Homebrewing has been a source of passionate online chatter over the last week after the American Homebrewers Association announced it would put its annual Homebrew Con on “hiatus” in favor of smaller events and demonstrations located within the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Julia Herz, the executive director of the AHA joins the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast , to explain the change.

Homebrewing has long been part of the American beer story. The hobby was responsible for encouraging many of the early craft brewery pioneers to go pro. Since then countless pro brewers have gotten their start by mashing in at home.

It’s still a popular hobby among enthusiasts, although it has waned over  the last few years. The American Homrewers Association, or AHA, has been around for 45 years and has full throated promoted the hobby through education, action and events.

The key event for years has been the annual Homebrew Con. It’s a gathering of homebrew clubs from around the country who attened detailed seminars, can walk an expo floor, and experience club night, a raucous event that showcases the very best of homebrew in America.

Following last year’s conference in San Diego, the Brewers Association, the parent group of the AHA, announced that the conference would be moved to Denver and held in conjunction with the Great American Beer Festival.

Some homebrewers took a cautious approach to the news. Some denounced it as the death of the conference. Details were light on specifics until last week when the AHA announced that the conference would go on “hiatus” this year and something called AHA HQ would be set up inside of the GABF. It is still all being worked out, but as of now, it’s members only area where demonstrations will happen, some talks will be given, and there will be a chance to mingle.

The annual homebrew awards will be announced on the Thursday night of GABF on stage.

There was a strong outcry online, especially among established and long-term, homebrewers who saw this as the possible end to a beloved gathering.

Julia Herz, the executive director of the AHA, is optimistic about the gathering and what it will entail – even as it continues to get sorted out.

From the outside there are some signs why this move made sense. Conference events are difficult and expensive to put on. Post COVID-19 large-scale gatherings have struggled to attract people. Even the GABF, still the largest beer festival in the country, is attracting fewer attendees than it once did.

The AHA in general is no exception. Membership was quoted in a 2017 media release as being 46,000. A similar release in October 2023 was quoted as 36,000. And in an article in the current issue of Zymurgy Magazine, the official publication of the AHA, Herz quotes the number at around 30,000.

Ever optimistic, Herz frequently mentions 2025 and the future, but has not offered specifics.

Having a strong AHA presence at the GABF will be interesting. It’s part of a broadening of the offerings at the festival. Last year brought on a hard seltzer and gluten-free beer pavilion, as well as an International or import section. Organizers are hoping that at stronger homebrewing presence might convince new folks to pick up the mashpaddle.  

Hear the whole conversation on the Drink Beer, Think Beer podcast. Download via Apple PodcastsSpotify, Overcast, or wherever you download shows.