Altoids Stout and Chipotle Mead: A Report from the National Homebrewers Conference
MINNEAPOLIS ―Once a year, brewmasters take a back seat to those who brew in the trenches (read: kitchens or garages). At the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC), organized by the American Homebrewers Association ― itself a subset of the Brewers Association ― hobbyists from around the country gathered this past weekend to attend instructional seminars, show off their homebrews, and generally geek out. Picture women in dirndls and men dressed as Paul Bunyan, discussing mashing temperatures, the effects of municipal water's pH balance's on their Maibocks, and the merits of welding one's own gravity-flow brew tree.
Homebrewers Association Every year, beer hobbyists from all over show up to geek out.
Anything goes as far as craft beer styles and ingredients these days, but that's entirely thanks to the hundreds of thousands of homebrewers unafraid to try something new. These brewers generally make beer in 5- to 15-gallon batches, thus making a failed batch (colloquially known as a "dumper") a far less costly learning experience than those made on larger, commercial systems.
And just what were some of the homebrewed oddities poured during "Club Night," the highlight of the conference?
Among the better tasting pours were a sour Belgian stout, peanut butter porter, hot chipotle mead, and a spicy ginger mead (meads are inexplicably huge in Minnesota). Of course, not everything succeeded. We also tried a chocolate mint stout, which got its minty-ness from Altoids thrown in during secondary fermentation, a strong ale made with sweet potatoes, and a margarita mead that smacked of a honey-and-salt-rimmed chalice.
Brian Yaeger For craft beer styles, anything goes.
In the end, after the 500 kegs that had been schlepped to the conference from garages near and far had kicked, this year's winners were announced at a grand banquet prepared by Sonoma's Sean Paxton, the "Homebrew Chef." After all, not only was this a conference, it was the final round of a national homebrew competition that saw 1,598 brewers enter 6,281 different beers for judging. Based on the total number of medals awarded to members of the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE), the Walnut Creek organization earned club of the year honors. It proved that, not only is the Bay Area home to some of the best professional brewers, we've got the best homebrewers, too.
The NHC takes place in San Diego next year. Click here for a list of the 16 Bay Area clubs who'd love to recruit more members, no experience necessary.