Promos for Homebrew Con 2018 featured craft beer icon Charlie Papazian sitting cross-legged, eyes shut, and arms out. Belgian ale glasses filled with sloshing beer are pinched between each thumb and index finger.
It’s an apropos image for the three-day conference, an annual gathering of homebrewers and craft beer enthusiasts.
After all, Papazian, dubbed the “godfather of homebrewing,” is, in fact, a zen-like figure for this crowd. His likeness and his 40-year-old catchphrase — Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. — are ubiquitous at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Ore., the home to the 40th annual Homebrew Con.
Papazian’s infectious smile is emblazoned on a commemorative beer — Charlie 2018. Brewed by Rogue Ales, pitchers of the strong ale are passed around ahead of Papazian’s keynote address on June 28. Each attendee received a 22-ounce bottle as well.
Kicking Off Homebrew Con 2018
But first, an entrance that’s pure Papazian.
I should note: I actually haven’t met Papazian in person, though I saw him on stage and in the convention center throughout the conference. His larger-than-life persona makes you feel as if you’re moments away from sitting down to enjoy a beer with him.
OK, back to the entrance.
Remember that description above? The one in which Papazian is channeling his inner yogi? He enters the Portland Ballroom on a cloud-like cotton-covered cart. He sports a a fake-nose-and-eyebrow-glasses getup. The entire room stands and chants…
Not om. Foam.
And that’s how the 40th Homebrew Con — and my first — officially begins.
Homebrew Con: A Legend on Stage
With a taster of Charlie’s Strong Ale in hand, I listen to Papazian deliver the keynote address. He packages 40 years of history into an hour of old-fashioned storytelling. His mission from the start: to make beer and brewing information accessible.
Over the course of his 40-year career, which began when he co-founded the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) in 1978 and is set to end when he retires next January on his 70th birthday, Papazian said he aimed to demonstrate that anyone can homebrew.
He reflected on a beer making class he taught early in his career.
“It was a learning experience because I didn’t know shit about making beer,” he says. “I learned more from teaching and from my homebrewing students than I originally knew myself.”
It didn’t take long for Papazian to compile what he’d learned and impart his wisdom on millions of would-be homebrewers. The publication of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing in 1984 inspired countless beer enthusiasts to take up the hobby.
There are now 1.1 million homebrewers in the United States, according to Gary Glass, director of the AHA. He also mentioned that about 3,200 attended Homebrew Con 2018. That put the latest installment in the running for largest ever.
Perhaps an even more-telling figure: 2,500 or so kegs of beer were loaded into the Oregon Convention Center.
Homebrew Con: The Highlights
- Seventy-seven vendors helped make the event possible. I drooled over much of the equipment, gadgets, and ingredients on display at the 93,000-square-foot Homebrew Expo. Thanks to my wife, I am a proud owner of a Pancho’s Keg Cooler™, which was on display at the expo.
- Nightly parties featured beer tastings provided by commercial breweries and homebrewers.
- More than 90 speakers presenting 60 educational sessions definitely helped me leave the event more knowledgeable about brewing than when I arrived.
Here are a few notes from my inaugural trip to Homebrew Con:
Kickoff Party: A “private beer festival” for attendees, professional brewers poured samples of their delicious beers. Standouts for me: A pilsner from Baerlic Brewing Company and a Carina Peach Sour from Ecliptic Brewing.
Club Night: More than 40 homebrew clubs — including Utah’s own Lauter Day Brewers — showed off their lavishly decorated booths, creative costumes, and delicious homebrew.
Knockout Party: All good things must end. Fortunately, at Homebrew Con, that means tasting “leftover” beers from the National Homebrew Competition. More than 8,400 beers were entered into the competition this year.
The Educational Sessions
American Hops: From Soil to Serve: Color me impressed by the dedication, patience, and innovation YCH Hops contributes to the craft beer industry. It takes 11+ years to breed a hop, according to Nick Zeigler. I also appreciated learning more about Cryo Hops®, which are designed for enhanced flavor and aroma. “It uses a proprietary cryogenic separation process which preserves all components of each hop fraction,” according to the YCH website.
Better Brewing Through Data Science and Machine Learning: Justin Revelstoke understands that “beer at its best is both an art and a science.” He’s utilizing tons of homebrewing data to develop artificial intelligence to help homebrewers brew better beer. “AI is coming to coach us, mentor us, and make us better brewers,” he says. Check out his stuff: https://github.com/TheArtofPour
Session Beers: Brewing for Flavor and Balance: Jennifer Talley is a legend in the Utah craft beer scene. She spent 20 years at Squatters Craft Beers developing flavorful beer recipes while adhering to Utah’s 4% alcohol-by-volume limits for draft beers. It was a pleasure listening to her talk about her experiences, her challenges, and her greatest accomplishments. And when it comes to “session” beers, she believes quality reigns supreme. “There’s absolutely nothing to hide behind” when creating a 4% beer, she says. “A session beer shows everything.”
Lessons I’ve Learned in 50 Years of Brewing: I don’t have much to say about this one. In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ken Grossman talk about the early days of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., its current footprint, and its future.
Until Next Year, Homebrew Con
I’m already making plans to attend Homebrew Con 2019 in Providence, R.I. It will be interesting to compare the craft beer landscape 12 months from now to what it is today.