Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Home from the Great Beery North

Well, that was a whirlwind. We drove up to Ames last Tuesday night and had dinner at Olde Main downtown then stayed overnight at a hotel nearby. The food was pretty decent, and the beer was OK, but I probably won't go out of my way to go there again. Instead, if you're up in that area seeking out brewpubs, check out Court Ave or Raccoon River.

Wednesday's 4-hour drive took us to just south of Minneapolis, where the 2010 National Homebrewers Conference was held. We stopped at Blue Max and picked up a few cases of beer (MOSTLY REFRIGERATED!!) that we can't get in the KC area, loaded up the car, and headed to the hotel. After we registered for the conference, we headed to Happy Gnome for lunch, which ended up being one of my favorite places. The food was tasty and so was the beer; we got a 5-beer sampler that included, in order of preference:
  • Surly Abrasive (IIPA)
  • Tyranena Benji's Chipotle Imperial Porter
  • Ommegang Zuur (Flanders red)
  • Fulton Sweet Child o'Vine (IPA)
  • Dark Horse Perkulator Doppelbock (coffee doppelbock)
I'd heartily recommend the first three; the Fulton was limp and uninteresting, and the Dark Horse was down right undrinkable. Too thin on the mouthfeel, too much coffee, and not enough malt to really be a solid doppelbock. Oh well.

The trip went down a little like this...

BJCP reception at Summit. After dinner and a few Summit beers, we all poured ourselves small glasses of traditional semi-sweet mead and walked around the room where small jars of various tinctures and additives were laid out. Juniper, rose, mint, tannins, acids, and other ingredients were there for us to experiment with blending and tasting. It was a unique opportunity and the most useful thing I took away from it was that traditional mead really needs acid and tannin, just like white grape wine.

Seminars started in the afternoon. We went to lunch at Barley John's and enjoyed both the food and beer. I got the sampler (see slideshow) with lunch and enjoyed all the beers, but their porter & wild rice brown were my favorites by a long shot. Sessions took place in the afternoon, and "Pro-Brewers Night" was in the evening. Breweries set up booths around the banquet hall where we could sample their beers and collect brewery swag. While a fun time, the after-party up in the hotel was where to be that night.

Seminars all day long. I learned about specialty malts, mead making tips, optimal yeast conditions, and maturing beer. There's something special about going to a conference where everyone's hung over at the 9am sessions and no one's trying to hide it.

Friday night was one of the most entertaining and incredible experiences I've had in a while. It's club night, meaning that homebrew clubs can sign up to set up a booth and pour beer made by club members. The extent to which some of these clubs go for this event is amazing; I think my favorite in terms of decor was the MASH unit. Check out some of the photos below.

The last day of the conference didn't go without its own merits, though the hangovers were gaining on everyone. I went to sessions on extract brewing, cidermaking, cask conditioning, blind taste tests, and how different sugars affect beer (the base was a tripel). The final social event was a banquet put on by Sean Paxton (homebrewchef) and all the beer was donated by Rogue. Salad, chicken, rice, and dessert - all made with Rogue beer ingredients and paired with a Rogue beer. Check out the menu (scroll down to the "Conference Awards Dinner Menu" section at the bottom).

We didn't win any medals, but two of our beers made it to Mini Best of Show (sort of a semi-finals round for the category), so that was an honor in itself. It's only adding fuel to the fire for next year's competition.

Click on a photo to make it larger. I highly recommend reading the letter to Mark Stutrud (owner/founder of Summit), 5th photo in.

Here's more information on the sessions that were available.
Presentations will be posted when they become available.

Check out the trailer for next year's conference. See you there?


  1. Love this: "There's something special about going to a conference where everyone's hung over at the 9am sessions and no one's trying to hide it.".

  2. Nothing clears up a hangover like half a dozen beer/mead/cider samples at 9 am.

  3. Glad you could go to Blue Max and Happy Gnome. I made those two stops last time I was up there, and I'll make them again in September.

    If you happen to be in Ames again, Cyclone Liquors just west of downtown has a really nice selection.

  4. Awesome, thanks for the recommendation. We'll check it out - liquor stores in different states are always fun :)

    I keep thinking back to NHC. It was such an incredible experience. So much to learn, so much inspiration, and so many genuinely good people. And, of course, so much GOOD BEER.

  5. Which of your creations (I don't want to say which beers because I know you made some mead too) made it to the Mini Best of Show? That is definitely an honor. Congrats. Sounds like an awesome time.

  6. Just recently came across your blog. I used to live directly across the street from Old Main in Ames, and avoided it like the plague.

    Don't forget the Red Monk above the Royal Mile in Des Moines!

  7. Heh, yeah it was kind of middle-of-the-road. We hit up Red Monk the first time we were in DM - I posted about it (and other places) here -


Tasting Notes