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HomebrewCon draws 3,000 hobbyists to Baltimore Convention Center

George Sheffer of York, Pa. samples a glass of Samuel Adams at Homebrew Con, a convention of home-brewed beer enthusiasts held at the Baltimore Convention Center.
George Sheffer of York, Pa. samples a glass of Samuel Adams at Homebrew Con, a convention of home-brewed beer enthusiasts held at the Baltimore Convention Center. (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Kevin Podsaid, 47, walked around Homebrew Con at the Baltimore Convention Center with a partially filled glass hanging from his neck and a blue helmet with a cylindrical plastic air lock on his head. Each time he squeezed the turkey baster attached to his belt, the liquid inside the air lock bubbled.

To the average observer, it's an odd contraption, but to the gathered beer-brewing hobbyists mingling Thursday, it's an inside joke and a nod to their craft.

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"My wife bought me a Mr. Beer kit, and it snowballed from there," said Podsaid, who traveled with his wife from Trent, Mich., to the gathering of home-brewing enthusiasts organized by the American Homebrewers Association that runs through Sunday. The conference, open only to association members, offers seminars, networking opportunities, beer samples and speeches from industry leaders such as Dogfish Head Craft Brewery's Sam Calagione.

According to association director Gary Glass, when the conference was last held in Baltimore in 2005, there were 850 attendees, and the association had 9,000 members. Since then, home brewing has mushroomed. The association now has 46,000 members, and the conference is drawing 3,000 of them.

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One of the factors fueling this explosion in growth is the interest of millennials, he said.

"The creativity of home brewing plays well with this generation," Glass said. "It's very easily shared with friends; it's a social art."

As evidence of that growth, people came from all over the country and the world for the conference.

Jaap Van Doorn and Louise Titton made the trip to Baltimore from Curitiba, Brazil, in hopes of finding American suppliers for their home-brew shop.

"I think we are going to close some deals," said Titton.

The conference is also attracting local home brewers, including Jamie Langlie, a member of Brewers United for Real Potables — BURP — which has 300 members in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

"In our club, we have a lot of women, which has always been a plus," she said.

Conference attendees can try a multitude of beer samples, but the longest lines were for the raw materials of brewing, such as yeast, malt and hops. Stephane Meulemans, the general manager of Fermentis, a firm that sells dry yeast, said he was astounded by the size of the crowd and worried about running out of supplies. He had planned to leave for Belgium, but the number of people at the conference persuaded him to stay.

"We're not going to survive this thing," he said with a smile.

In the evening, the attendees gathered in the convention center ballroom for the keynote address by Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, a Delaware craft brewer whose explosive growth has mirrored that of home brewing.

Before he arrived, the crowd was surprised by an appearance from Gov. Larry Hogan, who chugged a beer onstage — to cheers of approval.

"Home brewing sounds like a pretty cool hobby for when I leave office," said Hogan.He then announced that Thursday through Saturday would be Maryland's official Home Brewing Days.

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In his speech, Calagione saluted leaders of the home-brewing community who he said were instrumental in helping his company grow from a little-known brewery to an industry leader. He described home brewers as Davids fighting against commercial Goliaths. Calagione encouraged them to battle on and to keep experimenting.

"Never let the tail of commerce wag the dog of inspiration," he said.

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