Homebrewers have always been a driving force behind the American craft beer movement.
What’s more, as a group involved in so many important judging events and competitions, they continue to push commercial breweries to offer new and exciting beer styles attuned to their adventurous tastes.
I was reminded of that last month in Boston, where I helped choose the finalists for the 2011 Samuel Adams Longshot Homebrew Contest. The judging panel included beer writers from around the country, including All About Beer editor Julie Johnson and Celebrator Beer News editor Tom Dalldorf.
Boston Beer Co. founder Jim Koch led the blind tasting of beers from nine semifinalist homebrewers. We all got into some good-natured debates and eventually narrowed down the final four, who will fly to Denver in September for the Great American Beer Festival, where the two top winners will be announced.
The beers and finalists were: Munich Dunkel by Corey Martin of Round Rock, Tex.; Berliner Weisse by Ariel Friedman of Arcata, Cal.; Russian Imperial Stout by Joe Formanek of Bolingbrook, Ill.; and Specialty Beer by Phil Moore of Columbia, S.C.
Among the variety of styles we tasted, Moore’s experimental beer stirred the most controversy. His recipe included, among other things, three pounds of Raisin Bran, a big dose of molasses, smoked powdered malt and licorice root.
I’ll admit, I didn’t care for it at first, writing “a crazy quilt of aromas and flavors” on my score sheet. But one of the other judges, Gary Glass, defended it as not simply a “kitchen sink” brew and won me over, championing the depth, complexity and boldness it displayed.
Glass is director of the American Homebrewers Association and his sharp observations during the tasting went beyond the usual sensory stuff to on-point assessments of brewing techniques and ingredients. It was great to have his expertise and homebrew point of view.
Personally, I fell in love with the big Russian Imperial Stout, comparing it to some of the best American commercial craft brew examples.
Glass wrote this footnote about the stout’s brewer after the tasting: “Joe Formanek has won the AHA National Homebrew Competition Ninkasi Award [which happens to be sponsored by Sam Adams] twice, first in 2000 and then again in 2006. The Ninkasi Award is given to the winningest entrant in the final round of the National Homebrew Competition, the world’s largest beer competition.”
But you’ll have to wait until September to find out which two beers and brewers were the Longshot winners.
In the meantime, the 2011 edition of the annual Zymurgy magazine “Best Beers in America” poll may give you some insight into what homebrewers are thinking and tasting these days.
Zymurgy is the journal of the American Homebrewers Association and for the third year in a row, its readers named Pliny the Elder the best beer in America. The double IPA from California’s Russian River Brewing isn’t available here yet. But finishing second for the second straight year was Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, an IPA that’s wildly popular in Atlanta but sometimes in short supply.
The rest of beers in the Top 10 can also be found in Atlanta: Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Bell’s Hopslam, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Stone Ruination and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Are you a homebrewer? What do you think of the Longshot competition? How about the results of the 2011 Zymurgy poll?
— Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog