Today, the winners of the Beer and Wine Journal/Basic Brewing Radio Homebrew Heroics Contest were first announced on Basic Brewing Radio. The top two winners received passes to the 2015 National Homebrew Conference (NHC) in San Diego. (In a twist of fate, one of the winners declared himself ineligible, so the prize was passed on to the next runner up.)
Below are the essays from the two original winners (Benjamin Grupe and Greg Niznik), plus the winning runner up (Tim Wang). Tomorrow, I will post a few of the other runners up. Thanks to everyone who entered and hope to see you at the NHC!
Homebrew Heroics Contest Entry by Benjamin Grupe
In June 2013, I was preparing to help a friend and novice homebrewer make some beer for his wedding. Over the phone, I shared a recipe for a nice California-style kolsch I had brewed recently. Unfortunately, while converting the recipe at the LHBS, he did some funny things with decimal points and ounce-to-pound conversions, and ended up purchasing and milling 30 pounds of grains in the following ratios:
38.5% Pilsener malt
27.1% Aromatic malt
5.7% Munich malt
Yikes! This was a disastrous grain mix that would NOT result in a tasty kolsch or anything else. That much carapils would leave way too many unfermentables, and the heavy aromatic malt might lend an overpowering cherry sweetness. We repurchased the correct mix of grains to make a successful wedding brew. But I kept thinking about the problematic grain mix, wondering if I could make lemonade out of lemons. We temporarily preserved the grains in a nitrogen-flushed bucket while I considered possibilities.
After thinking about different styles of beer in which I could use the grains, I settled on a Belgian quad. A high OG meant I could add a lot of base malts to minimize the problematic ingredients, a high FG meant the unfermentables might actually be appropriate for the style, and I thought the aroma and possible slight sweetness from the aromatic malt would actually complement the range of dark fruit flavors and phenols in a dark Belgian.
In September I took about a quarter of the grains and added more pilsener and Munich malts, CaraMunich, CaraVienne, flaked wheat, and a variety of Belgian candi sugars and syrups. For the first time ever, I brewed with a protein rest, beta rest, and alpha rest, hoping to maximize the fermentable sugars in my brew, which still included 8.5% carapils and 8% aromatic malt. The brew day went smoothly, I pitched a big starter, and fermentation took off like a rocket. I racked after a month, and became a little worried about a mild cough syrup character, and a bit of menthol in the aftertaste. But upon bottling in January 2014 (4 months after brewing), those flavors seemed to mellow. Still, I wondered how the beer would age and whether it would really turn into a tasty Belgian quad.
My answer came that October. On a whim, I submitted a couple bottles to a homebrew competition organized by the MashHeads, a San Diego homebrew club. The competition was open only to Belgian strong ales, and my brew ended up winning! Not only did I use what we THOUGHT to be a giant mistake to win my first homebrew contest, but bottles from that batch became gifts for my friends who have been graduating from our Ph.D. program over the past year. My brew, The Loquacious Doctor, continues to age in our respective cellars and closets, and I am starting to plan how I might use more of the “disastrous” grain mix in a future brew.
Homebrew Heroics Contest Entry by Greg Niznik
Here is my story:
Last July my friends Bob and Cindy got married. They had a wonderful service at a small rustic church here in town, the New Canaan Baptist Church. Like many old southern churches, this one didn’t have a reception hall, so Bob and Cindy set up a huge tent for their reception in the park across the street from the church.
I was single at the time so I decided to go to the wedding with my mother and a few friends. It was a great reception; lots of great food, but the beer selection left much to be desired. In fact they only had a quarter barrel of Bud Light on tap. Needless to say, as the afternoon wore on, the keg of Bud Light was soon gone.
The groom, Bob, knows that I make beer so he asked my mom to see if I could get some of my homebrew so that the party could continue. When she asked me I was hesitant. I don’t make a lot of beer, and even though I really like Bob and Cindy, I told my mom that they should have planned their wedding reception a bit better. My mom looked at me and said: “Jeez, just lighten up a bit and help out your friends.”
Well, I had to help. Lately I have been experimenting with water chemistry (thanks to John Palmer’s book) and remembered that I had a keg of Dark English Mild that I brewed with perfect Burton on Trent water. So I sent one of my buddies to my place to get it.
Needless to say the beer was a hit! Even the bartender told me that they should have foregone the Bud Light and served my beer right from the beginning. Well, miraculously, despite their bad planning, the rest of Bob and Cindy’s reception went off without a hitch. People to this day are still talking about my homebrew and hitting me up for a pint whenever they stop by.
Thats my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉
Homebrew Heroics Contest Entry by Tim Wang
My father is nearly 75. He has always been my hero. He selflessly gave everything to his family while I was growing up. He retired early because of my ailing mother (and because he could, let’s not turn this into a sob story). There’s not a person that could say anything negative about my dad. But he doesn’t drink beer. That
said, I brew at my dad’s house. I have a family that needs all the space we can get, so I drive every week or two to brew 30 miles away. My dad knew nothing about brewing. But he wanted to do what he could to help his son through any process he could (despite the fact that it
really IS a one-person job). To this day, he is my best assistant brewer; cleaning the mash tun, preparing the ice baths for chilling, and keeping an eye on fermentation. But if you asked him to brew a batch, he’d have no idea where to begin.
Well, three years ago I brewed an apricot blonde ale. This was prior to having temp control, but hey… it’s perfect weather year-round where I live. Everything with brewday went flawlessly. Numbers were hit. Yeast were healthy. I had never brewed this beer before, though, and
it called for apricot puree at the peak of fermentation. The volume increased on the batch, but I still had adequate headspace to manage the krausen. Or… did I? Keep in mind, I don’t live where I brew. If anything goes wrong, I may not know for 1-2 weeks. The carboy sat in
the guest bathroom tub (what better place?). In the middle of the night on fermentation day 4, the bung completely blew off the carboy with a loud pop. I had no idea
this happened until the next morning, when I received a call from my dad. It was like someone had gotten in an accident or something.
“Don’t worry, everything is fine.”
“What do you mean everything is fine!?!? What’d you do?!?!”
“I knew you had that tube thing with the plug on it” (the blowoff).
“I washed my hands, sanitized it, and put it on.”
At this point, I was really dumbfounded. But he’s a smart guy. Worked as an engineer for a prominent manufacturing company his entire career. He saw me maybe use this once, and apparently didn’t need any
“Did I lose any beer?”
“Not too bad (to this day, I don’t know what that meant). But don’t worry.. I cleaned it up for you.”
I couldn’t get up there until the next weekend. I had to
have faith in the process. At this point, it was what it was. What it ended up being was first place in fruit and the best of show beer in the 2012 San Diego County Fair competition, with over 1200 entries. So
I hope this can get me to the conference in
my hometown. And who knows? Maybe even with my hero.