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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