Brewery, a brewpub known for their Irish Ales....right up my alley! I took a seat at the bar, ordered some bacon and eggs and watched the early World Cup game. Around halftime, the head brewer walked in and started his brew day. Once he mashed in, the sweet sweet smell of the malt filled the room. Heaven?

After the game I shot over to the convention center to pick up my credentials and wait for the conference to begin. An army of Ubers were letting fellow brewers out in front of the convention center as eager as I was. I stepped up the the registration booth and was handed my badge along with a huge Breiss bag full of swag. Now....I had about an hour to kill. I took a seat on the floor to charge up my phone and just take in the atmosphere that was forming as more and more brewers headed down the escalator to the registration area.

As people started to fill in, a line began to form in front of a long table full of brewing literature and other various AHA merchandise. As I was walking past the line I noticed one of the guys in my club waiting in said line. We started chatting and I ended up joining him. The line was forming to pick up our complimentary Homebrew Con 2018 shirts. God, I love t-shirts....

After we grabbed our shirts it was time for the Homebrew Expo to open. We walked through the doors and it was homebrew heaven....Booths filled the room and people dashing from booth to booth filling their bags with free swag. I've been to a few conferences for my day job and sure, there's swag....but nothing like this! Tin tackers, sick hats, grain, hops, stickers, if you think of it, they had it...Before we knew it, our bags were overflowing. Actually at this point, we had two full bags of swag from companies like Blichmann Engineering, YCH Hops, Breiss, Imperial Yeast, SS Brew Tech, Dickies.....the list goes on. These companies also had their newest models of equipment on display. I was drooling over the new 1 bbl brewhouse from SS Brewtech. It's far too big for me, but it was really awesome to see in person.

Before the education sessions began I needed to run back to my AirBnB and drop off my swag bags. Another perk of this year's Homebrew Con being held in Portland, Oregon was the fact that we were surrounded by top notch breweries/brew pubs. We all met over at Rogue Public House (a spot that I visited on my last trip out to Portland) for lunch and some beers.

After lunch we headed back to the convention center to check out some of the first education sessions of the conference. My first session was one that I'll never forget. It was hosted by the Craft Maltsters Guild. During that sessions they handed out various samples from craft maltsters around the country.

They taught us how to run our own sensory tests on different malts and illustrated how different climates and terroir impacted the final product. The skills that I picked up during this session was invaluable to me. I'll never look at base malts the same. My inspiration has led me to explore local maltsters in the area in hopes that I can find one that I really like and stick with them for years to come.

The short day of sessions concluded with the Keynote. This year was Charlie Papazian's final year heading the AHA and he was to deliver the Keynote address. It was bittersweet....and rather emotional. Charlie is the Godfather of homebrewing and was responsible for founding the American Homebrewers Association, founder of the Great American Beer Festival author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, former president of the Brewers Association and creator of a wise saying "Relax, Dont Worry, Have a Homebrew".

This would be his last Homebrew Con at the helm as he was stepping down from the AHA. Charlie was apparently known for his grand entrances at Homebrew Con. This year they wheeled him in on a giant cloud as the huge crowd chanted "FOAM". His speech pointed at the true sense of community known as homebrewing. Listening to his passion made me realize that I was amongst my people. This is where I belonged - in a room full of passionate homebrewers and story tellers. There were over 3400 of us accompanied by 2500 kegs of beer. The experience was beyond moving and I feel blessed that I was able to be part of it.

Day one wrapped up with Pro Night. Its basically a local beer fest for members of the AHA in attendance and an opportunity to meet up with other club members. By the time 9:30 rolled around I was completely shot due to the time difference and it was back to the AirBnB for me to retire for the day.

The next day started with some more eggs and bacon at Kell's Brewery followed by a handful of morning sessions on hop utilization and hopping best practices (it really did turn out to be a day of hops and I wasn't complaining) presented by the team over at YCH Hops. A new day also brought new swag from the expo and another trip back to the AirBnB to drop it all off prior to the lunch break. Topaz, a homebrew club buddy of mine, and his friend John were the two that I spent the most time with for meals. John also worked in tech, lives in North Carolina and has a homebrew rig that people only dream of. The massive amount of stainless steel and fancy hardware was build on a platform which has the ability to be loaded to the back of his pickup truck. He then sometimes drives up to the mountains and brews with a generator on his custom made electric brewhouse. How rad is that!

The night was capped by Club Night. This was something that I couldn't even fathom....Much like Pro Night the night before, the convention center was set up the same however, instead of local craft breweries slinging beer it was the homebrew clubs from around the country (even world...Canada and Australia were both represented) shared their homebrew concoctions. The themes were awesome! One booth had a super hero theme and served up a "bug" beer.....I thought it was just a joke so I said sure I'll have your bug beer..

It was a Mexican Lager, no harm there...I then saw the guy reach over for a plastic cup which looked to contain little crunched up Oreos....Cute I thought...Until I looked into my glass and realized that the dude put actual dead ants into my glass..It was a Mexican Lager brewed with crickets in the mash and topped with sugar ants....nope...Sorry I was a little grossed out, but i'll accept it for the experience. Another odd beer that I had that night was a beer brewed with actual Chicken....yes. It tasted like chicken....I did not get a refill.

I was really impressed with some of the themese these clubs brought to Club Night. The group from Canada had a hockey theme (obviously) and one of the Oregon clubs went all out with an Oregon Trail theme. Homebrew Con is going to be held on the East Coast next year (Providence, Rhode Island) and we're already brainstorming on how to present our homebrews. Before the night was over (or until my internal clock just prevented me from moving on) I managed to grab a picture with the infamous Charlie Papazian and also was entertained by watching a dude dressed as a house yeast strain attempt to use a urinal (it wasn't in a creepy way...you couldn't really miss it..). Yes the guy had a giant cardboard house covering his entire upper body...I guess he didn't really think the costume through...

The last day of the conference was the National Homebrew Competition awards. It didn't start until later in the afternoon so I went back to Kell's and watched Portugal crash and burn out of the World Cup :( I was really glad that I got to check out the awards ceremony. It really lit a new fire under me in regards to competitions. I have had some luck this past year and Im looking forward to building on it. I watched the winners walk up to the podium to accept their medals to a round of applause from their peers. The looks on their faces were priceless...just pure joy. I also saw a fellow homebrewer that I follow on social media capture the illustrious Ninkasi Homebrewer of the Year Award for his two gold medals in the final round. This is my goal. Im not sure how achievable it will be, but I'll do my best to one day lift this trophy. I have a lot of work to do before I get even close to this, but one can dream...

The conference concluded with a Knockout Party which consisted of some food and all the reject bottles of beer from the final round of the competition. There were tables that surrounded the large room organized by style. It was a grab bag of homebrews and you had no idea what you were cracking open. A pretty funny experience I must say...but it also led me to think that my beer was not far off at all if the beers I was tasting were ones in the final round.

Before I knew it...Homebrew Con 2018 was now over...

As I hailed my final Uber to the airport (which actually was a rolling karaoke machine with microphones and disco balls...) I reflected on what a great time I had. Homebrewing and its culture/community really has changed my life. It's allowed me to take a step back and admire the details in everything. It's made me a better person, I truly believe that. If anything, it's taught me to more thoroughly clean things, something my wife can appreciate.

The road to Homebrew Con 2019 has already begun. I continue to enter my Amber and Red Ales into competitions and have been getting great results. I need to tweak these beers to perfection before regionals start in March. I have some news on one of these beers that I will be sharing soon. Im really excited about it!

Until then....Relax, Dont Worry....Have a Homebrew!

Cheers!

-Mark

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