Friday, June 18, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 2 Recap

Next year, I hope to see Right Guard as a sponsor.

We went to 3 seminars today:

1. Tips and Tricks to Set Up Your Own Homebrewery, by John Blichmann of Blichmann Engineering.
John makes some of the best homebrew equipment in the industry. If you have one of his boil kettles, you're likely the envy of your fellow homebrewers. John laid out a very friendly, personable presentation of his own homebrewery, as well as those of some other homebrewers. The overall theme was less is more, and to utilize your space well. Much like a well designed kitchen, you don't want to be constantly moving across the room. Now being an engineer, John has done some very engineer-like things. For example, installing a pulley system in his ceiling so he can easily raise and push full (15.5 gallon) kegs in and out of his chest freezer and installing a crazy ventilation system. The full presentation will eventually be available on either the AHA site, or his own site.

2. Aged to Perfection: The Maturation of Beer by Steve Parks.
Part of what was great about this was Steve's British accent, and the way he said maturation. Steve works for the American Brewers Guild, and did his best to take his commercial work and lay it out in a manner than us homebrewers can understand and apply. Some of it was very technical, getting into the chemistry of yeast what it does during fermentation, and how important fermentation temperatures are. Having read about and experienced things like diacetyl and off-flavors, I was able to follow along pretty well. Steve also was just very good natured and personable - taking what would normally be a very dry subject and making it interesting, like any good teacher. He also made no qualms about bashing Budweiser, noting how producing a top-notch German lager requires a long, cool fermentation between 40 and 50F, but Bud is fermented at 57F for faster turn around. Along these lines, he discussed things like chill haze/clear beer - and how the biggest mistake us homebrewers make is rushing the fermentation process - which can cause both hazy beer as well as off-flavors that the yeast would normally clean up if given more time (yeast are amazing little buggers!). (Albeit, sometimes hazy beer can't be avoided (dry hopping), or is actually part of the beer style.) He also discussed the importance of oxygenating your wort and providing yeast nutrients, especially if you re-use your yeast. The yeast you buy at your homebrew shop is top-notch and actually requires little of either, but successive generations of that yeast require more to maintain their cell walls and stay healthy. He also talked about pitching rates, which I have a general concept of and need to study more. Let's face it, yeast and fermentation are key in brewing.

3. The Science Behind the Art: Hops in Brewing by Joseph Wegner
Little did we know there's a small hop farm just outside Madison called Gorst Valley Hops. They are small for a reason - their mission is to simply produce the best hops possible, and feel the larger the hop farm, the more difficult this becomes. This sounded great, but Joseph is obviously a chemist and not used to public speaking, which made his charts and diagrams of chemical structures even harder to digest. As he discussed free radicals and what happens to them during the boil etc., I couldn't help but wonder why we weren't focusing more on the flavors produced by said chemistry, and how we can use this knowledge to make better beer. I mean, we're homebrewers, not lab chemists. And maybe he did get into this, but I was just so zoned out at that point I missed it. While I'm sure there were some folks able to follow along, I think this talk probably belonged in a classroom with a strong cup of coffee, not a place with free-flowing beer.

Pro-Brewers Night
The awesomeness of this is hard to put into words. 30-40-some breweries, showcasing their best beers. I think my favorite was an IPA by Dark Horse - but there were so many good beers here (and some not so good). I finally got to try the Watermelon Wheat beer by 21st Amendment, and was surprised and how great it was! Unfortunately we can't get that in Chicago, or I'd have some in my fridge all summer. Probably one of the highlights of the night was hanging out with John Blichmann, and his coworker/buddy Doug. These guys are so down to earth and eager to talk shop and beer, it was great. We also got to hang with Nate Smith some more, and discuss not only beer but our crazy beer-loving cats.

Again, pictures forthcoming! Cheers.

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