Beer Poetry at HomebrewCon
By Tony Forder
Yes, there was a stage – just like they said. And a table, just like they said. Microphones too, and a lectern, wow!
This was the Social Stage embedded in the Expo trade show at HomebrewCon, the National Homebrewers Conference, in Providence, RI. I had been invited to read my Beer Poetry or as I had decided to call it, Beer-a-Tree, which no doubt stemmed from the composition and presentation of my Hoppy Trails poem to Charlie Papazian, the homebrew guru, on the occasion of his retirement, or Independence as he called it, from the Brewers Association a few months ago.
I was on a short leash as the wife was recovering from double knee replacement establishing me as head nurse, cook and butler at home. Being spelled by our daughter I had driven up that Saturday morning without mishap and having checked into the hotel and obtained my credentials, I immediately set about lubrication.
The trade show was a smaller version of Brew Expo, the trade show for the professionals at the CBC – national Craft Brewers Conference. But the vendors were no less eager to sell their wares to homebrewers – hops, grains, spices, and all kinds of gadgets. Want to can your homebrew? I saw a Crowler machine for $300. This being the last day of the show, homebrewers were on the prowl for deals on equipment. There was no shortage of beer stations.
Things looked promising – the Social Club was packed. But I soon discovered the reason was that the supplier group that went before me was giving away a ton of raffle prizes. When they were done the crowd slowly sparged out.
Undeterred I took the stage…and set up my props. Book, poetry sheets, flute. I kept the juggling pins and stars and stripes jester’s hat hidden for the time being. This being my first official Beer Poetry invitation, I wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed. I had addressed crowds before, well maybe not crowds. Groups – small groups. I had conducted beer tastings, interpreting brews with haiku and flute. This was more like standup and it wasn’t exactly a captive crowd, more like milling around – those that hadn’t scarpered off to the mead symposium upstairs.
I was heartened to see a couple of friends, Brad and Jen, faithful travelers on the Ale Street News Belgian tours. I first tried to attract attention with some riffs on the flute – which worked to some extent because the sound system was quite good. Then I dove into to some limericks specially composed for the occasion. “There once was a homebrewer from Nantucket”…ok, not that one.
I spoke of my first beer epiphany (every devotee has one), experienced at the Great British Beer Festival in 1974, and of my first homebrew thereafter, accompanied by a poem, Kitchen Alchemy. I spoke of a common bond me and Charlie had discovered prior to that – we were both on the road hitchhiking across the U.S. in 1973 – and I delivered my Charlie P poem. I spoke of moving to the US and continuing to homebrew in Humboldt County, CA at the advent of microbrewing. And of moving to New Jersey and homebrewing with my brother-in-law, Jack, which led to the birth of Ale Street News in 1992.
I played some more flute and read a new poem on Humulus Lupulus, followed by what I consider my best so far, Ode to Saccharamyces Cervezeriae. Then I donned the jesters hat and pulled out the juggling pins. I kept them aloft on the third try. There was scattered applause here and there and maybe a half dozen lost souls paying attention throughout. A photographer showed up – said he heard there was a photo op. A guy named Larry asked me for a book – said he knew me back in the day. He looked slightly familiar. I signed one for Brad and Jen too; they invited me to an event that night, which was nice. But first it was the awards, followed by the knockout party. Knockout, not as in boxing, but in brewing – it’s a term for knocking out the liquid (wort) after you’ve boiled it; in this case it meant polishing off all the homebrews left over from the competition. There were a lot and I must say the organizers – they’ve been doing this for a while – did a great job, well spread out with plenty of food stations featuring local favorites. Ever had a Stuffie? Sort of a large clam fritter, I would say.
I thought back to my first homebrewers conference in 1991, also in New England. Having helped start a homebrewers club in North Jersey, Jack and I knew a couple of people attending the conference. We were already kicking around the idea of starting a beer publication, and following a Friday night full of beers, we announced to our wives in the morning that we had pledged to go for it and an immediate road trip was required. We barreled up to Manchester, NH and caught the last day of the conference and the awards. I remember Charlie Papazian rode in on the back of a motorbike. A displaced Limey/Californian on the East Coast, I felt a bit like I had found my tribe.
Fast forward 28 years, homebrewers are still a close knit bunch, and happily there are more of them. Sure, the equipment’s fancier, the ingredients and the styles much more varied; I’m sure the Club Nights and costumes are wilder, but I was gratified to see that in this fast moving craft beer world, I did not look or feel like I was the oldest person in the room.
Top photo: Congrats Battle Ground Brewers Guild, Greensboro, NC, winners of the Gambrinus Club Award.