Back on May 5th, 1979, it would have been hard to anticipate that the National Homebrewers Conference (NHC) would grow to the size it has. Held in the Community Free School in Boulder, Colorado, the NHC originally welcomed about 200 attendees to their gathering in celebration of the homebrew community. For ten years it stayed in the Colorado area, as it slowly grew in attendance and moved on from schools to local hotels. Home of the American Homebrewers Association, a branch of the Brewers Association and the Great American Beer Festival starting in 1983, it was a logical hub for the conference to plant its roots.
In 1989, with the homebrew community growing throughout the country, the NHC hit the road; its first stop being in Cincinnati, Ohio at the now defunct Oldenberg Brewery. Following that first trip out of the state of Colorado, the NHC made it an annual tradition to hold the conference in a different city each year, only having returned to Colorado twice since. The conferences have made it to the East Coast only a single time, during a 1991 conference in Manchester, NH. A year before, the NHC showed true signs of growth, having doubled its original capacity at the conference held in Oakland, California.
However, the growth following that did not stay consistent. In 1997, things appeared to peak with over eight hundred attendees. But over the next seven years, those numbers fluctuated quite drastically, dipping as low as just over the 200 mark. By this point though, the competitive angle of the conference–the National Homebrew Competition–was in full force and receiving on the plus side of 3,000 entries. The homebrew community was obviously hungry for more.
In its 35th anniversary, the NHC is finally making its way to Philadelphia. Home to the premier beer culture in the country, Philly homebrewers made that fact well-known by selling out the conference in record time. It took the homebrew community less than half the time it took to sell-out last year (20 hours compared to 2 days). That’s not even the impressive part. This year’s conference is nearly double the size in attendance, with 3,400 homebrewers expected to invade Philadelphia from near and far. A true testament to our world-class beer culture.
So what exactly is a homebrewers conference all about, and why all the hype? As local homebrewer and soon-to-be professional brewer, Sean Mellody puts it: “NHC is what I imagine Star Trek conventions are like, but with beer, and probably less woman, unfortunately.”
From an educational standpoint there are two main aspects to the Conference: seminars and the Homebrew Expo. The seminars occur each afternoon and cover any homebrewing topic you can imagine. Various professional brewers, authors, and experts present hour long sessions; renowned names in the industry including Mitch Steele, Dick Cantwell, and Stan Hieronymus will be among the speakers. Homebrewers can wander in and out of all the seminars they would like to attend (there are typically three seminars going on simultaneously). Not all can be attended, so picking and choosing what is most fitting for you personally is important and sometimes, the most challenging part. Thankfully, there is typically beer involved and if there’s not, you’re free to bring beer with you. Most seminars tend to have an interactive aspect as well, so homebrewers can fire-off their pressing questions.
The other educational aspect of the Conference is the Homebrew Expo. The expo is a giant trade show geared towards the homebrew community. Homebrewers can dig their hands into all kinds of malts and hops in search of finding new ingredients for their next batch of beer. Many homebrew shops and equipment manufacturers will be there as well, showcasing the latest innovations in the homebrew world. Most importantly, there will be beer poured. Both homebrew clubs and professional brewers will be in attendance, pouring samples of their finest. The expo is like no other for homebrewers and one of the greatest opportunities to hone the craft.
Throughout the course of the day there is also a Social Club set-up. It is here that you can freely come and go as you please and sample all the various beers. At the end of the night, after all the seminars and banquets are complete, the Social Club grows in size and becomes a party (that just so happens to be sponsored by Philly Beer Scene). It is here that you can end the night making friends, drinking beer and truly enjoying your experience.
Other non-educational parts of the Conference include Pro-Brewers Night, Club Night, and the Grand Banquet & Awards Ceremony. Pro-Brewers Night is exactly what it sounds like–a night to drink professionally brewed beers. It’s time to take a break from all the great homebrews you’ve been drinking and enjoy the beers from homebrewers of the past. Club Night is the exact opposite. This is the night where all the homebrew clubs get to show-off, and what is largely considered the most fun part of the Conference. Clubs tend to go all out, each setting up a booth and dressing up in costume or following some sort of theme to stand out among the rest while they show- off their fine creations.
Finally, there is the Grand Banquet. This is a culmination of sorts for the conference. All the homebrewers gather for an epic meal created by famous homebrew chef, Sean Paxton. This multi-course meal is paired with beers from Rogue Ales and each dish incorporates hops, grains, and/or beer making for the perfect meal. Throughout the evening, awards are also handed out for the National Homebrew Competition.
All in all, the NHC has grown into a not- to-be-missed experience for any homebrew advocate. As Mellody puts it, “Each of these main events are top-quality beer events, that honestly, I think don’t get a lot of press outside the homebrew community, since we are the only ones experiencing it. These ‘fests’ are like no other. The Pro-Am night with home brewers and professional brewers was by far the best beer event I’ve ever been to. That’s saying a lot, too.”