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Brewers calling GR home for conference

More than 4,000 hobbyists are expected to belly up to BeerCity USA.

May 30, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Brewers calling GR home for conference
Michigan brewers from across the state helped bring the national conference to Grand Rapids. Courtesy Brewers Association

In two weeks, thousands of homebrewers will descend upon Grand Rapids.

City residents are well aware of the growing craft beer scene, and the homebrew sector has gained national attention, as well — enough for the American Homebrewers Association to locate its National Homebrewers Conference in Grand Rapids June 12-14. Recent estimates from the association indicate more than 4,000 people are expected to attend.

More than 1 million people participate in the hobby, according to the association.

When the conference was announced in December 2012, AHA Director Gary Glass said the entire state had a part in Grand Rapids securing the festival.

“Michigan has a really great brewing community,” Glass said. “Both home and microbrewers are very much involved in the community and that’s certainly a drawing point, and people across the country consider Michigan a great beer state.”

The homebrewing community in West Michigan has grown alongside the thriving microbreweries. In many ways, the commercial craft beer movement was started by the homebrewers. Siciliano’s Market began in 1993, when Steve Siciliano knew he had to take desperate measures to ensure the survival of his store. He began to promote craft beer and sell homebrewing supplies as the first craft beer wave spread across the United States.

Although Siciliano felt like he might be throwing away $300 to start the homebrewing section, instead he helped jumpstart BeerCity USA. The store has been named the Best Beer Grocer in the United States two years in a row by RateBeer.com.

Siciliano’s put on its second annual Big Brew Day in May, when more than 200 homebrewers took to Calder Plaza to make beer.

An impressive list of homebrewers-turned-pro-brewers have come from Siciliano’s aisles, including: Tom Buchannan of Jamesport Brewing Co. in Ludington; Jacob Derylo of Brewery Vivant; Max Treierweiler, Chris Andrus and Jason Warnes of Mitten Brewing Co.; Bill White of White Flame Brewing; and Seth Rivard of Rockford Brewing Co.

“I don’t want to take too much credit for it, but the brewers came in here and I got to know them all,” Siciliano said. “A lot of these guys were customers and I got to know them on a first-name basis.”

Many brewers at Grand Rapids breweries got started in their garages or basements, including Dave Engbers and Mike Stevens from Founders Brewing Co. The pair will keynote the conference, leading the way for dozens of seminars featuring big names in brewing.

Several other Founders employees will present at the conference, including head brewer Jeremy Kosmicki, who has created sought-after beers such as KBS. Founders’ cellerman Jason Heystek will speak on barrel aging.

A seminar about using local ingredients will be led by Nick Rodammer, from Grand Rapids-based homebrew club the Brewsquitos, accompanied by Michigan Hop Alliance’s Brian Tennis and Pilot Malt House’s Erik May.

Other big names in West Michigan beer such as New Holland Brewing Co.’s Brett VanderKamp, Cranker’s Brewery’s Adam Mills and Bell’s Brewery John Mallett also will present.

Some of the nationally known speakers include Stone Brewing Co.’s Mitch Steele, noted beer author Randy Mosher and Cicerone Certification Program founder Ray Daniels. Other speakers well-known within the homebrewing community will speak throughout the week. Many of the seminars will focus on the science of brewing.

Tap takeovers from breweries and homebrewers will take place across West Michigan during the conference, as well. One of the world’s most renowned beer bars, HopCat, will provide plenty of events, such as New Holland Mad Hatter Series takeover, Summit Brewing Co. tap takeover, Stone Brewing takeover and a Perrin Brewing tap takeover.

Brewery tours start this weekend at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. A unique tour: “A Tale of Beer City USA – A 5K Running Tour” will be held Thursday and Friday, led by local historian Wilheim Seeger.

Founders will host several events, including “Founders Brewing Co: From Bolt Cutter to All Day IPA: A Founders History, Education & Beer Tasting Session,” and a “Q&A Fireside with Founders Brewing Co. Production Team.”

Other events include a three-day Bell’s Brewery tap takeover at Logan’s Alley and The Brewing Network’s ninth anniversary party June 12 at Fifth Third Ballpark.

“The last few years, we've really seen a tremendous surge in the number of people participating in the hobby of homebrewing. Our mission at the American Homebrewers Association is to provide this growing community with the tools and resources they need to brew the best beer in the world," Glass said.

"The National Homebrewers Conference adds the important ingredients of education and socializing to the homebrewing mix."

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