“Fooooooooooaaaaaaaammmmmmmm.” “Fooooooooooaaaaaaaammmmmmmm.” The man in the front of the room encouraged on the followers, “Fooooooooooaaaaaaaammmmmmmm.” The old, respected guru was about to enter. What sort of cult was this?
“Fooooooooooaaaaaaaammmmmmmm.” Entering on a cart covered with cotton, intended to look like the foam atop a well-poured stein of beer, the guru greeted the crowd of 3,200 as he made his way to the stage. In line with his philosophy to not take things too seriously, he wore a pair of Groucho glasses, complete with the fake nose. The audience, knowing they were in the presence of a legend, continued the mantra: “Fooooooooooaaaaaaaammmmmmmm.”
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Folks who have been following for a while know that I have other hobbies beyond blogging. Photography sits front and center in most of my posts. Scuba diving occasionally appears. Travel merges nicely with both of those. But there’s another one that has been picking up a growing amount of my hobby interest: home brewing beer.
It’s not that I drink a huge amount of beer, or can’t find anything decent to drink (although the recent fads of over-hopped IPA’s and sour beers do not tickle my taste buds). It’s more the craft in craft brewing. Folks enjoy cooking. Why not cook beer? You want a particular flavor of beer? You want a keg or a couple cases of brew as good or better than you can get in a bar? Just as you might perfect a chili recipe, why not perfect a beer recipe? Better yet, start with one that’s already won national awards, and tweak it to your taste buds.
Last fall, thinking it was time to upgrade my brewing setup, I set about looking for good options and good deals. One of the deal sweeteners I discovered was this: if you joined the American Homebrewers Association, the local brewing supply stores would give you 10% off most of their stock. As brewing equipment beyond a starter set can get expensive, the cost of a membership penciled out real quick. I didn’t realize at the time there’d be another benefit.
Like many large organizations (AHA has 46,000 plus members), they have an annual convention to meet, have training seminars, and party. As luck would have it, this year the convention was in Portland, my hometown. Attending was a no-brainer.
The guru in question is Charlie Papazian. Charlie started the AHA 40 years ago and is retiring this year, so this convention was special – Charlie would be the keynote speaker and speak of his career. He is a pioneer in teaching home brewing – 90 percent of the conventioneers learned to brew from books by either Charlie or John Palmer (who also learned from Charlie). It’s a fair bet that most of the other 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States learned from those sources as well.
Ever been to a convention? Training sessions tend to be dry, full of jargon, and how much information you’d end up using could be open to question. In some respects, this was a typical convention.
Does that make your head hurt? Me too. I never studied organic chemistry and am not motivated to start. Fortunately, you don’t have to know these gruesome details to make homebrew, any more than you need to understand the Maillard reaction to grill a good steak.
Most of the training wasn’t that obscure. Speakers talked of the malting process, variations on the same malt based on location (terroir), hop variations, tasting and judging techniques, creating and finessing recipes, water chemistry, tricks to speed up the brew day and brew cycle, and many other topics. Over 60 sessions were available.
Many of these training sessions had one little advantage over that last conference you attended; they passed out pitchers of beer for sampling. Part of the standard convention package included a 3 fluid ounce sampling glass. You can bet these glasses got a workout.
Conventions attract vendors like pollen attracts bees. This one was no different. All manner of brew suppliers presented their wares, and their swag filled conventioners swag bags (especially hops – I may never run out!)
There was one thing different about this exhibition hall. Scattered amongst the booths were sampling stations; one side of the hall had beer samples from craft breweries, the other from miscellaneous homebrew clubs. I suspect vendors from other conventions would be green with envy; get the mark liquored up, then make your pitch.
And in case you were wondering about that dude with the baby, it was a doll. Must have had something to do with the homebrew club night, costumes were encouraged (but not mandatory). For sampling, homebrew club night was the best; probably four or five times the number of beer variants, and proof that the quality of homebrew could meet or exceed that of their commercial brothers. Not surprizing, as homebrewers can be more generous with their ingredients.-
Yes, there were parties. Hosted by commercial craft breweries the first night, by homebrew clubs the second, and a wrap-up party featuring leftover beer from the homebrew competitions – who made the best homebrew in each of the myriad of beer styles? (Note: if you check out the list, you can see why I get annoyed when a restaurant or bar only serves IPAs. There are lots of other tasty styles too.)
One characteristic of the attendees was hard to miss. They were nearly all white guys. Maybe 80-85% male, and of the ladies present most seemed to be with a significant other. Both the lack of women and minorities is troubling, they can be just as successful at homebrewing as the white guys. Perhaps it’s the stereotype that beer is a dude thing. Perhaps it’s just an intimidation factor, I know I’d think twice before joining a book club that was nearly all women. In any case, ladies, if you’re out there and interested, please don’t confuse those guys at the bar just out to get drunk on beer and hit on women with guys who want to craft beer. Homebrewers are artisans, come join us.
One final thought, courtesy of the guru. It’s originally intended for the homebrewer who’s getting uptight about ruining a batch of beer, but might be applicable to any situation where the world is getting the best of you.
“Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” — Charlie Papazian