This past Saturday, fourteen homebrewers, either through clubs, small groups, or individuals, entered the Mardi Gras Casino's First Annual Homebrew Beer Competition, a BJCP certified event taking place track-side at the Hallandale Beach casino. All of the brewers were looking to win the coveted first place prize of $1000, one of the highest I've personally seen in the area.
With cool weather, and clear skies, it was the perfect day to get outside and sample some of the most creative beers from the sometimes mad scientist minds of area homebrewers.
Among the many participating was Aaron Caja of Maltese Cross Ale Works, a firefighter who makes beer making his hobby, but has no current aspirations to go pro. "This is something fun to do," he says, noting that some recipes he brews, like the dunkelweiss with chocolate and vanilla that was being poured, sometimes just happen.
Just a few tents down stood Erick Viera of Pilot Brewing with a duo of German wheat beers. A member of FLAB (Fort Lauderdale Area Brewers), Viera sought to bring some of his passion for German beers into the competition. Like his brethren, he says that he brews with his wife "for the fun of it." His dark Dunkel pleased with an effervescent level of carbonation, and showed lots of banana yeast flavors and a hint of dark bread.
There were plenty of old souls here as well. Among them, Invasive Species, 2 Live Brews, and Angry Union. Eric Guerro of AU, who was personable as always, poured beer for the thirsty masses, including a dark Belgian ale with those delicious dark fruit and brown sugar sweetness flavors called 'Belgian Brew Dog'. It was a hit with the locals and the other homebrewers. With the group recently expanding to brewing on a 2 barrel system, it's a move to gear up for more events like Ales for Anglers and the Tampa Bay Brewing Company's Home Brews tasting.
Though brewing is very much a science, some place a high emphasis on the art aspect. Take 403 Brewing Company. Created by Aaron Sayre and Alvaro Rodriguez, 403 is formulated like an indie underground punk band, fusing the co-brewers intimate love of the music scene. "The name is our homage to 403 Chaos in Tampa," Sayre told us. The legendary punk hangout, now defunct, hosted an incredible array bands in the 90's, like Dashboard Confessional, New Found Glory, Jimmy Eat World, and Refused. Now, the team at 403 Brewing is attempting to brew with that same sort of independent mindset; their ginger lychee beer was a surprisingly well tackled culinary brew.
We caught up with Delray Beach brewers Darren and Craig Nelson of Midnight City Brewing, who brought with them a double IPA and an imperial stout; rich with toffee and milk chocolate, and a thick pleasant mouthfeel. "This is a well organized event," Craig told us. The duo from Palm Beach County had previously won the Riverside Market End of Summer competition with a different double IPA.
We next found nationally recognized homebrewer Russ Brunner pouring a plethora of his creations, including a Watermelon Wheat, Citra single hop IPA, and BrewBerry Imperial Porter. The Tamarac based Brunner is somewhat of a local tour-de-force: winning a gold medal for his Scottish Export 80 at the 35th annual National Homebrewers Conference in Philadelphia and being one of three homebrewers to be selected for the Samuel Adams LongShot competition, where his American Stout will be found in retail across the country.
Though he might be racking up the awards, Brunner is, like most everyone in the beer community, humble and inclusive. "The whole LongShot experience was amazing," he told us. "Jim Koch [founder of Samuel Adams] is a beer geek, there's no doubt about that. I'd suggest for anyone to enter if they can, just do it. There's no entry fee, and... you never know."
As for someone looking to glean some insight from someone who has been so successful in the past few years, Brunner says to become a learned brewer. "Study beer. Take in everything you can and you can apply it to your homebrewing."
At the end of the day, only one could win the four-figure prize money, and it came to Russ Brunner for his blonde ale: a clean and simple experiment of American malts and hops with a German kolsch yeast that left nothing to hide behind but proper execution. Angry Union placed highly with a second place finish and securing the right amount of votes to take the people's choice prize, both being done with their milk stout.
Was this event a success for everyone involved? Everyone I talked to felt that the turnout was high, and many of the participants kicked at least a keg if not more. For some, it was a new experience to have this type of beverage at a casino.
"Venues like ours don't sell craft beer," said event organizer Sandy Catalano. "We thought that something like this would be a good thing to bring in a different type of clientele... and the turnout has been great."
- The judging was done by BJCP recognized level judge Marshall Silk, BJCP certified level judges Gary Fuller and Denise Graham, and BJCP national level judge Scott Graham and Ken O'Brien from WKIS Kiss Country.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger that focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow me @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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