The Hat Trick of Homebrew

One of the joys of the craft beer world is the celebration of creating your own home brew. After the discovery of your personal palate and appreciation for specific styles of beer, the accomplishment of recreating those flavors and aromas from your own efforts can be infinitely rewarding.

One way the craft beer community employs a little injection of creativity is the home brew competition. This is not a new concept. People have been battling it out for years, on various levels of expertise, in multiple forums of competition. In 1985, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) became a central hub to certify craft beer knowledge and standardize the rankings of the quality of brews evaluated.

That brings us to Vermont. At the beginning of 2015, a competition unlike any other was announced. A collaboration between Beverage Warehouse of Vermont, 14th Star Brewing Company, and Farrell Distributing, as well as partnerships with a plethora of local establishments, the Make-The-Cut Homebrew Challenge was born.

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In the first year, the groundwork was laid to give a local brewer a conduit to see how their recipes translate to real world success. Registration, submission, and judging rules were all hammered out.

Vermont home brewers submit a creation, and then need to pass three rounds of judging:

  1. The initial 226 entries whittled down to 50 semi-finalists, judged by industry leaders in the creation, transport, sale, and distribution of craft beer, as well as media and craft beer aficionados.
  2. The 50 remaining entries then go through a secondary round with BJCP certified judges until 2 finalists remain.
  3. The finalists’ beer get distributed to local establishments to be consumed and judged by local patrons, that information brought back to a central committee to tally votes and decide on the winner.

There is a lot at stake too. The winner will not only have their beer professionally brewed by 14th Star Brewing Company in St. Albans, Vermont, they will receive $1000 cash, and their beer will be distributed throughout Vermont to be sold in outlets and bars in every corner of the state.

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The big thing here is, unlike most other beer competitions, the brewer retains rights to the recipe of their beer. The beer also gets featured at the Vermont Brewers Festival come summertime.

The winner of the first year was Brett Seymour with his schwarzbier, “Salute Your Schwarz”. A super smooth and tasty black beer with a moderate mouthfeel and appropriate amount of alcohol, coming in at just under 5% ABV.

We had the pleasure of being present for the brewing of this beer. Kris was on location, filming Brett making his schwarzbier under the direction of Dan Sartwell, the brewmaster at 14th Star Brewing Company. The entire competition was an enormous success.

It might be worth noting that having been involved in the first round of judging for this event, it is really quite amazing having the winning beer being derived from a cross section of industry leaders, BJCP certified judges, and local patrons. No other competition offers such a specific process to get Vermont home brewers a direct pipeline to Vermont craft beer consumers. It’s really exciting to be part of the event, and work alongside some of the coolest craft beer professionals in the area!

Year two was just as epic, with a few refinements. The first round of the judging process adjusted to allow more time for the judges to qualify each entry. The same BJCP round as well as distribution of the two finalist beers.

13962947_1232704640081774_4856637451950512897_oThe winning beer of the 2016 Make-The-Cut Homebrew Challenge was a classic German Altbier, brewed by Roland Maheux of Jericho, VT. Not an easy beer to make, but Roland’s recipe was true to form and a great beer all around. Another successful year of Make-The-Cut!

So here we are, ready for year three! All of the home brews have been submitted, and on Sunday, January 29th, I’ll be joining (for the third year in a row) the ranks of judges for the first round of judging of the 2017 Make-The-Cut Homebrew Challenge!

Judging will be a little different this year. We are taking the successes of the past 2 years and refining the process a little more for year three. Here’s the breakdown:

Round 1:
Approximately 11-12 tables, each with a mixed panel of judges sending two of their best beers to round 2. Some tasting notes for each beer (not scored) similar to industry tastings. Focus is on drink ability and pleasure, just how restaurants, bars, and retail stores decide which beverages to populate their on or off premise business with. Each Judge will write down their 2 favorite and the 2 beers with the most votes go to the Masters table.

Round 2: (Master Table)
Approximately 22-24 beers, divided between 2 tables. 2-3 of the best beers from each table go to the final round. Rating sheets (not BJCP) to include scores will play a part in the industry discussion about the most important ‘wow’ and marketability factors. These scores will not be tallied, it is simply for reference for the Judges to decide on which ones to revisit and move on.  The brewers will get these sheets.

Round 3: (Heads of Contest)
These final few beers (4-6) will be tried by the heads of the contest right after Master round for a quick agreement on which final 2 will be brewed. No scores, just conversation and agreement that they represent the purpose of this competition.
Finally we come to the “People’s Choice” round. The two finalists’ beers will be brewed at 14th Star then go head to head at various locations across VT for the public to sample and cast a ballot. The winner of this final round is the Make-The-Cut Homebrew Champion!
So there you have it. 3 years, three beers. This year, I am pleased to have fellow Two Brews contributor, Scott Barbick, joining the event as judge for the first round.
Who will win the challenge this year?
Good luck, and cheers!

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Eating & Drinking, Montreal Style

Warning: The following blog is NSFV.
Not Safe for Vegetarians. 

Those of us who live close to the northern border often forget just how close a European city truly is. With less than a two hour drive and a brief stop to chat at the border we can be in Montreal, Canada.

This past weekend my wife Erin and our good friends Jason and Robin made that trip north for a weekend of eating, drinking, and rooftop wintertime pool swimming. Emphasis on the eating and drinking.

klj_9900Our accommodations for the night were at the Hotel Bonaventure on Rue de la Gauchetière. Pretty much right in the middle of downtown Montreal, it made a decent base camp for our explorations at only one hundred bucks a night, Canadian. The exchange rate right now is very favorable to US travelers at about $1.20 CA for each US dollar. Always use your credit card to get the best exchange rate and to avoid fees.

klj_9891Wanting to save the pool for after dark, we struck out into the cold Montreal afternoon (shocking, cold in Canada in January, right?) looking for lunch. Numb fingers and noses pushed us into the first place that looked interested and well heated. Given its flashy and corporate appearing exterior, expectations for Reuben’s Deli & Steaks on Sainte Catherine were not incredibly high to start, but the food ended up being very classic and tasty with smoked meat of course being the order of the day all around. Maybe a little overkill given our upcoming dinner plans, but more on that in a bit.

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Lunch was accompanied by a Rickard’s Red ale, brewed by the big guys, Molson Coors Canada, based in Ontario, Canada. Yes, it was a mass market beer from a mass market brewer, but the red went very well with the fatty smoked meat and melted cheese. Rickard’s Red is a 5.2% red lager available year-round and is brewed with three undisclosed malted barleys, Brewer’s Caramel, and Pacific Northwest hops.

After a nap, a few Kinder Eggs, a swim in the pool (very refreshing and hair freezing), exploring the Underground City, and a pre-dinner drink at the hotel bar/restaurant Le Bisco, it was time to catch a cab and head a few miles away to the apex of our adventure, Au Pied de Cochon.

klj_0104Located on Duluth Est in Montreal, if you love food, chances are you have heard of PDC. The much loved project of chef/owner Martin Picard, PDC is where good pigs and ducks go to die and become amazing dishes, most of which we would attempt to eat in one three hour sitting.

Of course we started with a round of beer, and when a place like this has a house beer, you must start there, right? The Golden Ale/Blond Ale Brewed by McAuslan Brewing of Montreal at 5% abv was light and malt forward, perfect for the onslaught of meats about to cover our table.

We had some idea what we were in for, this was a second visit for Robin and Jason, but we still went a bit overboard ordering.  We started with soupe à l’oignon, pasta with black truffle, and quenelle of scallop with mussels. The starters alone would have been dinner for any sane group, but we were just getting started.

More beer, s’il vous plaît.

Pied de Cochon farci et foie gras, or pig’s foot with foie gras, is a masterpiece of old world cooking. One may expect when ordering a pig’s foot to receive a pig’s foot, but in this case the dish was the whole leg and some shoulder, braised until flaky and stuffed with sausage. Not content with that, of course, they topped this light and  healthy dish with a massive piece of buttery duck foie gras.

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Pied de Cochon farci et foie gras is perhaps the best use of a pig’s leg ever divised, even superior to providing quadrupedal locomotion for said porcine animal.

Moving on, there was yet another pied de cochon, this time served with risotto, and a duck cooked in a can with a generous helping of  foie gras and other unidentifiable bits of goodness. The duck breast was a tad firm for duck, but the flavors were wonderful.

Was there poutine you may ask? But of course there was, this is Canada, after all!

klj_0101When it was time for another round the switch was made to an American Pale Ale from McAuslan’s St. Ambroise line. With more of a bite than the PDC house ale at 35 ibu’s, 5% abv and using Cascade, Willamette, Golding, and Hallertau hops, the consensus was that the house ale was perfect for the meal and could be their only offering without upsetting any of the wonderfully hipster crowd.

As we waddled out of the cozy little meat cathedral many hours after we arrived, overall it was agreed that the experience was near perfect, though the starters were a bit lacking. Go big and go for the classics seems to be the best strategy at PDC and avoid the smaller dishes which want to push into the territory of fusion. (We sampled an Asian inspired wrap of some kind that was so underwhelming I hardly remember the name of the dish.) The seafood was surprisingly good for a restaurant so deeply embedded in the perfection of pig with the scallop and mussel quenelle being the smaller plate standout.

Thank you, Montreal, for hosting our get-a-way weekend. We will be back if for nothing else than more Kinder Eggs because there certainly were none of those in the car when we returned to the States. Nope. Not one.

 

 

 

The Team Expands

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A current map of Two Brews contributor locations

We’ve been meaning to post this for a while. In an attempt to spread our footprint, there are a some new faces at Two Brews. So without further delay, meet the newest members of the team!

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Samantha Williams

You most likely have already heard from Sam. She’s been the counterpart to Kris in Two Brews Northeast for many episodes.

Samantha hails from Southern NY, and moved to Upstate NY for college and never left. She currently lives in Port Henry with her husband, dog, and two cats. Being a historian and metalsmith, she loves all things handcrafted, and therefore looks for unique beers. She loves deep, rich beers; Porters are a favorite. She believes that chocolate is a food group, and is still searching for a decent chocolate beer, recommendations welcome.

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John DiCarlo

Next up we have Mr. John Dicarlo! John came on board with Two Brews at the beginning of 2017.

John DiCarlo is originally from southwestern PA and now lives near Harrisburg with his three kids. He travels a great deal in search of good beer. The surging Craft Beer movement in PA means there is always a new brew pub to find and enjoy. His tastes are definitely to the darker side of beer styles; porter, stout, dark ales, but he’s willing to try an IPA or two. He loves talking and reading about beer, but mostly drinking it. John is looking forward to reporting his discoveries from the field on Two Brews.

And then there’s Scott.

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Scott Barbick

Our newest Two Brews contributor, Scott likes to photograph his beer as much as he likes to home brew it. A native of Vermont, Scott currently resides in southern New Hampshire with his wife and child. Scott first became interested in home brewing in college but, being a starving student he didn’t have the funds to invest. Years later, after the craft beer craze in VT took off he finally invested and has been modifying his set up ever since. As a biologist he’s very interested in the science of brewing and building a homebrew system that creates a reproducible product.

So there you have it. Be sure to welcome these folks to the team when you interact with them. Here’s to good brews!

Cheers!

The Beer Cellar Shuffle

12474101_1643477629245496_6225125956703706024_oThis is what my beer cellar looked like just one year ago. To put that in perspective, I didn’t start cellaring beers until I started Two Brews, and we had just celebrated our 2nd Anniversary last December. You can do the math.

It reminds me of something I once read, something from the mouth of Hunter S. Thompson. To paraphrase a demented and famous man, “Once you get locked into a serious collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”12764367_1654911778102081_1314835996982483809_o

The road to the perfect beer has a multitude of variables. From my own attempts at home brewing I now have an eternal well of appreciation that brewers can ever land on beer that taste so darn good.

The flavors, aroma, appearance, and mouthfeel all are dependent on what water, grains, hops, and yeast you use. The fact that if you ferment your beer just 3-5 degrees outside of your target, or for that matter, keeping the temperature stable, you’ll end up with a different beer than you set out to make. My point is, there is a lot of nuance that goes into making a great beer.

You can only imagine my utter disbelief in discovering you can take a beer you like, put it in a cool cellar for 12-18 months, and it comes out better than before. WHAT IS THIS MAGICAL SORCERY?!11182785_10205814564179521_4479683937282455824_o This discovery came at a good time for me as I was starting to run out of places to put my beer. Taking select candidates and putting them into a cool cellar seemed like a fun way to play with the collection. However, this created a monster.

Whether you haven’t started a cellar of your own, haven’t experienced this, or you have suffered through the torture I’m about to explain, it’s good to know what you are getting into when starting a beer cellar of your own. A beer cellar, for me, was a pretty gnarly learning experience.

So when I began, it was my “beer closet” as I didn’t have a cellar at the time. Temperature control was a real problem, but it was either that, or make a grim choice between having a refrigerator packed full of beer, or a healthy relationship with the wife. I think she appreciates my decision.

11212125_10205878343853973_4446679047291976240_oAt the time, I was pretty much sticking any good beer I enjoyed into the closet, thinking, “If it tastes this good now, imagine a year from now!”. Turns out, this was an uneducated decision. All the beer in the picture above moved with me from Vermont to Ohio. Not all of it aged all too well (Minus the IPA’s and stuff, drank those right away!).

Since committing some faux pas of the craft beer cellaring world, I’ve since figured out you really want to stick to cellaring beers above 8% ABV to really play it safe. Not all beers need to be cellared. Some beers you buy are mildly infected and still drinkable, but after a year… they can be VERY infected.

Those are just a few tidbits I learned from the process. However, none of that is even the “monster” as to which I referred to earlier. Perhaps my issue was more personality based, but I had the “No… not just yet” syndrome.

So many times I’ve made a trip to the beer cellar, saying, “This time, I’m going to grab something real nice!”. So many times I’ve dropped too much money on a really limited edition something, and immediately stored it away. At this point, one can grab just about anything, and it’s going to be a winner.

I get to the beer cellar, open the door, and start to deliberate. “How about that bourbon barrel coffee stout? Nah, just got it a few months ago. Perhaps this barleywine? Naw, saving that for when I have people over. Maybe it’s time to break out that mead my buddy made… except it’s a Wednesday night…. and I’m at home, alone.” I just couldn’t do it. No beer seemed appropriate. I’ve done this dozens of times, only to head to the beer fridge and grab a year round available brew.

I basically created a collection of beers that are intended to be consumed, and never having a “good enough” reason to break any of them out. So they just sat there… until one day, when I had enough, I took action.

I sold them all.

Yep. I ripped the band-aid off. I got rid of all (nearly) all of it. It was just a money pit. A delicious one, but a money pit at that. I found myself spending more money than I should each week to simply put overpriced beer into a dark room that no one would ever go in to, and nothing would ever come out of. I had reached a point where I could stop buying beer that very moment and still have enough to drink for easily over a year at a reasonable pace.

This had a magical side effect. That liberation broke my attachment to the beer I had cellared. I decided to start “beer cellar 2.0”, only this time, I was going to put beer in there at a much slower pace, and be much more selective in what I put in there.

If there’s any advice to anyone out there that wants or has a beer cellar: Take it slow, be deliberate, and don’t rush. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to grab a “gem” once in a while, it’ll be good for you. To quote Mr. Hunter S. Thompson once more, “Good people drink good beer.”

Now to figure out how to buy less beer whenever I go to Vermont… but I’ll save that for another time.

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The Past 150 Days

Hey folks,

We just couldn’t stay away from Two Brews. We tried, we lasted exactly 5 months. A lot has happened in that time. Ran a few 5k’s, went to Vermont a few times.  I figured I’d share with you my perspective on the past few months.

14853279_10209996275479690_2851588672044933717_oI definitely traveled a lot. Between middle of October to mid-December I was in Vermont, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada and Maryland. One discovery that made me happy was finding craft beer bars in various airports around the United Sates such as Goose Island at Chicago O’Hare or Yazoo Brewing in Nashville, Tennessee. When in the vacuum of constant traveling, making sure you find good food and drink is most important. 15540738_10210492322680560_8143435574428771740_oMy favorite meal of recent travel was at Flounder’s Chowder House in Pensacola, Florida. I had a local IPA in their signature 23 oz. restaurant logo etched pilsner glass. Tupelo Honey Cafe in Franklin, Tennessee was also a great craft beer stop.

I still found my way back to Vermont at least a couple times in that 150 day span. Needless to say, whenever I go back, it’s a 15110912_10210250768601859_6327734254525723792_ostruggle to NOT come back with a car full of beer. The last run was a run from New Jersey up through to Trillium Brewing in Massachusetts, Litherman’s Limited in New Hampshire, and a variety of breweries in Vermont. I even had a little time to grab some hot sauce (and beer) from The Alchemist.

14292460_10209621432468849_3257955335232856973_nEric and I finally got around to making an IPA we had been talking about doing. It’s a little brother version of “It’s Complicated Being a Wizard” DIPA from Burlington Beer Company. We called it our “Muggle” IPA. We had a home setup constructed and brewed out in my garage. During the brew process we came upon a few “we’ll improve that for next time” moments. 14712840_10209951492720149_216613673333720621_oThe result was a bodaciously juicy and aromatic IPA. The color, aroma, and flavors were all there… but there was a little extra in the mouthfeel. We already know the cause and have remedied it for next time but the beer was a little too “thick” for an IPA. So as a result, it looks, smells and tastes like a Vermont IPA, but it pours and drinks like a thick stout. Maybe there’s a new market for that?

It’s these home brew sessions that make me think about how lucky I am to have worked with so many great brewers in my travels with Two Brews. Just two years ago I was a complete and utter noob in the world of craft beer. Try listening to some of our first episodes on our archive site (www.twobrewspodcast.com/archive) and you’ll hear some real ignorant gems on my part. Back then I had never observed a brew session let alone tried one on my own. Now I can confidently brew beer at home (of course working out the bugs as I go)!

14882389_10210027326295941_8803272675764912133_oSince we last caught up, one of my favorite beers of all time had it’s 2016 release. That beer would be a Triple IPA by the name of Dragonsaddle from Hoof Hearted Brewing Company in Marengo, Ohio. In my exploration of hop forward beers, I truly believed that my all time favorite had to be something from Vermont, because after all, they have a reputation for some of the best in the world. However, this little brewery out in the sticks changed that game. Coming in at a whopping 11.5% ABV, this super juicy, punchy, overflowing with pineapple-y goodness triple IPA is dangerously delicious. You’d never know it was knocking up near 12% with how smooth and drinkable it is. Be sure to keep an eye on Hoof Hearted Brewing, they are already exploding locally.14590037_10209781497630378_2660314971086813373_o

Thanks to a super awesome cousin of mine (thanks, Sarah!), I was able to get a hold of the special edition release of Tribute, a Double IPA from 14th Star Brewing in St. Albans, Vermont. The beer is the same recipe I’ve come to know and love, but the real treat here is the custom artwork on the can. It depicts my late high school band teacher and mentor, Brooke Ostrander. The guy was such an influence in my life, I even have a cat named after the man.

So now Two Brews is back. We’ll be keeping you informed on the beer scene in our areas as close to real time as we can. Be sure to check out the website as it develops into a media hub of all things craft beer. Until then, keep on discovering those awesome brews!

Cheers!

-Matt