Why, you may ask, am I writing about NHC2014 over two months after it's over? It took that long to go through every talk! There was lots of good information presented and it's all up for your review now on the AHA Website. Here's my personal take the NHC2014 conference seminars:
40 Things in 40 Minutes: 40 Tips, Tricks, Techniques and Tweaks to Improve your Brewing, Meadmaking and Cidermaking - As a seasoned brewer, nothing said here surprised me. A nice overview for new brewers looking for tips.
A Guide to Blending Yeast Strains - Honestly, this was a disappointment. I don't feel like much more was said than "If you blend 2 strains 50/50, you'll get equal measure of both strains' effects in the final beer". The audience asked many questions I was thinking myself and the speaker seemed not to be able to answer any of them.
An Introduction to Brewing Sake - As someone who has never made a sake, but has always been intrigued by the idea, this was a great introduction. Worth your time if you're interested in sake.
Backyard Beekeeping for Homebrewers - The first thing that struck me about this talk was that beekeepers definitely have their own language and how strange the language of homebrewers must be to an outsider. They definitely make beekeeping sound interesting and something much more approachable than I thought, even for those living in the city.
Barrel Aging – Using Spirits Barrels and Blending Sour Ales in Wood - This isn't as much about barrels as it's about Dragon's Milk and New Holland's distilling operation. Other than an overview of their brewery operations, the biggest transference of knowledge is "warm stored barrels age quicker and more harshly, cold stored barrels age more slowly and smoothly" ... exactly as you would expect. Interesting if you want to know specifically about New Holland, but otherwise you could easily pass on this talk.
Beer Recipes from the Inside Out - There was speaking for an hour, but I don't think anything was ever really said. Don't waste your time.
Bootleg Brew Science - The title of this talk is a bit vague: it's a discussion about wild yeast capture and bootlegbiology.com. There's some good information on where to look for wild yeast, how to plate yeast, and a few good pictures of yeast on plates. However, most of this talk seems like a self-serving advertisement for the speaker's website. I think the #1 takeaway is using sterile swabs it the easiest and most reliable way to collect yeast in the wild.
Brew In a Bag Method – It really works! - It seems odd to me that there's an entire hour long talk about BIAB. The talk seems like there was a lot of stating the obvious on how BIAB works and why it works. The interesting part were the questions at the end. I was blown away by the fact it seemed people couldn't comprehend brewing this way.
Brewing Consistency: Identifying and Controlling the Variable - Tasty McDole walks through his rig and what a brew day looks like to him. I suppose this might be interesting to some, but it all seemed like common sense and general good brewing practices.
Brewing with New Hop Varieties - There's a lot of information crammed into this presentation. I don't think listening to the presentation does it a lot of justice as everything goes by so quickly that you can't really absorb all the data presented. Lots of split batch comparisons on some of the newest hops out on the market. If you're looking to use a newer hop, do yourself a favor and read this presentation.
Can You Make a Living in Beer? - The answer is yes, but with lots of caveats. You will work very hard, long hours for not a lot of money. If you're interested in going pro, you might want to have a listen to this reality check first.
Cider Panel - The notes are worthless on this one, you need to listen to the panel. Briefly, it seemed like the preference was blending apples to single varietals. Chaptalizing seemed to be frowned on, but not entirely dismissed. Wine yeast is seen as superior to beer yeast. Back sweetening might help bring out some apple or fruity aspects. Everything else seemed to be "it's up to personal preference". Worth a listen if you're into cider.
Cider Post-Fermentation Adjustments - This is a seminar that was probably enlightening to people actually participating, but nearly worthless to listen to. The true value was being able to taste how sugar and acid adjustments can save or overwhelm a cider. Since you can't taste anything by listening to a recording, its value now is in reading over the notes and using that as the basis for experimentation at home.
Cohumulone: Friend or Foe? - An experiment was conducted to see if high cohumulone hops would add harshness to a brew. Spoiler : no. They were actually perceived as less harsh. It's thought that the lower amount of hops that were used in comparison to the low cohumulone hops were responsible for this. The thought being that using more hop matter leads to more harsh qualities.
Conditioning and Aging Beer - This is my nomination for one of the best talks of the whole conference. This is chock full of information on reductones, fining, O2 pickup, and generally awesome post hot side tips for the best beer you could possibly make. This is a must listen. I'm on my third play through and it's still a fascinating talk.
Debunking the Detested Decoction - I'm not really sure anything was " debunked" in this talk. It's just a general overview of what decoction is, how it came about, and why you might want to use it in your brew day. Lots of good tips for those new to the technique, but no new material is presented here.
Draft System Design and Maintenance - If ever there was a one stop shop for any and all questions you might ever have about draft systems. This is truly a great presentation and worth a listen even if you already have installed your draft system.
Effects of Hot Side Aeration of Wort, Mash and Sparge Water - I always roll my eyes whenever anyone mentions HSA and refer them back to Bamforth's comments on the subject. That said, I do admire the fact the presenter tried to be really rigorous in his experiment. In the end, the results were inconclusive and it seemed like he had sanitation issues with his samples.
Evaluating and Judging Beer - This is probably as good a talk on sensory evaluation as you can get, but it still seems lacking without some actual samples to try and discuss with others. Perhaps playing it at a brew club meeting with a couple of samples to evaluate while listening would be best.
Experimental Brewing - This was probably one of the most fun talks of the conference. I like the example of them being the Click and Clack of the beer world. They give a general overview of their approach to kitchen science and a neat example of how to make alcohol tinctures.
Farm to Glass: Brewing with Local Ingredients - This was a very strange talk. It was more like a farm report than how to make an estate beer. I'm not really sure how much the average homebrewer would get from this.
From Five Gallons to Fifteen Barrels - It seems embarrassing to listen to a "pro-brewer" who doesn't seem to know much about brewing. You won't learn much by listening to this.
Homebrew Competitions: How to Run One and How to Enter One - I'd really like to call this Case Study in Project Management. Detail management, coordination of stakeholders, timing and scheduling. I'd think anyone that wants to run a competition after hearing this needs their head checked, but this talk does a good job letting you know what you're in for.
How Good Is Your Grist? - This was a very dry talk. It mostly revolves around measuring malt grind. I think it could be safely skipped.
How to Manage Yeast for the Home Brewery - This is only a general overview of yeast management. It's a good talk for an introduction to yeast propagation, but it's not very in-depth.
Ice Cider - This is a very specific niche to be covering and the speaker covers it well. I love the tip of boiling down the "dirty snowball" to make caramel flavoring.
Improving Clarity for Homebrewers - A beginners overview of clarity, but well thought out and very clear (pun intended). Covers most of what you'd think strong boil, polyphenol pickup, finings, etc.
Keeping it Safe! The Home Brewery’s Safety - It's an OSHA safety lecture for brewers. Nothing new here, although I'm sure that there are plenty of dumb things mentioned here that people do all the time without thinking about it. It can be summed up with "think before you do to minimize risk".
Keeping It Simple: What Monks Can Teach Us About Brewing - While there isn't too much technical information here, it is an interesting overview of the philosophy of brewing in the monastic tradition. If you've read Brew Like A Monk you can skip it, but if not, you should give it a listen. It seems too many brewers get caught up in complexity when some K.I.S.S is in order.
Kosmicki Spills the Secrets - I'm not really sure there are any "secrets" here, but it's always interesting to hear the inner thoughts of a pro-brewer. The biggest take aways were how they handle coffee (course grind, no boil), chocolate, and fruit in their beers.
Let’s Brew Small - When James means small, he means really small. Most of what he's presenting is 1 gallon or less. If you listen to Basic Brewing Radio, then none of this talk should be a surprise to you. If not, I think it's inspiring to show how much you can get done with stuff you probably already have in your kitchen. I wish this talk was available in the general section of the AHA so that people who are thinking about getting into homebrewing can see how easy it can be.
Long Live Lagers - A good introduction talk about brewing lagers. Nothing really new is presented here, but I appreciated hearing the experience of seasoned lager brewers.
Mead: Past & Present - The speaker identifies herself as a marketing person more than a brewer and that shows in this talk. Nothing much was gleaned from this. It's a bit disjointed and a bit preachy presentation.
Musing on Barrel Aging from a Homebrewer - I'm not really sure what to say about this one. You're not going to learn too much, but it is endlessly entertaining listening to Crispy talk. Crack a beer and have a laugh as he regales you with anecdotes.
Navigating the Complexities of Making Great Hard Cider at Home - The most interesting parts of this lecture are the commentary on blending ciders to achieve a perfect balance of sweet/acid/tannin and the action of malo-lactic fermentation. There seem to be strong parallels between this and the mead makers talks, which is ferment a batch to accentuate one aspect, such as sweetness, and then blend to achieve perfection. It was also news to me that MLF can occur under 40F.
I'm going to end the post here to allow you to recover from this wall of text. I'll continue the review in Pt.2 when you're ready.