My first NHC. I had a good time overall but frankly I was underwhelmed. My thoughts.
Accommodation: I stayed at the Double-tree for the same price as the Town & Country. Based on what I'm reading, and the condition of the host hotel, this was the right move. The meeting rooms were fine although cramped for some talks, and the expo center was what you'd expect.
Food: Absolute food wasteland. In a conference with this much beer flowing, the limited food availability and price gouging by the hotel was unacceptable. I'm glad I had a big breakfast at the Double-tree because until we went offsite to the mall on Saturday, we were pretty much skipping lunch. Pizza by the pool was the best value, if you didn't mind waiting all night.
Seminars: Generally OK, I enjoyed the Sour Mashing Talk and Hop-Fu in particular, and the Crafting Strategy was worthwhile, but everything else seemed very entry level or recycled based on previous years I'd seen online. Given that we can access all presentations online anyway, the main benefit I saw to the live talks was for the ones involving tastings, and in a couple of those the beer ran out or wasn't poured at the right time.
Banquet: For what we paid, I was really disappointed. The cheese puffs were cold, dry and bland. The salad was really good, and the the beef was tender enough but needed a lot of salt. Dessert was nice. The beer pairings were very non-inspiring, a hoppy beer, followed by a hoppier beer, followed by an even hoppier beer. Seriously? Half our table didn't get the stout, and coffee never made it that far into the room. Confusion over the rules for homebrew v commercial then meant nothing to drink during awards until the social.
AHA Forum Meetup: I swung by on the first day for a little bit; there weren't too many people there but did get to put faces to names for some of the regulars!
Pro Night: Lots of great beer, great location in the open gardens, and the music was pretty good too. Probably the highlight of the week for me.
Club Night: Biggest disappointment of the week for me. I went expecting great things, and ended up dumping 3/4 of what I was poured. You're a homebrew club, getting to pour at NHC, and you don't bring your A game? Did nobody in the respective clubs screen their offerings or at least test the lines? I got poured a Berliner Weiss that was infected with butyric and clostridium so badly that my gag reflex kicked in, and I had to go soap my glass out. That said, there were a few solid beers, and QUAFF & Maltose Falcons had great setups, so kudos to them. I didn't see as much craziness as I've heard from previous years.
Social Night: Russian Roulette with leftover entries. Totally expected, and what I'm used to at competitions. Probably dumped about 1/2 but that's why they didn't win! It's a good test of the palette to only have a style number to go on. Still a nice chilled evening to wind down the week.
Location: San Diego has a great beer scene, and we enjoyed side trips to Stone, White Labs, Ballast Point & Karl Strauss, plus the BN Party on the Wednesday. It's about as far in one corner of the country as you get, but that's why we take turns on host cities.
Overall I'm glad I went, and got to experience an NHC firsthand, but it was an expensive 4 days for what it was. I've been to GABF for 6 years and watched it lose that special something, to the point I'm not going any more. I wonder if NHC has passed it's best years? Who knows? I think I'll skip next year, we all know Baltimore-DC is even more expensive, and I'll wait to see where 2017 ends up in the Mid-West.
Thanks to the AHA committee for pulling the show together, and the logistical nightmare that is the competition. And hi to Janis whom I met on Club Night!!