The structure was remarkably like other conventions I've been to, with informational seminars during the day and more social/party events in the evening. It's hardly unheard of to have beer at the evening events, but at this one there was frequently beer *during* the sessions - either given out as part of the talk to make a point, or simply brought in from the always-flowing taps in the hospitality suite, stocked 24/7 by various local clubs.
The evening events were a pro-brewers night, like any other beer festival except with the attendees asking harder questions; a club night, also festival-style but with the crazier brews and booths and tap systems that clubs had brought (jalapeno dopplebock! key lime mead!); and the awards banquet, which had a long, overly-sappy memorial service for a brewer who died last year, but was otherwise pretty good. Rogue kept the beer flowing that night, with a lot of people getting into the west-cost strong IPA styles.
I learned about and tasted commercial spruce beer, drank pulque, gushed at the authors of my favorite books, bought some new ones, met people from lots of different clubs, and even managed to stop groaning at the club names:
- Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF), San Diego
- Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), Maryland
- Society of Akron Area Zymurgists (SAAZ), Ohio
- Urban Knaves of Grain, Chicago
- Maltose Falcons, Los Angeles
... just for starters.
I learned a bit about water chemistry for brewing, tips for researching historical styles and ingredients, heard a lot about yeast handling and oxygenation, and saw many cool gadgets, some more useful than others:
This is the Pissoir d'Or, a prize started last year for the club that brings the most beer to the conference. QUAFF won it hands-down, as well as "Homebrew Club of the Year" for the fourth or fifth year running. They're doing something right down there...
The Maltose Falcons brought this slot-machine tap. You only get beer on certain combinations, and there are two different kegs connected.
One of the cooler talks went into a lot of history and wacky research, like the use of chromatography on archaeological samples to determine the composition of ancient beers. He also has a book.
This is me with Randy Mosher, from Chicago and with the Urban Knaves of Grain, and the author of Radical Brewing, a fascinating new book that aims to get brewers off their collective butts and making more exciting beers.
The demographics of the event were about what I had expected. Mostly middle-aged men (there were a dozen or so people under 30, out of 775 attendees), with a few spouses in attendance, some of whom were more enthusiastic about the beer than others. Many midwesterners, then west-coast types, then everywhere else, which probably just reflects the conference location. Almost exclusively white; I met the one black person there, pro brewer Michael Ferguson of Barley's Brewery here in Nevada (he calls himself "the other black brewer", the first one being Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery. Apparently we hit it off, because he signed a shirt for me and I have his email address in my notebook, but that part of the evening is a bit fuzzy.)
We had several arguments about whether the age/race/gender arrangements we saw here reflect homebrewers generally, or AHA members, or people who can afford to come to a conference in Vegas, or what. Out of the 90 medals awarded for the competition (the world's biggest; 4443 different beers submitted), 86 went to men and 4 went to what looked like husband-and-wife teams. I asked a few people if a woman had ever won a medal on her own, and while everyone could name a few female brewers who were good and prolific enough, nobody could recall any winners.
More later about the hotel, the lousy food, and general impressions of Vegas.