GRAND RAPIDS — Seminars are a part of any conference that the most devoted of attendees geek out about — technical details, pie charts, information from the EXPERTS. Homebrewers are no exception. In fact, they may enjoy it more than most. With the intricacies of their field and the easy accessibility of so many experts at hand, the National Homebrewers Conference offered up some seminars ranging from blending yeast strains to vintage beer, there was something that interested everyone.

Here’s a synopsis of some of the seminars, representing some hometown speakers.

Farm to Glass: Brewing With Local Ingredients

MittenBrew spoke with Nick Rodammer from the Brewsquitos Home Brewing Club, who, along with Erik May from Pilot Malt House and Brian Tennis from New Michigan Organics Hop Farms, hosted this seminar.

“We’ll be talking about the use of local ingredients, especially malt and hops. It’s an emerging trend, especially in Michigan. Brewers want to use local more and more. We’ll talk about how big the industry is now, and what brewers think about it. Brian will talk about owning a small hop farm, and Eric will talk about owning a small malt house and the challenges they face.”

Surveying brewers across the country, they’ve gathered data about the use of local ingredients and how much the trend is growing across the nation. Matt Michiels, owner and brewer at Gravel Bottom had this to say:

“It was a really great seminar, really exciting to watch the local resources come up. Watching Michigan and the young entrepreneurs like Erik May starting Pilot Malt House and watching the whole hop industry around us bloom with these great farms is really exciting. It’s exciting to finally have all the ingredients to make an all locally sourced, all Michigan beer.”

The Malt Nerds History Hour

Speakers John Mallett, Director of Operations at Bell’s Brewing and Andrea Stanley, owner of Valley Malt, provided attendees a brief history of malted grains, showcasing the artisan process we have lost since the industrialization and modern attempts to re-make these products — without the vermin.

Showcasing how the old malting houses used to work, we found out that the heat of killing the malts in the malt houses inspired some interesting outerwear. Nothing.

Naked men in little cotton booties, on the third story of a malt house, flipping the malt over in high heat and smoke. The joke goes that the sweaty naked dudes who kilned your malt that gets made into your beer provide that unique taste we are missing these days. Maybe.

I think a lot of half-naked sweaty guys are probably still making beer.

It was an entertaining seminar to say the least.

Stanley, while embracing the advances of the industrial style but sticking to the maltsters roots, is doing some interesting things with her product in New York. Attendees to the seminar were offered some rustic, pre-1880’s style Porter to sample, made the ‘old fashioned way’.

Before the industrialization, you would use all dark roasted kilned malts until someone discovered that you can use two-row and a pale base and then use a little bit of a dark caramelized sugar. This changed the whole game. Your extraction rates out of darker malt are not nearly as high as that of a good pale malt, so it became cheaper for everyone to make porters. But — the flavor isn’t quite the same. The rustic malt, despite having almost the same profile as that of a modern porter has a quite distinctive, smokier taste.

The Shenanigans of Barrel Aging

Jason Heystek and Brett Kosmicki, head cellarman and cellar guru from Founders Brewing Co., walked attendees through the barrel aging process, especially pertaining to their high-volume brands KBS and Backwoods Bastard.

Starting with a single barrel and now with thousands in production, Jason and Brett talked about the types of barrels procured — from SZRP — Blis Maple syrup barrels to rye and bourbon, and one time, tequila (they don’t recommend that) and the difficulties of procurement back in the day. Likening it to the drug market initially, they’ve now developed relationships and contracts with company to produce the quantities needed to make the delicious brews we know and love.

Despite the whole process being a pain in the ass, we know why they do it. The taste makes the trouble worthwhile. The boozy flavors and the roundness of the oak, the taste of the vanilla in the wood, impart themselves into the beer that in unmatchable any other way. It’s hard work, the nuts and bolts of the whole process time consuming and difficult, but we love them for it.

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery