Monday, July 14, 2014

NHC Days 6-7--The Finale

The last 2 days of NHC 2014...better late than never!

Running on fumes now...First the extreme St. Louis trip for the Perennial barrel aged Abraxas release, then one day to recoup and off for Grand Rapids and NHC!

The Saturday of NHC is the final official day of festivities.  I did manage to get up in time for Michael Tonsmeire's lecture: The Influence of Mashing on Sour Beer Production.  I was impressed with how crowded the room was at 9 AM after Club Night!  This was actually my favorite lecture this NHC, being full of useful hints and examples for real homebrewing use.  This was a good blend of supreme science geekiness and applicable methods for home use.  I'm glad I was able to get his book and look forward to reading it through soon.  Perhaps I'll do a book report on it!

After this Mike Lebben and I ended up catching most of the Experimental Brewing demo by Denny Conn and Drew Beachum.  They were fun and dynamic with great jokes and audience participation.  Just what we needed to keep us awake!  I look forward to their upcoming book based on this talk.

The guy who has brought mead to the next level!

After this, to kill some time we went back for one last gasp at the now slowing down Expo.  We had our first beers of the day including Lagunitas Sucks and New Holland Paleooza.  I lucked out by hitting Michael Fairbrother at Moonlight Meads during a lull and talked him into opening a bottle of Stilleto, a sweet mead with blackcurrants.  Man was that good!

We picked up Sj for lunch and she drove us to Perrin Brewing, a place that had been getting some buzz for having excellent beers.  This was a bit of a drive--maybe 20-25 minutes from our hotel, but not too bad.  This brewery is newer, and built to accommodate expansion in the future.  They are growing a bunch of hops up some trellises outside the patio that were really going to town already.  With a large indoor dining/drinking space and patio expansion room this place fit a lot of people.  It was busy but not insane when we arrived, allowing us to get a good table.  That day was the release of their first bottled beer called Quadwood, a Belgian Quad aged in new oak barrels, and we were able to each buy up to two bottles.  That beer was great and well worth bringing home!  Between the three of us we shared the entire sampler of their beer line-up of 22 beers.  This was not cheep, but a great way to try a lot of beers.

Perrin's beers are separated into tiers.

Tier 1 was their Perrin Gold--a pleasant light lager.  For the non-craft folks for sure.

Tier 2, their lighter beers were all solid with a very well balanced pils and a nearly perfect Call The Banners Scottish 70 Shilling.  The Liger (pretty much my favorite animal) was and interesting hoppy rye beer.

Tier 3 was mostly IPA and pale ales, and actually was our least favorite grouping.  I found many of the Perrin hoppy beers to be lacking something, but nothing was bad.  Grapefruit IPA is very popular around Grand Rapids, but seems a bit thin.

Tier 4 started to show some real promise!  The Kingdom of Tonga Vanilla Porter had nice balanced flavors. Wood Aged 1885 Kona was one of my favorites, being a 5.7% ABV porter aged in barrels that had previously held their bourbon barrel aged Kona Coffee Brown and BB aged 1885 Porter.  The beer picked up mild notes of bourbon, mild notes of coffee and was one of the most drinkable barrel aged beers I've ever had!

The Cooper's series gets really interesting--being all aged in new oak barrels without spirits.  Not may breweries do this so these beers really brought out the pure oak flavors and not the booziness one often gets from this style of beer.  The Hopwood DIPA was pretty good,, but not the best of the group.  Stoutwood was incredible, Quadwood was mentioned above.  Redwood was very pleasant, but not as good as Steel Toe Rainmaker.

And the best of the lot were the Special Tier beers!  BB aged Sustena-tor, a Doppelbock, was a HOLY CRAP beer for all three of us and we had a wrestling match to see who got to finish it!  The Rye Wine and Malted Milk Ball (very well named) Imperial Porter were all crazy good as well.

This brewery rocks!  We had a nice lunch there, bought some swag, took home some bottles and did not regret our choice to miss some lectures at all.

On our way home we stopped at Siciliano's Market to stock up on Michigan beers to take home with us to Minnesota.  This was a small liquor store that also stocked homebrew supplies, and had a great selection of local and imported beers.  We all stocked up on stuff from Jolly Pumpkin and Vivant while there, as well as some meads from B. Nektar.  This is a great place to pick up craft beer in Grand Rapids, but easy to spend a bunch of money!

After getting back to the hotel, we had some time to kill so Sj and I took a walk along the river and enjoyed a rare beer-free hour or so.  Things were winding down now.  We passed no less than 5 brides just on our walk and came upon one wedding in progress.  That wedding was hilarious, as a big group of people in beer shirts with nametags, taster glasses in hand, were lurking around the back of the official audience.  Back to the room and into our Jack Of All Brews club shirts to represent, and then to the convention center for the final hurrah of  NHC.

The culmination of the NHC experience is the Award Ceremony and Banquet.  A line to get in to the dining hall always forms about an hour or so ahead of opening time, so Sj, Mike and I gathered up around that time.  An old friend and homebrewer from the Chicago area, Eric Smith, and a few of his friends joined us in line.  Eric served us up some of his excellent barrel aged Belgian ale and I cracked a Surly Pentagram that I had brought along for just such an occasion.  Eventually we were let in and found our friends Denise and Ron who had held a table for all of us.

The banquet is usually a three course meal meal, prepared by Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef, to pair with the beers donated for the event.  All the previous years I've gone the beers were provided by John Maier of Rogue, but this year was Sam Adams.  I was a little disappointed in that, but at least they brought some of their better brews for the event.  Jim Koch had recorded a brief talk for us homebrewers that they showed on the big screen before the event really began, but the sound quality was so poor we couldn't really hear what he was saying.  We had a salad paired with the Stony Brook Red--a Flanders Red and probably my favorite Sam Adams beer.  We of course had Boston Lager...meh.  The main course was a huge hunk of tasty ham that had been marinated in beer.  We also had the Rebel IPA and the American Kriek with all this.  Overall the meal and the beers were not bad, but this banquet did not wow me.  Still I enjoyed the time spent with friends over food and beers, so this was still worth the time.


Soon the AHA folks gave speeches and started to announce the winners of the Second Round of the National Homebrew Competition.  Eric Smith continued to serve up some great sour beers that he had created and I opened up a Surly Seviin and two different vintages of Darkness to share.  Why not!

Funny story, apparently my bladder was perfectly calibrated to another guy's since each time I got up to visit the urinals, the same guy was heading there right in front of me.  The first time the guy tried to open the janitor's closet instead of the bathroom.  The second time he did the same thing but actually went into the closet before realizing he had made a mistake--again! I figured the third time he would probably just use the janitor's sink, but he eventually figured it out.  Good times!

Big room, rowdy drinkers, bad acoustics!

My category was the Spice/Herb/Vegetable beers and was near the very end, so I kept my fingers crossed but had no great hope of winning a medal amongst such tough competition.  You guessed it, I didn't win!  But still am pretty proud to get a beer to advance that far.  Several folks from Minnesota won medals so we shouted ourselves hoarse congratulating them.  By the time this was all finished it was late and we were tired out!

Day 7 of our entire week of beer travel was finally upon us.  Time to go home again.  Driving, Sj and I muled beers back for Mike, who had flown.  We listened to an entire Stephen King book (Doctor Sleep) on our trip, which has become a bit of a tradition for us.  Somehow, Sj did not nix my idea of slightly extending our drive home to go past Munster, Indiana for lunch at 3 Floyds.  We arrived there at about 11:30, the brewpub opening at noon.  As always there was already a line to get in, and we hit is just right!  Within 10 minutes the line extended wayyyyy back!  When they opened, we managed to get seats at the bar, next to a guy from Wisconsin who had been at NHC with us.  We ordered some food, shouting to be heard through the din of METAL! music.  I could tell Sj was not a huge fan at first, but after the food showed up I think she came around.  I got to taste a few half pints of beer, including the always amazing Zombie Dust and a great smoked beer.  The dry rubbed chicken wings I ordered were a thing of beauty, the best I've ever had.  With a quick stop at the shop and a few six packs of Robert The Bruce to go we were on our way back home.

NHC is amazing.  A fun and varied experience that centers around homebrew and commercial beers.  This is a group of thousands of people, who all have some of the same interests, can always find something to share or discuss with each other.  I always feel like I'm among friends at NHC and have met many folks who I will continue to see or correspond with.  If you have been waffling on the idea of going--You Should!  Next year is in San Diego.  I'm leaning toward going, but we will have to see how timing works out.  I'll certainly try to put beers into the competition of these days maybe I'll take a medal!  And thanks for reading along!

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