Regular Folks Make Amazing Beer for the Little House Brewing Contest

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This past Saturday, about a dozen homebrewers from around the area converged on the parking lot of the Little House in Boynton Beach to brave the fickle Florida weather, show off their brews, and enter into a friendly competition.

Owner Chrissy Benoit (previously of Havana Hideaway in Lake Worth) and manager Jade Hornsby organized this second homebrew competition at the cozy downtown Boynton Beach restaurant.

"This is the sixth brew-off that Chrissy has done," Hornsby said. Benoit had previously hosted such events at the Hideaway. "She's all about incubating people's ideas and helping drive their passions.

"Mike [Halker] used to compete in her brew-offs, and now... he owns Due South."

Not a bad success story.

Following the seasonal theme of the previous inaugural November event, which featured fall and wintry concoctions (think stouts and porters), entrants were tasked to create a spring/summery beer. Styles such as a peach IPA, basil IPA, raspberry wheat, and cucumber basil pale ale were among the entrants.

But the winner of the judged competition, selected by Brett Hubbard of the Behind the Glass podcast, was Coy Patrick with his Pool Party Pale Ale. The commercial-level pale ale, dry-hopped with orange zest, was perfectly balanced and remained true to style but kept a hint of uniqueness that made it stand out. He received the winning honors and a $500 top prize. Not bad for a hobby, eh?

Coy started off where many do: enjoying beer.

"I enjoyed drinking beer," he told us. "In 2007, I went to the New Times Beerfest and went in to the BX Beer Depot booth... then signed up for a class."

After participating in the class, he moved on from extract to all-grain brewing, the equivalent in baseball of going from the minors to the majors. Now he's making beer that rivals what you can find in any craft beer bar.

He's been making his brews alongside pal Noal, who came out on Saturday with a uniquely experimental beer: cucumber and basil.

"This idea came to me on a whim, after a night of sushi," he said of the thought process behind the brew. "I just thought, 'Why not?'"

It was one of the more original beers on hand and one that, surprisingly, works. For the past five years, Noal has been making the good stuff at home. "It's a great hobby to be in," he shares, before revealing how he managed to get that cucumber flavor in there.

"Put about a half ounce of basil in the wort at flameout and then two cups of cucumber juice in secondary after a couple of weeks."

Artistry is a major part of the home-brewing experience. Experimentation is the name of the game, and while many hobbyists seek to perfect their beers through recipe adjustments or simple brew calculators, the team that put together Dog Daze pale ale take it to mad-scientist level.

"We have an Excel spreadsheet, like many do, to calculate things like caloric content and IBU's [the standard for measuring bitterness in beer], but we're also in the process of making and refining our own yeast," environmental engineers Matt Woods and Greg Lieberman share over a sampling of the slightly orangey dry-hopped ale. "We're even looking at microscopes."

But all of this geekery has a noble side for these two. "The brewing scene isn't competitive in a sense... It's the antithesis of the wine industry."

A few tents down sits May-Lin. Her raspberry-flavored wheat beer is quite welcomed on this warm afternoon. At around 4.5 percent ABV, one could easily drain this keg pretty quickly. The refreshing taste helps too.

"I call it 'Happy Rubus,'" she reveals, "based on the name of the genus of raspberries. There's a pound and a half of raspberry added in."

A brewer for six and a half years, she's a graduate of the FIU brewing program [http://hospitality.fiu.edu/wineprograms.asp?programs=certificate_program_beer] and the only female entrant in the competition. "I think I'm the only girl [around here] at this level [of brewing]," she says. Her sights are aimed high as well. "I hope to one day own my own brewpub."

Every beer that showed up was worthy of drinking. Home-created beers can sometimes fall into the category of "undrinkable" because of the amateur level of knowledge and lack of quality control, but that wasn't evident at all.

Little House manager Hornsby plans on continuing the events for the foreseeable future.

"The goals is to have this happen twice a year... We're looking to foster local participation," Hornsby says. "We love the craft beer scene... [We're] building a huge family here." Congratulations to all of the participants, and if you're a craft beer fan, look to the Little House in the autumn for another brew off.

The full list of winners:

  • Winner of $500 Judge's Choice: Pool Party Pale Ale brewed by Coy Patrick
  • Judge's Second Place: Tamarind American Amber Ale by Opus Ales
  • Judge's Third Place: Dog Daze Pale Ale brewed by Greg Lieberman
  • Winner of $500 People's Choice: Italian Pizza Ale brewed by Steve Dornblaser
  • People's Choice Second Place: Summer Solstice by Shan Dinally
  • People's Choice Third Place: Don't Worry Wheat Hoppy by Moron Bros Brewing
  • Winner of $200 gift certificate Best Booth: Summer Solstice by Shan Dinally

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