2012 National Homebrewers Conference: Day 2 Recap

The 34 Annual National Homebrewers Conference ended last Saturday. I wrote about Day 1 during the event. Although it’s now over and nothing but a hazy memory, I wanted to document my entire experience. So here’s a recap of Day 2.

Thank You, I’ll Have Another.  In the first seminar of the day, Jennifer Talley, Redhook Woodinville Brewery Operations Manager, talked about session beers. Low in alcohol, multiple beers can be consumed during a single session (hence the name). Jennifer honed her skills producing low alcohol beers while brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah. A good session beer is hard to brew because flaws are readily apparent. They’re essentially “naked” beers. In a high alcohol, heavily hopped beer, flaws can be easily masked. Jennifer walked us through the recipe for a Session Pale Ale as we sampled Redhook Pilsner and Redhook Long Hammer IPA. I think the pendulum is shifting from big beer to session beer. That’s a good thing.

Brewing on the Ones:  Have you every brewed a beer with a vast array of malts and many different hops?  I recently did, and spent a decent amount of time wondering if the single ounce of the 8th malt would really make a difference.  Drew Beechum talked about how using simple malt bills and minimal hop varieties in a beer forces brewers to think creatively. In addition, it builds skills by bringing homebrewers closer to the professional brewing world. Pro brewers are less likely to stock numerous varieties of malt and hops. Drew’s talk resonated with me as I tend to believe in simplicity and that less is more. Think about it, does your beer really need 5 different hop varieties? Can you tell the difference?

Going Pro Panel.  So, you want to start your own brewery? Count yourself among the 75% of audience that had the same idea. Four seasoned brewery owners (Dick Cantwell of Elysian, Jeff Althouse of Oakshire, Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic, and Beaux Bowman of Black Raven) shared their wisdom and experiences in making the jump to professional brewing.

Dick Cantwell kicked off the discussion by offering three things to consider if you plan to go pro:
  • Distribution: Old rules don’t apply as former enemies can be friends. Anheuser Busch’s distribution network enabled Elysian to distribute their beers broadly.
  • Sizing:  The type of equipment and the size of the brewery is a huge consideration. It may seem logical to start with a small brewhouse and slowly expand. However, due to the economics of brewing, you’ll likely struggle to cover your costs.
  • Cooperative Brewing:  You don’t have to buy your own brewhouse. Contract brewing and alternating proprietorships are now common. 

On their biggest mistakes….
  • Jeff Althouse: Launched Oakshire Brewing with $91K and was underfunded.
  • Jamil Zainasheff:  Started Heretic with a 30 barrel brewhouse (in an alternating proprietorship), underestimated demand, and outgrew it in 6 months.
  • Beaux Bowman:  Similarly, he started with a 15 barrel brewhouse and was undersized from the start.
  • Dick Cantwell: Pay attention to contracts—especially with fabricators. A lawyer can help to ensure your project stays on schedule.

The conversation moved on to funding. All raised funds using personal and family savings. Most also utilized private equity offerings. A few panelists recommended the Small Business Administration as an excellent resource. I’m intrigued by the business side of beer and thought it was a fascinating discussion.  However, I expect it brought most prospective brewers back to reality. While you may enjoy brewing beer, if you chose to go down the professional route, it’s a business.

Keynote AddressCharles Finkel:  I knew Charles Finkel was the founder and co-owner of Pike Brewing Co. in Seattle. However, I was not aware of his deep roots in the craft beer world. During the course of the hour, he told us his story. He started in the wine business in the 60s and went on to launch Merchant Du Vin, a wine importer. He then expanded by importing European craft beer in the 70s. He's responsible for bringing Orval, Lindemans, Westmalle, and Samuel Smith's to the United States. In the late 80’s, he founded Pike Place Brewing with his wife Roseanne. Along the way, in his temporary “retirement”, he started a graphics design firm. I was surprised to learn that he designs many of the labels for the beer he imports. Charles is a fascinating man and his impact on craft beer is profound.

After the keynote and the seminars, The Sasquatch Social Club reopened. After all, one should have some late afternoon beer, before the evening beer extravaganza begins. Right?  During this session, I tasted one of my most memorable beers. It was a Kriek brewed by Brendan Gramer of the Homebrewers Guild of Seattle Proper. Brendan told me about the 14 month process needed to create this divine elixir. He also shared the recipe with me and I plan to brew it later this summer. Thanks Brendan! 

After a long day of seminars and beer sampling, it was time for more beer! Club Night kicked off at 8pm. 50 homebrew clubs from across the country dazzled attendees with their homebrewed creations. Each club served between 5-12 beers. It was absolutely INSANE. The beers spanned all the styles and everything in between.

In addition, costumes are a highlight of Club Night, with each club dressing in a unique theme. Check out the pictures below! The beer was great and the costumes were very creative—and usually hilarious! Pro Brewers Night only served up one sour beer. The Clubs remedied that deficiency by serving up numerous sours. Most were incredible. I think I only dumped a handful of beers all night.

Day 2 of the 34th Annual Homebrewers Conference was epic! I could only imagine what Day 3 would bring...

Did you attend the Homebrewers Conference? What was your highlight of Day 2?

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