The Power of Passion

Homebrew Con 2016

Homebrew Con logo

From Biblical times to modern day Hollywood, human beings have loved stories about passion-driven people who accomplished extraordinary things. Passion, hard work and discipline are behind the success of almost every athlete, Fortune 500 CEO and famous musician. Passion has been at the root of Super Bowl wins, civil rights reforms and technological advances. And it was on full display last week at the 2016 Homebrew Con.

The American Homebrewers Association claims over 46,000 members, some of whom, in spite of the organization’s name, live outside the United States. June 9-11, 3000 hardcore devotees journeyed to Baltimore for the annual national conference, newly rechristened Homebrew Con.

They listened to and learned from experts in brewing, flavor profiling and pairing. Leaders of successful clubs explained how they’ve maintained vibrant memberships for decades and fundraised thousands of dollars for their communities.

From fundraising presentation by Hogtown Brewers who raised over $40,000 for the Gainesville, FL community in 2015

Slide from fundraising presentation by Hogtown Brewers who raised over $40,000 for the Gainesville, FL community in 2015

And, of course, they came for the beer. It flowed in the exhibition hall, in seminars, at nightly events and at the official homebrew judging. Attendees swamped Baltimore brewpubs and bars with good craft selections.

Homebrew Con vs. Craft Brewers Conference

While the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) is the noncommercial division of the Brewers Association (BA), Homebrew Con contrasted noticeably with the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) for professional brewers. Size was the most visible difference, with 15,000 pro brewers and industry members attending last month’s CBC in Philadelphia.

With craft beer’s growth showing no signs of slowing, there’s plenty of money to be made at the pro level. The CBC’s vendor exhibition area dwarfed the AHA’s. One example: At the AHA, I got to check out the wide-mouth 5-gallon carboys I’ve seen advertised and priced around $60. Even the most sophisticated homebrew systems only ranged into a few thousand dollars. That might sound like a lot, but some pro brewers at CBC committed to purchasing $20,000+ of brewing systems or other equipment designed to produce many barrels of beer (one barrel = 31 gallons).

The annual 3-day AHA conference is all the more impressive, though, when you consider that most of the participants attend on their own dime, motivated by passion for brewing and love of good beer.

National Homebrew Competition

The principal attendance motivator for some Homebrew Con attendees was the final round of the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). This year, 3,396 homebrewers from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and 13 other countries entered 7,962 beers. Of those, 1,074 made it to the final round of judging in Baltimore on June 9.

I volunteered to steward, essentially spending the day as a humble gopher while the pros eyed, swished, sniffed, tasted, pondered and jotted notes. Fortunately, as a newbie, I was paired with an experienced steward (a certified judge, actually) who soon had me running fresh bottles from our boxes to our Beer Judge Certified Program (BJCP) judges and meticulously noting which judges got which bottles.

While the idea of men and women sitting around drinking beer from 8:00 a.m. on for several hours might seem slightly disturbing, this was nothing like a bar. Voices stayed low and concentration high. The pairs of judges typically poured about half a bottle (=3 ounces per judge), portions of which frequently ended up in the dump bucket. It averaged out to about 18 ounces (=1 1/2 bottles) per judge over a couple of hours.

The highest ranking judges stayed on for the Best of Show round, which left 3 of our initial 12, to further reduce the competition for the remainder of the morning. During the afternoon session, I was assigned, with several other stewards, to proof data, which meant carefully scrutinizing lots and lots of forms.

I was able to leave in time for a break before the official conference kickoff session and keynote speech by Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head. On a side note, as Calgione, an A-lister in the craft beer world, walked into the ballroom filled with several thousand homebrewers, he stopped to hug a beer server pouring in the center aisle a few feet from where I was seated. (Like I said, there’s beer everywhere.) Soon a small crowd blocked the aisle as people hurried to shake hands and snap selfies with Sam.

Sam Calagione and fans

Sam Calagione and fans

Moments like that are part of what makes beer conferences so fun. I can say, though, that my biggest takeaway from this particular conference was even more respect than before for BJCP judges, their knowledge and their passion.

It’s a Wrap

The 2016 National Homebrew Competition winners include: Nick Corona, Homebrewer of the Year; Jeff Carlson, Cidermaker of the Year; Steve Fletty, Meadmaker of the Year; QUAFF (Quality Ales and Fermentation Fraternity), NHC Homebrew Club award; Derrick Flippin, the Ninkasi Award as the competition’s winningest brewer.

Click here to see a complete list of award winners and see more conference photos below. Click here to see official Homebrew Con photos.


Beer bloggers presentation with Derick Springer, XYZ

Beer bloggers roundtable with (left) Matt Humbard, Ed Coffey, Marshall Schott and Derek Springer


National Homebrew Competition Awards Dinner

National Homebrew Competition Awards Dinner


With local organizer Brent McAloney

With local organizer Brent McAloney


Homebrewer Daniel Thaine who traveled from Austrailia

With homebrewer Daniel Thaine who traveled from Austrailia

The following photos were taken at Club Night where over 100 homebrew clubs served their members’ beers.


With Marisol Martin, sister of a student who was in my Spanish class in 1997-1998


Note the number of selections and the digital display

Note the number of selections and the digital display


The Hogtown Brewers brougt 5 jockey boxes from Florida to Baltimore

The Hogtown Brewers brought these 5 jockey boxes and 10 kegs from Florida to Baltimore





Club Night with over 100 homebrew clubs serving their offerings



  1. Fun to live vicariously through your adventures! Good recap of the glad you and Hugo can enjoy this together ?

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