Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Playing Catchup - NHC

It has been a long time since I've updated the blog - mostly because I've been lucky enough to spend most of summer 2012 in campsites and other fun places around the Pacific Northwest that do not have internet access.  I've had some fun beer adventures, but I'm far enough behind now that I have to post abbreviated highlights in order to catch up.  Here goes.

2012 National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) - Bellevue, Washington

NHC is the annual conference of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA).  The AHA is incredibly well-organized and sophisticated, and has (I believe) around 30,000 members in the USA.  In addition to offering beer information and discussion forums on the web, pub discounts across America and a very good homebrewing magazine (Zymurgy), they also assist states in lobbying for/crafting legislation to legalize or liberalize homebrewing.  (Yes, there are still a few states where homebrewing is still outlawed.)  We are sorely lacking an equivalent organization in Canada.

The AHA also runs NHC, which is held in a different host city each year.  It is a massive effort, and is a true convention along the lines of other professional or industry conventions.  3 days and 1800 attendees this year (next year will probably be about 2400), seminars all day long by experts in various aspects of brewing and beer, an exhibitors hall, reception rooms hosted by local homebrewing clubs that provide beer during breaks and after evening events, and the evening events themselves.  Night one is Pro Brewers Night, where the main ballroom essentially turns into a beer festival where commercial breweries pour their beer for attendees.  Night two is Club Night, the highlight of the festival; 52 homebrew clubs from around the US (and now Canada, since this year VanBrewers was the first Canadian club to host a booth at NHC) set up outlandish, themed booths, dress in costumes, and serve their club's beer.  The third and final night is the Grand Banquet, where a multi-course beer-paired dinner is served, and the results of the National Homebrewers Competition are announced.

Oh yes, one of the main events of NHC is the judging of the final round of the biggest beer competition in the world.  The National Homebrewers Competition "qualifying rounds" consist of 10 major homebrew competitions across the US and one in Canada (the Saskatchewan ALES competition).  Anyone who places 1st, 2nd or 3rd in any beer category in any of these competitions may submit a beer in the same category to the final round, which is judged at NHC by senior BJCP beer judges.

This year, about 7800 entries were judged at the 11 qualifying competitions, and about 880 beers were entered in the final round at NHC.  Every one of those 880 beers were judged in one day at NHC, and each received a full page of scoring/feedback from three different judges.  I was lucky enough (along with two other VanBrewers) to judge at this year's competition.

So other than the fact that free, interesting beer is available all day long and is an intergral part of the program, and that people aren't wearing collared shirts, it could be any other convention but is much, much more fun.  

It all went by in a jet-lagged blur, but highlights for me included:
  • BJCP judges reception and lunch, including presentations on the Alt beer style (with an incredibly Brettanomyces-infected keg of Zum Uerige, ugh) and the burgeoning Cascadian Dark Ale style (mistakenly identified as "Black IPA" east of the Rockies).
  • Huge beer cellar list during dinner at Brouwer's in Seattle
  • Judging the final round of the National Homebrew Competition with one of my brewing role models - author John Palmer, as well as beer author Stan Hieronymus.  It was also a confidence-booster, since my evaluations were nicely in line with the other (senior) judges.  Every final round beer was very good, so judging was difficult and often came down to intangibles and being very picky about the beers and styles.
VanBrewers. L-R: Danny Seeton, Aaron Peterson, Ari Giligson and yours truly. All except Aaron judged the NHC final round. [Photo credit to a VanBrewer, let me know if you know who took it]
  • Club Night, a beer festival consisting entirely of home brewers.  Unbelievable.
Some of the kegs for just ONE of the 52 club night booths.  This one (shown mid-setup) has a rock theme, plasma screens showing the tap list, video screens showing Seattle music performances, and a "backstage" area with special brews.

And the tuning pegs on the big guitar are tap handles!

A club from Arizona had an "Occupy NHC" theme, which was both topical and funny.  Here there are "protesting" at the VanBrewers booth until we give them beer.

The VanBrewers crew with the first-ever Canadian booth at an NHC Club Night.  [Photo credit to one of the VanBrewers; let me know if you know who took the photo]

  • Great seminars on all manner of beer-related topics, from the biggest names in homebrewing.

Homebrewing stars: Authors Ray Daniels, Jamil Zainasheff, Gordon Strong, Randy Mosher, John Palmer.

  •  Grand Banquet and awards ceremony featuring a beer-paired dinner by Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef.

VanBrewer table at the Grand Banquet

If you have any interest in homebrewing, you owe it to yourself to make a trip to NHC at least once.  It's the most brewing-nerd fun possible, a truly great time.  The 2013 conference is in Philadelphia - mark your calendars and get ready to pounce on tickets, as they sell out almost instantly.

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