The (Mostly) Complete Guide to Homebrew Con by Dave Carpenter

The (Mostly) Complete Beginner’s Guide to Homebrew Con

If it’s your first time or your fortieth, it’s always a good idea to be prepared. Zymurgy® editor-in-chief Dave Carpenter imparts his wisdom for making the most of your Homebrew Con experience.

Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone were as into homebrew as you are?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just spend all day learning about homebrew while you drank homebrew and daydreamt about your next homebrew?

Wouldn’t it just be splendid to meet some of those smart people whose names adorn your worn copies of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, How To Brew, and Radical Brewing?

Well, for three magical days in June, all of your dreams really can come true when enter the world of beer. It’s Homebrew Con, baby!

I attended my very first Homebrew Con in 2016 in Baltimore a few months after becoming the editor of Zymurgy. I had heard about it before and thought I knew what to expect, but nothing adequately prepared me for the joy and splendor of what I experienced.

So I give you my (Mostly) Complete Beginner’s Guide to Homebrew Con, which I have written in the form of an FAQ, except (1) most of the Q really aren’t A all that F, and (2) I really made most of them up.

What is Homebrew Con?

Homebrew Con is the world’s largest gathering of homebrewers. It has been held every year since 1979, and it moves to a different city every year.

Why did you change the name? “Con” makes it sound like there will either be a bunch of cosplay or you’re going to try to get me to buy a timeshare.

Too many of us had come to associate the word “conference” with those dreadful all-day meetings where you’re stuck in a hotel ballroom listening to some management consultant drone on and on about “methodologies.” Meanwhile you’re sucking down coffee just to keep your head up while you wait for the clock to strike 5 so you can get out of there and go have a beer already.

Homebrew Con is nothing like that. It’s educational, yes, but it’s also a celebration, a party, and a way of life. It’s more like a really big brew day than a conference.

Regarding the cosplay, there actually will be a bit of that on Club Night—tropical-themed parrot suits, anyone?—but because we’re homebrewers, none of us will match all that well, and you’re more likely to see someone wearing a functional Corny keg than an anime outfit. But, if anime’s your thing, hey, bring it. We don’t discriminate.

As for the timeshare, well, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that might interest you, but I’m ethically prohibited from trying to pawn it off on you at Homebrew Con. Contact me on the side for details.

How do I sign up?

Homebrew Con is exclusively for members of the American Homebrewers Association, so if you’re not yet a member, join now, register for the conference, and get ready for the time of your life. Tickets are limited, so I recommend waiting until after you’ve secured yours to start making big travel plans.

Will I need a car?

No! Nein! 没有!Non! Όχι! いいえ! ¡No! Нет!

I can’t say it enough: you don’t need a car. For one thing, you’ll be enjoying beer, and driving is 100 percent ill advised. Furthermore, when you step into Homebrew Con, it’s like entering an alternate universe where your normal day-to-day life gets turned upside down. You go in on Wednesday and might not come back out until Sunday.

Pittsburgh is imminently walkable, and the transit system is convenient and reliable. So do yourself a favor and don’t bring a car. Or, if you do bring a car, park it and leave it parked for the duration of Homebrew Con.

Can I bring homebrew?

You better had. We’re all counting on you!

What should I wear?

If you’ve ever been to a homebrew club meeting or a brewery, you already have the right attire. The only rule of dress for Homebrew Con is that there are no rules. As long as you’re not violating health codes, you’re probably good. Kilts? Gangster suits? It’s up to you, my friend. Last year an inflatable T-rex kept showing up, which was delightful.

Commemorative Homebrew Con T-shirts will also be available for pre-sale during registration and for sale on site. Plan on picking up your pre-ordered shirt or buying one during registration—it’s one less thing you need to pack.

What is there to do?

Homebrew Con is chock full of events, each of which has its own explanatory page on this site. But here’s the quick-and-dirty on the main events.

Keynote Address & Toast: Co-founder of Jackalope Brewing Co., Bailey Spaulding, will kick off Homebrew Con 2020 and deliver the keynote address. Then, AHA director (and my boss) Gary Glass will officially kick things off with a group toast. It’s kind of like the Olympics opening ceremony except any dancing you see will have neither been choreographed nor expected.

Welcome Reception: A whole passel of professional brewers has volunteered to serve commercial beer just for you! Come on down to the Kickoff Party to rub elbows with the pros and taste some of the finest beers that Pittsburgh has to offer. Just remember to be kind to your fellow conference attendees by not holding up the line: there are thirsty homebrewers behind you, so get your beer and move to the side if you want to have an extended conversation. There’ll be lots of beer, so don’t forget to pace yourself.

Club Night: Club Night is the happiest homebrew gathering on the planet. Marvel at the booths! Enjoy the ingenuity! Let the creativity carry you away! Get yourself a rubber chicken! We’ll supply light snacks, but please eat a proper dinner before coming to Club Night to give all that great homebrew a proper landing spot. In addition to pouring beer, many clubs go all out with a theme, costumes, and unique dispensing gadgets. Last year you could pour several kinds of beer from the udder of a fake cow. There is far more beer at Club Night than any one person could possibly sample, so please don’t try. Remember to pace yourself.

Homebrew Expo & Social Club: The Homebrew Expo & Social Club is a magical wonderland of vendors where you can check out the latest homebrewing equipment and take advantage of promotional offers available only to Homebrew Con attendees. And there’s plenty of homebrew on tap at the Social Club, a beer garden oasis within the expo where clubs can serve their awesome homebrew to attendees. There’ll be a lot of beer available to sample, so be sure to pace yourself.

National Homebrew Competition: The final round of NHC—the world’s largest homebrew competition—is judged during the conference. If you’re a judge or steward, don’t forget to register to participate. We need you! Judges should have registered ahead of time, but if you’re free, look for the person in the judging area with their hair on fire and ask them if they could use help. If you’re thinking about becoming a judge, stewarding can be a valuable learning experience. You can find more information about judging at

Educational Sessions: Homebrew Con’s educational sessions pack more homebrewing know-how into three days than you’ll find anywhere else. You’ll discover talks from big names you already know and up-and-coming homebrewers who are making names for themselves on the world’s biggest homebrew stage. Some talks include samples of beer, mead, or cider: be polite when taking samples so that everyone has a chance to enjoy. There’s no need to sign up in advance, but the most popular seminars can fill up: it’s a good idea to get there on time (or even a little early) if you’re jonesing to see a particular session. For a taste of what to expect, check out past audio and presentations. (available to AHA members only)

Book Signings: If there is a homebrew book you’re thinking of buying, it will probably be available for sale at Homebrew Con, and there’s a good chance you can get it signed. Feel free to bring your beat-up copies of any books you already have, too. Authors love to write jovial quips in your books because it means we’ve met all our deadlines (or at least successfully allowed them to pass) and are finally done and we swear we’re never writing another book again (even though we probably will).

National Homebrew Competition Awards Ceremony: All Homebrew Con attendees are encouraged to attend the NHC awards ceremony! See history in the making and watch friends old and new celebrate when their names are announced.

Knockout Party: We wrap up the conference Saturday evening with live entertainment, a tasteful photo montage, award announcements, and a parade of NHC winners. A top-notch appetizer menu designed by Brewers Association Executive Chef Adam Dulye serves as a great counterpoint to the continuous flow of homebrew, every example of which has won a first-round NHC medal and advanced to the national stage (read: we’re not taking all that NHC beer back home with us, so please help us drink it).

Homebrew Con 2017

What else is there to do?

The local committee, Homebrew Con sponsors, Pittburgh-area breweries, and friends of the AHA organize a number of trips, brewery tours, and pub crawls that take place in the days leading up to Homebrew Con.

These auxiliary events aren’t included in your conference registration, and some may require that you sign up in advance. Every one of them is a fun way to meet people and experience the local culture. If you want to partake, be sure to book your travel plans accordingly and sign up early to help the organizers plan their events.

Visit the Events section to learn more.

Can I bring my pet dog, cat, llama, iguana, or lobster?

Service animals are allowed, but otherwise you’ll need to leave Fluffy at home.

Can I bring my baby human?

All Homebrew Con attendees must be of legal age to consume alcohol, so get yourself a babysitter, and use that BabyBjörn as a convenient growler holder instead.

OK, what should I bring, then?

I thought you’d never ask. Here’s a handy checklist of things to make sure you have when you leave your hotel room:

  • Your Homebrew Con badge: This is your most important piece of kit because we hire a whole security team to keep you safe, and they have explicit instructions not to let anyone in without a badge. Sorry, no exceptions, so just be sure you bring it. You might forget your anniversary, but don’t forget your Homebrew Con badge!
  • Your tasting glass: Everyone who registers for Homebrew Con gets a commemorative tasting glass to carry around and have topped up with homebrew at every turn. I can’t stress enough the importance of always having your glass on you. Even if you don’t think there will be homebrew, there will still probably be homebrew, and you don’t want to miss out.
  • A water bottle: We provide water stations throughout the conference to keep you hydrated, but it’s more convenient and more environmentally friendly to just keep a bottle of dihydrogen monoxide on you at all times. Do it for the baby seals. Do it for yourself.
  • Snacks: There will be food available for purchase, but it never hurts to have some goodies on your person for those inevitable snack attacks. Homebrew Con is no time to be worried about your figure. You need calories to keep you going.
  • Ibuprofen, aspirin, or your headache remedy of choice: It happens to the best of us, and sometimes you need a little pharmaceutical help to quiet your brain lobes. I’m not a doctor, so do your research and make sure it’s safe to take your chosen potion on top of alcohol. If you suffer from migraines, don’t forget your migraine pills (speaking from personal experience).
  • Electrolyte delivery media: Gatorade, Propel, Emergen-C—take a powder and stash it in your pocket. Mix it in some water in your bottle to suppress the less desirable effects of a more desirable imperial stout.

How can I make sure I feel good enough for those 9 a.m. educational sessions?

There will be a lot of beer. Do not try to drink it all at once. Seriously, pace yourself. You don’t want to overindulge and then miss something you were really looking forward to. Stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, and remember to eat!

Will there be food?

To keep registration fees low, we limit catered food to appetizers during the Kickoff Party, Club Night, and the Knockout Party. You can buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner from nearby restaurants for much less than it would have cost if we had catered the same meals at Homebrew Con.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to do! Is it a sprint?

Nope, it’s a marathon. Pace yourself.

What should I absolutely never do?

Remember, it’s all about having good beer with good friends, so don’t forget to relax, not worry, and have a homebrew. And seriously, pace yourself.