The following report was submitted by club member Mark Zellman. Thanks!
Report from the 36th Annual American Homebrewers Association National Homebrewers Conference June 12-14, 2014 Grand Rapids Michigan
Fellow Home Brewers,
I had the opportunity to drive out to Grand Rapids on Thursday June 12th to attend this conference and was amazed by the AHA and their organization of this event! There over 3,100 in attendance and the entire conference ran very smoothly.
I arrived at the Devos Center on the Grand River around 4:30 Thursday to register for the conference and was greeted by AHA staff who answered my questions, being a first time attendee, and explained to me the important contents of the ‘swag bag’ given to me and to review the contents to be eligible for prizes from various vendors. Two most important items were large bottles of commemorative beers brewed for the conference by local Founders Brewing Company (Oak Aged Rye IPA) and Bell’s Brewery (“Beer Michigan” which is a Barleywine style) which I have in my fridge and will bring to the next club meeting for all of us to try a small sample. The there was the ‘group toast’ to kick off the conference. I also had a chance to catch the “Brew in a Bag” seminar then went into the exhibit hall to check out the dozens of vendors and sample some brew in the “Beer City Social Club”.
Friday I arrived at Devos Center and reviewed the list of seminars for the day. Starting at 9am and going through 2pm there are 5, one hour seminars going on simultaneously, so you pick one that interests you and go to that room. These are all available on the AHA web site for members to watch as the AHA videotaped each seminar. Then, it was back the exhibit hall to scout out the vendor booths and do yet more sampling! I also met, Nancy Johnson, event coordinator for the AHA. I told her what a well organized event she had planned and what a nice city Grand Rapids is! During our 10-15 minute conversation I asked her how they choose their locations, next year being in San Diego California, and she said it was based on who can handle the size of the crowd, hotels etc. I told her that Pittsburgh would be a great city to book and she said that was on her list because they have the convention center and surrounding amenities for a conference this size. We had charter buses running from the hotels every 20 minutes and my hotel was about a 5 minute ride to the hall. Within walking distance of Devos Center were Grand Rapids Brewing, Hop Cat, and Founders, of which I had time to visit GRB and Hop Cat which were so packed you could hardly get in the door!
Friday night I was told would be a most fun event, Club Night. brew clubs from all over the country had one of the exhibit halls for this event. there were almost 90 clubs that set up their ‘bar’ in this hall and it was truly amazing! With names like the “KGB” (Kuhnhenn Guild of Brewers)…the “MOB” (Muskegon Ottowa Brewers)…”The Big Lebrewski’s”… “Worts of Wisdom”…and “Urban Knaves of Grain” who not only set up VERY elaborate bars and themes, there were groups dressed as Monks with Nuns, Smurfs, Super Hero’s, Mobsters, and crew from NYC that had a construction site set up and did a chalk outline of a woman lying on the floor for their booth experience. Then there was the hundreds of their home brews with every conceivable style and variation you could imagine! Most clubs offered between 8-14 different beers, so you really had to pace yourself! What a (late) night!
Saturday morning I was back at the event for more seminars, interaction with the vendors and event attendee’s, and the More Beer booth opened a keg of Pliny the Elder which I stood in line for about 15 minutes to get a sample of…worth the wait! Saturday evening was the Grand Dinner and awards ceremony sponsored by Sam Adams. They paired each course with a Sam Adams beer, two of them were their small batch, cask aged series, and the dinner was fantastic!
In conclusion, I had a terrific time, met fellow brewers from all over the US and Canada, had massive samples of some incredible and unusual beers, and would go back to Grand Rapids for a week just to travel around to their craft breweries, which probably number between 30-40 within an hour drive. Not sure I will make San Diego next year but will certainly put that into the planner! If you have never attended this event, you will enjoy it!