There’s no shortage of beer festivals in South Africa but until now true beer geeks haven’t had an expo, a conference they could call their own. Then along came Beer Boot Camp – set to be an annual addition to the country’s beer calendar.
The one-day indaba showcased all aspects of beer – from expert sessions on yeast and hops to a look at off-flavours, tastings of local and imported beers, a chocolate and beer pairing and a look at the marketing side of beer.
But what most people paid their registration fee for was to see John Palmer, author of the best-selling How to Brew, give the keynote address. His topic: An Adventure into Brewing started with a look at the current American beer scene. With 44,000 registered members of the American Homebrewers’ association and an estimated million people actually making beer in their houses, the US scene is certainly something for us to aspire to. I think my favourite statistic though, was that a whopping 56% of all craft sold in the States is IPA. The hopmonster within hopes that a similar day arrives here soon.
John continued with a whirlwind tour through some of the countries he’s recently visited in his role as global beer ambassador (my words, not his), with a particularly interesting glimpse into the Latin American scene, which, like South Africa’s, is in its infancy. Then came the more technical stuff. Some of the pH-related equations went just a touch over my head, but I did pick up something that I wanted to share – the top 5 brewing priorities (in order) according to John Palmer:
2) Fermentation temperature control
3) Yeast management
4) Recipe proportions
5) pH control and water adjustment
Despite the importance John places on water (he’s written a whole book on it) he acknowledged that you can control pH all you like, but if you don’t clean your equipment or keep your fermentation temperatures under control, then it won’t help you at all.
John’s talk was obviously a highlight for most, who came clutching their copies of How to Brew for John to sign, but every session was mightily enjoyed. Highlights included a video presentation from BeerSmith founder Dr Brad Smith and a kind of tutored hop-sniffing with SAB hop breeder Beverly-Ann Joseph. As well as telling us that male hop plants are of no use other than in the breeding process (like humans, some would say 😉 ), Beverly also shared an interesting stat – SA hop production makes up just 1% of the world’s hop industry. In a chat with John later, he told me he was impressed with the South African hop strains and considered them to be of export potential, though with the George hop farms struggling to supply the local market with certain varieties, I think it could be a while before American brewers are producing African Pale Ales. (Stay tuned on the blog this week for an interview with John Palmer).
Many in the industry were sceptical when Wendy Pienaar (of Just Brewing) began to plan this conference – they thought the idea would fizzle out, that there wouldn’t be enough interest – but those who opted out of partaking are probably regretting their decision now. The room was bursting with enthusiasm from beer-lovers of all kinds – brand new homebrewers, veteran members of the Wort Hogs, those more interested in tasting than brewing and a healthy smattering of commercial craft brewers – awesome to see them in attendance. I’d like to send out some beer love to all who sponsored and attended and to the organisers who pulled of a slick and professional event. Special thanks to Loxton Lager, the Belgian Beer Company, Innis & Gunn and Afro-Caribbean Brewing Company for sponsoring beer for my session and huge thanks to Wendy and Julian for inviting me to participate. Rubbing shoulders with a room-full of beer geeks and hanging out with one of the world’s best-selling beer authors was quite simply, awesome.
Did you attend Beer Boot Camp? What were the highlights? What did you learn and what would you like to see at next year’s conference? (Yep, if you missed out this year don’t worry – Boot Camp will be back in 2016)