This past Saturday, deep in the residential wilderness of the Riverside Park neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, homebrewing pilgrims flocked to the veritable mecca of craft beer in Broward County, the Riverside Market.
There, a dozen enthusiastic homebrew teams and individuals arrived to participate in the End of Summer homebrewing competition -- an event formulated to allow these beer makers the opportunity to show off their craft to a receptive crowd and to have their beers reviewed by a panel of beer judges. For $25, potential competitors could have entered up to two different beers -- and for $10, curious onlookers could themselves sample from the entered beers and whatever else these brewers brought with them.
As the sun sank deeper into the sky, anticipation from the participants began to grow. From the scurrying of pouring ice into bins to keep kegs cold to the dissemination of stickers and business cards, these homebrewers were preparing themselves like this were a bona fide farmers' market of beer, waiting for the opening bell to begin trading their wares.
Brewing groups such as Angry Union, Opus Ales, Midnight City, Invasive Species, and Butthead Brewers were among the participants in this event. Many of these groups have made themselves known through other beer festivals in the area, so many were familiar faces; however; there were some notable newcomers to the field as well. Each, though, was making the necessary preparations for the onslaught of beer-thirsty bodies that were to descend upon the market.
Inside, the beginnings of the gathered crowd were making themselves at home -- ordering pizzas, wings, and other delectables -- while owner Julian Siegel; his wife, Lisa; and his staff made sure that the back room of the market was transformed into a beer judge's sanctum, complete with enough spring water and crackers to cleanse the palate after any particularly flavor-complex beer.
This humbled writer was offered the opportunity to represent Clean Plate Charlie and New Times in the judges' circle, joining owner Julian, Brett Hubbard of Gold Coast Distributing (and beer expert), Evan Benn of the Miami Herald, and Matt Meltzer of Thrillist Miami.
After a quick introduction, and the rules of the homebrewing event dispensed to the growing sea of brewers and beer enthusiasts, we were shuttled back to the judging cloister for a close-to-two-hour session of rating and discussing 19 entered beers. The process was pretty straightforward, following guidelines set forth by the Beer Judge Certification Program, a 28 year old non-profit organization that seeks to provide a standard platform for judging beer, and is seen as the de facto standard in that regard. As each beer sample was brought to us, we would swirl, smell, sip, and analyze each entry for its adherence to entered style (such as American Pale Ale, or Coffee Porter) and any problems that might have arisen during fermentation (any off-flavors like phenols or diacetyl).
Through a second round selection process, and a fair bit of discussion, we had come to our conclusion as to the top beers in this competition.
So who won? Entering with a complex yet well-balanced imperial IPA and winning over the judges were Darren and Craig Nelson, the brothers behind Midnight City Brewing. "We call it 'Hop Mess,'" lead brewer Craig told us. "It's a hop-forward beer... lots of end-of-boil hops. We used four distinct dry-hop stages, utilizing Simcoe and Chinook, among others. It was also mashed at a higher temperature to get a heavier body. I wanted a body and sweetness that could carry the hops."
The recipe formulation worked out for him and his team and showed that these guys definitely have the skills to make a quality product. We've seen them previously shine at the Jupiter Summer Beerfest with an imperial cucumber ale and a summery saison.
With a gold-cap-laden beer paddle trophy to add to a sure-to-be growing collection (and some nice prize money), the guys kept pouring their beers for all the newly intrigued beer drinkers who might have missed them the first time or who were coming back for seconds.
Brewing group Invasive Species was out, pouring a range of fruited Berliner weisse's, all created with local ingredients. With beers like Starfruit Dragonfruit and Honey Seagrape, the doors of Florida-centric experimentalism were wide open.
Josh Levitt is a member of the Invasive Species team. "Stardragon [their starfruit/dragonfruit Berliner] is my favorite of the sours," he told us. "The Thai Belgian Wit that we put together is amazing as well... I want beers I can drink that are refreshing."
"Riverside is the best, and really draws the craft beer crowd. If you're coming down here for an event like this, you're a beer a nerd, and I think that's awesome."
Despite the ever-problematic parking situations, which can be chaotic at times, the Riverside Market End of Summer homebrew competition brought at least a hundred people down to 12th Avenue for a night of showcasing what local talent has in store for us.
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