Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NCHF: What More Can You Ask For?

This past weekend saw me attending the Northern California Homebrewers Festival, a gathering of homebrewers from across the region all toting along their homebrew and food items to share with each other. I don't know how many attend this event, but it isn't a huge attraction for beer enthusiasts.
From left to right: Pete Slosberg, founder of Pete's Wicked Ales, Steve Wagner, President and Brewmaster at Stone Brewing, me, Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker, JJ of The Thirsty Hopster, Pete of Sacramento Brewing, Peter Salmond of SBC's Oasis and Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef. Photo courtesy of Peter Hoey.

There is way too much that happened over the weekend to fit into one post, so here are just a few quick hits.
  • I am a lucky son of a bitch. Being there and seeing familiar faces along with new drove it home just how happy/lucky I am to have great friends at nearly every beer event I go to - around the country. Seriously, it's humbling.
  • There isn't a festival in Northern California that shows the diversity in beer styles as well as you'll find here. Big, mild, hoppy, malty, meads with fruit or plain, barrel aged, wild, tame - you name it, it was likely here. It was so cool to try, in order, a peach mead, well-hopped IPA, Berliner weisse, Flanders red, English mild and a 100% brett beer! That was just the tip of the iceberg too.
  • Reminds me. I wish there were more Berliner Weisse beers on the market in the summer.
  • Chile beers don't have to suck.
  • If you can't make Sean Paxton's legendary dinner, don't worry. If you bring along some good beer and some food you can typically find people around the campground Friday night interested in sharing what they brought along. This is a great way to meet new people, try new beer and kick the weekend off right.
  • Be careful though. This year saw a sickening sight as a fellow homebrewer fell into a ravine in the dark, resulting in a compound leg fracture and some worrisome moments. Lesson: bring a flash light.
  • The festival location is as beautiful as you can hope for. A large grassy area surrounded by rolling hills and a plethora of dragonflies can't be beat when sipping beers with origins from around the world.
  • Homebrewers can cook, and not just Sean - although, well, I'm not sure we can call what he does homebrewing or cooking. It seems to be something a tad bit more complicated. I guess it isn't a surprise for me. As someone who has been known to make my own beer, I feel confident in a kitchen and generally feel like I can make a good meal.
  • People - you can't go there and not appreciate the diversity there is among us. Sure, we all have one thing in common (our fondness for beer), but from there you see just about everything humanity has to offer (OK, not a lot of prohibitionists represented here). Man, you people are awesome.
  • It is apparently possible to set up a tent at 4:45 in the morning, even if you've been drinking for nine hours or so.
  • It may not be possible to do so without waking your neighbors.
  • If you wake the neighbors, they'll quickly forgive you if you share a beer with them at some point during the weekend.
  • No, I didn't set up a tent - I found the back seat of my car worked just great.
  • I predict that sometime in the next five years, Peter Hoey and Sean Paxton are going to collaborate on something that will blow people away. The way the two of them approach beer and food is so cerebral, geeky and passionate that I can't imagine anything they do together being anything less that spectacular.
  • Speaking of this duo - Hoey brought two blends of a beer they brewed together, Old Pappy bourbon barrel wheat wine. One blend was 17% barrel, the other was 30%. One sip, no - one wiff of the 17% barrel (83% stainless, lest you think that's an ABV) told me I was fortunate to live in Sacramento.
  • Be inspired. Be amazed.
  • Brynildson brought Porabola in a bottle too. I had to have a seat and some quiet time to fully appreciate the complexity of that beer. My goodness.
  • There is something to be said about driving to a place you don't plan on driving away from after a night of drinking. People imbibed on beer and mead from the morning hours with their breakfast till way beyond sunset. Yes, driving for many stopped being a legal option right around lunch time. The good news was their tents were only a short hike away.
  • To add to that last point, no there's nothing wrong with that.
  • The speakers here are inspiring. I know a thing or two about beer and brewing, but to learn in-depth geeky things about water and mashing was, well, impressive. Wagner also did a great job detailing the history of Stone and took questions with grace. If you didn't make the speakers booth this year, plan on resting your feet and engaging the brain next year, if only for a little while.
  • To add to that last point, it was quite interesting to learn about how chlorine and chloramine will impact your mash differently. Chloramine sounds as if it may be better for pipes and water supplies, but not so good for brewing. Gonna have to rethink my water supply.
  • Furthermore, seems like the water content readings homebrewers want from their municipal water agency aren't all that helpful. If I understood right the readings you get may not be more than a single day's testing - and sorry to say, it seems they don't really care about how water impacts our mash so long as there is nothing biological in the water. I guess that's not a horrible thing.
  • This isn't a scavenger hunt where the person who tries the most beers wins a prize. My first year I didn't realize this. My third year I could easily spot those who were learning the hard way - like I did.
  • I love it when brewers get geeky.
  • I love it when brewers just sit back and drink a beer too.
  • I need to brew a batch of beer sooner than later.
  • What was up with the talk like a pirate day carryover into Saturday?
  • I'd love to read something from Peter Hoey where he talks about some brewers inability to hop a beer properly. I believe the rant started with something like, "hoppy and bitter aren't the same thing". This, of course, came up after trying Mike McDole's Pliny Light - a beer that was certainly properly hopped.
  • The unblended, unfiltered pale ale Matt brought from Firestone Walker was a thing of beauty, and quite low in alcohol. Made me realize that I a lot of beer enthusiasts miss out on a whole lot when their focus is on extremes.
  • Watching Shaun O'Sullivan's face as he watched his cask ale abused (shaken, turned upright, then sideways, then upright again) while placing it on the stand was priceless. Sorry Shaun, I know it hurt you to see that, but from where I was sitting it was damned funny. Don't worry, all you reading at home, the beer was great.
  • You can't say enough about the fervor many homebrewers have about their hobby. Some know their history in and out, others can tell you the chemical reasoning for their brewing techniques and a whole lot can can tell you, accurately, the subtle differences in different malt and hop and yeast varieties. If you are willing to learn, to ask questions, you can't help but walk away from this knowing more than you did when you left the house.
Just a few random thoughts from a weekend I wish didn't end. A big thank you to those who make this event possible each year. This is an example of what a homebrew festival can be.