With 139 entries by 50 brewers, and 46 judges, the annual Doug King Memorial Home Brewing Competition on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Eagle Rock Brewery
epitomized the innovation, energy and community spirit of home brewers. This was the best kind of celebration of beer that is made by hand with love, and the people who make it.
The tasting room and half the space inside the brewing facility were filled with tables of (mostly) bearded men, hunched over small glasses of beer which they swirled, held up to the light, frowned at, sniffed deeply and tasted while consulting color and flavor wheels, and swapping impressions with their fellow judges in hushed tones.
If the judges were like monks, the 15 or so volunteer stewards, mostly members of the Maltose Falcons, were the court jesters who had a blast organizing and pouring the beer samples for the judges, collecting the judging forms and doing the date entry. They arguably had the better job, since they could laugh and horse around, and they still got to taste all entries after the judges had sampled them without the pressure of analyzing them according to the beer competition guidelines. They and the folks doing the data entry basically ran the event.
After several hours of judging and tasting – then a delicious BBQ lunched provided by Falcons members – then more judging and tasting, the Best in Show table was set up for the panel of all BJCP-certified beer judges, as well as Eagle Rock Brewery co-founder Steven Raub and Head Brewer Erick Garcia. All other noise stopped as all attention focused intensely on the judging of the winning beers.
The winners were announced to a raucous and extended applause: the Best of Show Winners of the 2013 Doug King Memorial Competition were Craig Wickham, Doug Harlan, and Dean Lynn for their Honey Hibiscus Blonde Ale. First Runners-Up were Chris Rockwell and Bret Goldhorn for their Rye Barrel Stout. Second Runner-Up was James Hilbing for his Munich Dunkel.
To see the list of winners and runners-up in all of the categories, visit the Maltose Falcons website.
Craig Wickham said this wasn’t his first ribbon from a home brewing competition, but this was his best win. “I’m completely stoked my beer will be brewed here!” he said.
Judge Drew Beechum, a longtime Maltose Falcons member, co-founder of the Doug King Memorial Competition and author of The Everything Homebrewing Book: All you need to brew the best beer at home, had high praise for the Best in Show Hibiscus Blonde Ale, and for for this year’s entries overall. “It was a pool party in a glass,” he said.
“Generally, there are more younger brewers participating, and there is more experimentation with new and different flavors. I think this year, I had the single best flight I have ever had since this competition started.”
Maltose Falcons Vice President Ed Kochanowski, who did all the admin and data entry of the judging forms, said they had 14 more entries than last year, and this was the first competition for about 20% of the participants. “It shows how strongly the hobby is growing,” he said.
Another judge who had beer entries in the competition was Josiah Blomquist. He’s been brewing for nine years, but this was his first time competing, and his Wine Barrel Aged Flemish Sour Ale won 1st place in the experimental and historical category. He uses a SABCO Brew Magic 12-gallon brewing system. What got him started brewing? “When I was in high school, I threw some yeast into a jug of apple juice and put a condom on top,” he said. “I drank it and it was gross. But I got drunk so I started making beer, and it’s been a downward spiral ever since.”
Once the main leg of the competition was over, the judges and stewards had a chance to stretch out and cleanse their palettes with BBQ after sitting for nearly three hours sampling and analyzing beer before the Best of Show judging started. Steve Rosolio, who is also the President of the Maltose Falcons, talked about what made the Doug King Memorial so special.
“It doesn’t have the usual plethora of beer categories. It’s narrowed down to lagers, West Coast-style beers and specialty beers such as fruit and vegetable, wood aged, historic,” said Steve, who is one of the BJCP Certified Beer Judges in this competition.
“We also have two categories that are specific only to this competition. Those are session beers, which is anything with a starting gravity of 1.045 so it has low alcohol and you can drink it all day. But it should has more flavor than a Bud Light,” he laughs.
“The Imperial Anything category is anything with starting gravity above 1.080. We also have our own Falcons style guidelines that we have developed and we use, as opposed to the BJCP style guidelines. But we have styles that are not yet included in BJCP. For example, in our style guidelines, we have Black IPA. We also have American Strong Ale, which would be like an Arrogant Bastard or Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball.”
The number of truly unique, eccentric and simply odd beer entries was a little shocking, and shows how innovative and experimental home brewers are. Jeff Bukey, Bryan McEntire, Mike Nagy, John Ryti and Bud Hoff won 3rd place in the Specialty Smoked and Wood Aged category for their Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel-Aged Belgian Dark Strong Ale. Sarah and Matthew Luker took 2nd place in the historical beer category with their Revolutionary War Spruce-Tip Ale.
There was also a Vanilla Chai Milk Stout, which got Ward G. Walkup IV 1st place in the fruit and spiced beer category, and a Citrus Green Tea APA by Jeffrey Cannon that got 3rd. There was even a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Imperial Brown Ale by Brian Pramov and Jessica Leberer that placed 3rd in experimental and historical beers.
The BJCP style guidelines and certification and judging system is the most widely recognized authoritative body on beer judging in the United States, so it lags far behind innovative and experimental beers, ciders and meads by its very nature. Which is ironic, because home brewers are innovative and experimental, by their nature.
Founded in 1985 by the American Home Brewers Association and the Home Wine and Beer Trade Association, the BJCP established a standards based training, certification and judging system to supply qualified judges in amateur and commercial brewing competitions. The certification exams are notoriously difficult, which helps uphold high standards, but that also means that BJCP certified judges are practically an endangered species. BJCP notes on its website that it has administered the Beer Judge Examination to 7,040 individuals worldwide since 1985. Currently, only 4,275 are active judges in the program, with 644 ranked National or higher in the United States. So why go to all the trouble?
“The process of becoming a beer judge, and judging in competitions teaches you not only how to taste beer better, but how to brew beer better,” Steve Rosolio said. “In order to judge properly, you need to know everything that could possibly go wrong with your beer, and provide feedback for other brewers. If you can taste what’s wrong with someone else’s beer, you can learn how to figure out what is wrong your own beer, and what you can do to make it better.”
He and a friend also had several entries in this competition – a Viking style ale which is smoked and also made with juniper and honey, an Old Ale, a rye amber ale and a wood aged stout. Steve has only been home brewing for about three years. He got hooked while between jobs, “and it destroyed my life.” In a good way, clearly.
Eagle Rock played not only the gracious host of the Doug King Competition, but offered the grand prize – the Best in Show winner has their winning recipe brewed in Eagle Rock’s facility and sold under the Eagle Rock label with the winning home brewer’s name. If you know anything about home brewers, there is pretty much no greater prize or honor than having an award winning craft brewery in your home town brew your recipe, and knowing that beer lovers are drinking it in local bars.
It’s increasingly common for craft breweries to demonstrate such strong support for home brewers and the home brewing community. Home brewers are highly innovative and experimental since they are lovers of interesting and high quality beer, and they are not constrained by the economic and commercial considerations and obstacles that professional brewers face. Professional craft brewers also know that home brewers are probably the most discerning and knowledgeable beer drinkers. It’s crucial to boost your reputation and brand among them in today’s social media world, where a friend’s recommendation, like or retweet is worth much more than a banner ad or TV commercial.
Moreover, commercial craft brewers are beer brewers and beer lovers themselves, so the sense of community runs strong. “Everybody who works at Eagle Rock Brewery started off home brewing,” said Erick Garcia, Head Brewer at Eagle Rock. “As a matter of fact, Steve, Ting, Jeremy (the family that founded Eagle Rock) and myself, we were all Maltose Falcons. When the first opportunity came up to host this competition, we said, why don’t we do it here, and do our part to support the cause? The idea was, whatever beer won the competition would be brewed here and that would be our Pro-Am entry in the Great American Beer Festival.”
That’s kind of a big deal for whoever wins today. The Great American Beer Festival (GABF) hosted by the Brewers Association brings nearly 50,000 spectators and participants to Denver, Colorado every year with over 3,000 entries competing from around the world, and 100 beer judges.
“It’s been really fun, the whole process here, doing the judging here, having the Best in Show here,” Erick said. “We get to taste some spectacular beers. We’ll get to see what that original beer tastes like and six months later we’ll be brewing an 11 barrel batch of it and entering it in the GABF Pro-Am. First time we did that was in 2010. That one was the Red Velvet, and it won the gold.”
That Imperial Red Velvet Ale was the recipe that won Best in Show in the Doug King Memorial Competition in 2010 for home brewer Donny Hammel of Camarillo.
Love of beer runs waiste deep at this event. Falcons member Irenya, AKA “Alewench,” and her friend Gina, were simultaneously drinking beer samples that the judges had already analyzed, running forms and bottles back and forth, and ensuring the judges had enough water and white bread to cleanse the palettes. Ale Wench has been brewing for three and a half years, since her first date with her boyfriend, Scott Cook, who was judging in this competition.
“We brewed a Heffeweizen on our first date,” she said. “I knew it was going to work out when he started talking to me about decoction and pitching yeast.” They still love to brew together and drink beer together. He likes Heffeweizen while she is partial to barleywines and porters.
Ultimately, the stewards appeared to win this event overall. They made the most noise, laughed the most, drank the most, didn’t have to do any hard thinking, worked hard, cleaned up the whole mess, and at the end of the day, took home about 25 bottles of leftover beer entries. If the 2013 Doug King Memorial Competition was any indicator, home brewing is not just thriving, it’s exploding, and is the living, beating heart that supplies the blood of innovation, experimentation and passion to craft beer in America.