NHC 2015 Review pt.1

As a member of the AHA, I think one of the biggest benefits is the amount they do to promote brewing education and research. In addition to the trickle of knowledge that comes from Zymergy every month or chatting with people on the AHA forums, there's the flood of seminars that get posted from NHC that leave you feeling kind of like this kid. I love it, but it's a mountain of information to parse. Fear not though, I've gone through and listened to every single one and wrote up a few notes to help you decide if it's worth your time to dive into it or not. You'll need to be a member of the AHA to listen, so if you haven't joined already, head on over to the AHA website and get yourself signed up.

One slight nit to pick with this year's presentations and a warning for all of you about to dive down the rabbit hole. For whatever reason, the speaker introductions have been cut off. There is no metadata on any of the files. So the only thing that shows up in a player like Google Music are memorable names such as 150611_0288.mp3 by unknown artist. So if you download more than one presentation at a time, good luck figuring out what you're listening to. If you have the ability to sort by file name, then you should be golden, as all the file names match the presentation names.

So without further ado, here's what was presented at NHC 2015:

  • (Almost) Everything You Know About Brewing History Is Wrong by Randy Mosher - I will be the first to admit I'm not Mr. Mosher's biggest fan, so I didn't have high expectations for this talk, especially after his talk last year. This was actually ok, but a little baffling. The things that he claims you know are "wrong" aren't really things I've ever heard anyone say. It's really more a high points of beer history without the depth or charm of Ron Pattinson. It's still a good listen if you're completely unfamiliar with beer history, but more knowledgeable folks might take contention with some of his assertions.

  • A Contrast and Comparison of the Many Variations of India Pale Ale by Mitch Steele - This is basically a history of IPA and all the current variations. It moves from history into an overview of the current market for IPA. The meat and potatoes is at the end where you get more discussion and tips on how to make each style variation. At the very end, there's even a few good general hop pairing ideas.

  • Avoiding a D-bomb: A Key to Understanding Diacetyl by Kara Taylor - Another presenter I was not enthused by last year was Kara Taylor, so I didn't expect much here. I was very wrong. Maybe someone keyed her off that she needed to bring her A-game this time and she most certainly did. If you've ever wondered about and facet of diacetyl, you need to listen to this talk. As with most talks this year, some of the best information comes out in the Q&A at the end, so be sure to listen to this one all the way through.

  • Beer Clarity, In Depth by Brad Smith - I enjoy the BeerSmith podcast, but I have to say this presentation comes up a little dry. Maybe Brad was just off his game ... or too on his game for club night, but I felt this presentation was a little lifeless. It's a really good discussion on beer clarity, so if you're looking to get right to the point, give it a listen. If you're looking for something a little more in depth, head over to BeerSmith and look up his 4 part series on beer clarity.

  • Berliner and Beyond: Sour Mashing and Its Applications by Derek Springer - I had the opportunity to chat with Derek at Five Blades Brewing about this topic while he was still doing the research for it, so the bar was high for this talk. I was really glad to see how it turned out. It's entertaining, informative, and easy to follow. I love that he explains what's going on at a basic level and then gives step by step instructions on how to follow methods he's tried out, so you can avoid common pitfalls. I only wish he would have shared the secrets to getting lacto starters that smell like pineapple juice.

  • Blurring the Style Guidelines: Brewing Great, Mixed-Style Beers by Peter Zien - After this talk was over I kept thinking "that's it?" but then it hit me, this is just how I think about beer and not everyone else does that. This is a great talk for those starting out in brewing or possibly those who feel like they've hit a creative brick wall and need a little inspiration. Biggest hint for those brewing for competition of even those studying for BJCP: styles can be close and you can lump a beer into more than one category.

  • Brewing Session Beer by Andrew Mitchell - Session beers are an area I see for a lot of growth and creativity in homebrewing, so this talk is especially timely. Andrew emphasizes that simply scaling down a higher ABV recipe isn't enough. You need to consider how to balance your SG and FG, mouth feel, and ABV to IBU ratio to make a flavorful beer that's still low in alcohol. Lots of great tips here so this one should end up on your "must listen to" list.

  • Brewing with Coffee: Approaches & Techniques from Dry-Beaning to Home Roasting by Jacob McKean, Amy Krone & Michael Tonsmeire - Given the lineup of speakers presenting on this topic, I thought it was going to be a lot more exciting than it was. There's a little bit of interesting science when Tonsmeire takes the stage and some interesting bits at the end when they talk about barrel aging coffee beans and some other exotic applications, but that's it. From that standpoint, this talk was kind of boring and probably one you can skip unless you're absolutely obsessed with coffee beers.

  • Brewing With Experimental Hops: A New Hop Variety Just For Homebrewers Jason Perrault, Karl Vanevenhoven & Vinnie Cilurzo - This talk is really more of the introduction of Ron Mexico, a neo mex hybrid hop, to the homebrewing world than anything else. There's a brief history of how hops are cultivated and selected to become the new rock star of the hop world. You won't learn much else after that expect that you'll learn you're extremely jealous of everyone who was able to attend in person and get a sample of Ron Mexico to test.

  • Bridging the Gender Gap: Women by Debbie Cerda, Florencia “Popy” Fouch & Kim Wood - I'm not really sure what I was expecting when I listened to this presentation, but I don't think I was expecting to get as infuriated as I did. Here's a pro-tip: if you take a given statement and switch the genders (make the she's he's and the he's she's) and it sounds sexist, it is. The thing is, it's still sexist when you flip the genders back. I have the feeling most of the women on this panel have no concept of that. If I were to suggest that there be "men only" brew clubs or that women can hang out and act as assistants and eye candy, which is what these women said with the genders reversed, I would get skewered for it. To the old school feminist who called out all this BS during the Q&A portion: you are my hero.

  • Bringing the Brewery Home by Jason Oliver & Warren Haskell - Let me sum this up for you: given the same recipe, a beer will turn out differently based on the differences in the brewer, the brewing equipment, fermentation, etc. There, now you don't need to listen to this presentation. If you're looking for some tips on cloning Devil's Backbone, then it is worth your time to skip forward to ~25 minutes in and get to the Q&A section.

  • Confessions of a Celebrity Hop Variety: How Did I End Up Beer? by Pat Purcell - If you want an overview of the commercial process of selecting hop varieties and growing them, you'll love this talk. It's really interesting and gives you a great overview of the business. If you're looking for tips on growing hops yourself, look elsewhere like Hops: Grow and Enjoy Your Own. You will learn very little about growing hops from this talk.

  • Continuing the Revolution: Taking Your Cider Making To The Next Level by Stan Sisson - I'm going to give you the tl;dr on the Revolution: treat your cider like wine and not like beer. Many, many great tips around cider, apple selection, yeast selection, etc. but you really need to let go of any brewmaster thoughts you have and put on your wine hat (beret?) for this one.

  • Crafting Cellarworthy Beers by Patrick Dawson - Never would I have thought encouraging the development of fusel alcohols would be something a brewer would do to another brewer, but that seems to be the biggest take away from Mr. Dawson here. He does have a point, as a beer ages, decomposition will take place and you want enough of the right precursors to end up with a delicious end product. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around making an intentionally "hot" beer but I guess it's something I'll have to test out one of these days.

  • Czech Lagers: History, Brewing, Judging by Bob Hall & Randy Scorby - When the new BJCP style guidelines came out, I thought they were nuts for devoting an entire category to a Czech lagers, but these guys certainly do make the case for it. Listening to this talk may want to make you fly to Prague and drink your way through a vacation. At the very least, you'll want to give making a few of these beers a try. The biggest issue is that none of them seem to be available in the US, so I have no idea if what you or I would brew up has any relation to the actual styles these categories are based on.

  • Does Your Fermenter Affect Your Beer? by Phil Farrell & Bob Sandage - I'll save you some time here and tell you, no it doesn't much. I wouldn't normally completely blow the results of a talk like this, but this is kind of a rambling mess. Since there's no intro, I thought this was initially a talk about the history of the Wrecking Bar or how to open a brew pub. Couple that with the fact they keep referring to the beers by their trade names just make it confusing. Please don't hold this against The Wrecking Bar though, it's an awesome place and you should visit it if given the chance.

  • Fermenting Mead with Ale Yeasts by Frank Golbeck & Maurey Fletcher - There is an abundance of over jubilance that seems to come from the presenter consuming too much of his own product before the talk. That's just a warning to be ready for a little tipsiness. I'm not really sure this is ale specific, but you will get a really good overview of how to make mead and some insights into how to go pro at making mead.

  • From 5 to 5,000 Gallons: What to Look for in a Brewery Space by Scott Katzer - There's really nothing here on the 5 gallon side, if you're looking for that, you'd be better off with this presentation from 2010. However, if you're looking to go pro and build bigger, you'll have a lot of great things to chew on. Overall, this is a great introduction to the design and construction process.

  • Hands-On Activities to Help You Master Beer Styles by Ray Daniels - This is a really hard talk to quantify, which is especially ironic since it's about quantifying your beer. It's not that it's bad. It certainly is entertaining, engaging, and educational. It just seems to go on and on and never really have a defining point.

  • Homebrew Club Insurance Program by Luke Dobrich - Insurance ... yeah ... that seems like one to skip. Not so fast. This is actually a pretty interesting talk because it covers a range of topics related to homebrewing and liability that you've probably never even considered. If you're a solo brewer, it might be skippable, but if you're in a homebrew club or thinking of forming one, you should definitely give this a listen.

  • Homebrew Toxicology: Debunking the Hidden Dangers of Chemicals in Your Brew System by Paul Hanlon - Toxicology might sound like another topic that isn't really relevant to homebrewers, but this talk covers topics you've seen debated on forums such as "is Fermcap-S safe", "what plastic is safe for brewing", and others. The basic take away that all things can potentially be toxic in high enough exposures, but limiting exposure is the key.

  • Hops: Grow and Enjoy Your Own by Sean Gardinier - If you're a regular reader of Immaculate Brewery, this talk should contain no surprises for you as I've already gone over all this in much greater detail. However, if you're new to hop growing, this is a really solid introduction. The only nit to pick is I disagree with his description of when you should harvest hops, otherwise this is a great way to get all the information you'll need to grow hops at home.

  • Hosting Cask Ale Events by Randy Baril - Calling all CAMRA nerds, this one is for you. The overall theme of this talk is timing. Since cask ale is a "living" product, when to serve, how long to serve it after it's been tapped, even how to keep the lines flowing when serving cask ale at an event. It's funny how many things you can learn from beer. This talk is really a discussion about project management and traffic flow analysis at its core, but with beer, so that makes everything better.

  • How to Brew, Blend and Maintain an Acid Beer by Jeff Crane - Sour beer was definitely a bit topic this year and this talk hits right between Berliner and Beyond and Wild and Spontaneous Fermentation at Home. While the main thrust here is blending to add depth and flavor to a finished beer, I kept thinking throughout the talk how it would be interesting to keep an acid beer on hand for mash pH adjustments. Really straight forward and to the point, this should be on your play list along with the other two talks mentioned if your at all into sour and wild beers.

  • In Pursuit of Perfection: Hefeweizen Project by Paula Cartwright - This was probably one of the more confusing talks from the outset, since the entire introduction is cut off, but stick with it. While it starts out slow and on a super basic level (making beer from kits), it slowly evolves into a story of devotion to a style and a ton of research and experimentation that went into tweaking all the knobs of variables that can go into making beer. I have lots of respect for Paula and her laser like focus on perfecting a hefe.

  • Intro to Professional Brewing Quality Assurance by Rick Blankemeier - I'm not sure why this is being presented at the AHA, unless it's aimed at brewers looking to go pro. There is literally no applications I can see for homebrewers. It's very heavy on the analytics, but I like that. One interesting point about this and other pro level talks I've heard lately is the reliance on titration. I've always assumed that was a "wine thing" for whatever reason, but it now has me rethinking how I can utilize this in my brewery.

  • Introduction to Experimentation by Denny Conn & Drew Beechum - This is almost the exact same talk Denny and Drew gave last year, but this year they seem slightly less excited about it and possibly a little hung over. This is a great subject, but it was better delivered in 2014. Go back a year and look it up as it's a must listen.

  • Keynote Address by Tomme Arthur - You're not going to learn a thing from this, although I'm not sure why you'd think you'd learn anything from a keynote speech. It is fun to listen to and might help you find your groove if you find yourself in a brewing rut.

I'll wrap up the review in pt.2. I really hope if you're not currently a member, this might encourage you to sign up either as a first time member or a renewal. If you do sign up, make sure you drop a line to them and tell them how much to appreciate the work they do for homebrewing education.

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