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Brewery Series

2013 Homebrew Competition and AHA Rally, Stone Brewing Company

The date was March 16, 2013.  The place was Stone Brewing Company is Escondido, California.

This past Saturday marked the annual homebrew competition and AHA rally hosted in the gardens of Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, California.  The 3 hour event was open to current AHA members and those who wanted to register right there on the spot.  The homebrew competition consisted of 30 entries and required 3 to 5 gallons to participate.  A fellow homebrewer and I entered the competition with an american pale ale (Relentless) and a weizen (Backyard Citrusweizen).  Although we did not win, both of these and several other offerings were perfectly suited for the warm, sunny day in the Stone gardens!

Beers 1 - 24

Hey, there’s Ken Schwartz in the background…winner of last year’s competition with his Mint Chocolate Stout.

The crew from Stone did a great job with the set up of entries with 3 sections of 10 offerings.  The kegs in each section were kept perfectly cold and were running off a single CO2 tank and manifold for serving.  Unfortunately though, some of the beers were pouring extremely foamy or very under-carbonated.  For example, number 25 Graham Slam, poured almost entirely flat with exception of a few large bubbles swirling around the top of the pour and beer number 1 poured with nothing but foam!  I never did hear if these swings in carbonation were a result of Stone or the individual brewer’s handling of the beer prior to the event.

Here was the line-up of 30 offerings up for judging by the participants:

Beers in the competition included:

1.  Big Ice Small Wood Ale – 13.25%

Ice Brewed Wood Aged Blended Old Ale

2.  The Red Baron – 5.8%

Red Ale

3.  Dangerzone! – 4.5%

West Coast Pale Ale

4.  Vanilla Chai Latte – 10.6%

Spiced Imperial Milk Stout

5.  Bonne Nuit Saison – 8.3%


6.  Bitter Sweet Symphony – 9.4%

Double Oat IPL

7.  Touch of Evil – 8%

Imperial Stout with Habaneros

8.  The Rising of the Dog-Star – 10%


9.  Cup of The Old Chai, Sir? – 6.2%

Spiced Imperial Milk Stout

10.  Relentless – 6.9%

American Pale Ale

11.  Imperial Bourbon Vanilla California Common – 7%

Wood Aged California Common

12.  Hop N Oats Maneater IPA – 6.5%

American IPA\

13.  Dr. J’s Rye Tonic – 11%

Rye Barleywine

14.  Grey’s Kumquat DIPA – 9.2%

Imperial IPA

15.  Muir’s Golden Trout Ale – 5%

Herb/Golden Ale

16.  Mango Habanero IPA – 7%

IPA with Mango/Habanero

17.  Backyard Citrusweizen – 5.4%

Weizen 15A

18.  Fat Crabby – 7%

Chilli-Saison Spice Beer

19.  Orangutang – 7.7%

Citra Hopped Double IPA

20.  Pina Colada IPA – 6.8%

Belgian Specialty IPA

21.  Rusty Lager – 4%

American Lager

22.  Close but No Cigar – Cucumber Saison – 6.5%

Vegetable Saison

23.  Chamotion Witbier – 5%


24.  Vanilla Oaked Bourbon Ale – 7.7%

Specialty Beer

25.  Graham Slam – 7.1%

Oatmeal Graham Cracker Stout

26.  Pineapple IPA – 7%


27.  Black IPA – 6%


28.  Coconut IPA – 7.2%


29.  1337 Chirportle – 7%


30.  Mayan Achocalypse – 13%

Imperial Stout with Aztec Spices and Annatto

The official line-up of home brews for the day.

The official line-up of home brews for the day.

Voting for the best beers was done by the rally participants.  Therefore, there were no BJCP judges or guidelines to really follow.  If the event was geared towards BJCP categories, I interpreted the breakdown of 30 beers to be 11 specialty (category 23), 5 spice, herb, vegetable (category 21) with the remainder of the field representing a wide range of other categories.  Below is a breakdown of my interpretation of the how the offerings might fit into the BJCP style guidelines:

  • Specialty: 11 (6, 7, 8, 14, 16, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30)
  • Spice, herb, vegetable: 5 (4, 9, 15, 18, 22)
  • Wood aged: 2 (1, 11)
  • American Pale Ale: 2 (3, 10)
  • American Amber Ale: 1 (2)
  • Lite American Lager: 1 (21)
  • Porter: 1 (29)
  • Witbier: 1 (23)
  • Weizen: 1 (17)
  • Strong Ale (Barleywine): 1 (13)
  • Belgian Specialty: 1 (20)
  • Saison: 1 (5)
  • Imperial IPA: 1 (19)
  • American IPA: 1 (12)
SP and some of the crew for the day enjoying the beer!

SP and some of the crew for the day enjoying the beer!

The specialty category brought the highest number of entries in the competition.  Six of those were base IPAs that featured a variety of specialty ingredients including mangos, pineapples, pina colada, kumquats, coconut, mango, honey (braggot), and habanero peppers.  The category with the second largest number of entries featured ingredients such as cucumbers and chill spices.


Enjoying the perfect “10” – beer number ten that is!

After a long series of raffle drawings by the AHA, it was time for the winners to be announced (there must have been an hour’s worth of drawing numbers for this portion of the event).  When it was all over, the top 3 finishers fell into the specialty category with the coconut IPA edging out the vanilla chai latte brew.  Congratulations to the winning brewers Robert Masterson and Ryan Reschan for their award winning coconut IPA.  You can also check out the Stone blog’s coverage of the event here: http://blog.stonebrew.com/index.php/2013-collaborations.

Our entire group!

Our entire group!

All in all, I found the rally to be a good time, although extremely crowded.  Mostly because Stone crammed the event into the “first garden section” that you come to off the restaurant’s patio.  The rest of the garden was open for roaming, but all of the home brews and judging were situated in one small area.  As an avid home brewer and beer geek, I look forward to seeing (and tasting) more of Robert and Ryan’s coconut IPA and the line-up of competitors for next year’s event.




The Great American Beer Fest 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Since I had been lucky enough to win the local homebrew contest sponsored by Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and also brew 15 barrels of the beer on their system, I only found it fitting to make the trip out to The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado.  Not to mention, the beer was entered into the Pro-Am competition along with 93 other entries.

This way to the brewer’s entrance

We hooked up with Ballast Point for the Thursday night session, which kicked off the entire weekend of festival activities and were thankful that we had the chance to get in with brewer’s passes.


The Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits booth

This has got to be the best way to experience the event with perks like no entry lines, no waiting in line to sample beers, VIP restrooms and early entry into the exhibit hall to check out the venue and all the booths.

That is exactly what we did and it was so awesome to have no crowds to contend with while we wandered through the huge exhibit hall, checked out all the creative booths put together by Stone, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Bear Republic and Victory, just to name a few.

The Pro-Am booth

My pro-am beer “Time to Panic” brewed with Ballast Point was on that night – tap #2

The Stone Brewing booth

A closer look at Stone’s serving taps

Just one corner of the Bear Republic booth

The Sierra Nevada set-up

Odell Brewing

New Belgium

Of note though, was stopping by the Heretic Brewing Company’s booth and bumping into Jamil Zainasheff.  For a complete homebrew nut, it was awesome to chat with a legend from the homebrew world turned pro brewer and also catch a quick photo (hey, is that John Palmer in the back?  Ha!  More on him later!)

Meeting Jamil Zainasheff in front of his Heretic Brewing booth

Finally, just before the flood gates opened to let in the other million people, we made a quick stop to say hi to The Brewing Network people and their booth.

The Brewing Network booth

When 5:30 PM rolled around, it was time to get started.  The exhibit hall slowly began to fill with eager craft brew enthusiasts from around the globe and we headed straight to Dogfish Head for our first sample.

Sam from Dogfish Head pouring our first samples of the evening

Right to front of the line we went, only to be greeted and served our samples by Sam Calagione himself.  I choose the Midas Touch.  From here, we wandered around aimlessly in search of beers we couldn’t get out in So. Cal.

Just one hour into the evening, the first event happening in the Brewer’s Studio Pavilion was a panel discussion with Deschutes Brewery and a five-year vertical tasting of their Black Butte porter vintages XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII and XXIV (2008 – 2012).

The vertical tasting (2008-2012)

The panel included the owner and founder of the brewery, Gary Fish and brewmaster Brian Faivre.  During the discussion which was also open to the audience for questions (standing room only), samples of each vintage were poured for everyone to taste while the panel talked about the beer and its evolution from year to year.  Out of the entire flight, my favorite vintage was XXII.  Interestingly enough too, was that this vintage was never released!

The Deschutes vertical tasting

In addition to the ridiculous amount of breweries and craft beer, there is quite an abundance of other activities to enjoy at the GABF.  These would include a booth sponsored by Ford with a gimmicky soccer game to win a car (of course, we did not win) and the infamous silent disco that is put on my Oskar Blues Brewery.

The Oskar Blues silent disco

Carved out in the back of the exhibit hall is a dance floor, DJ and lots of GABF-ers dancing with headphones.  We never made it out to the floor because the line for headphones was so long (I guess a brewer’s pass doesn’t work too well for this line), but the next time we make it out to GABF, this is something we will not miss.

After checking out the silent disco, I thought to myself, “What one last thing would a homebrewer not miss and who would he want to meet?”  You got it, the one and only John Palmer!

Just before the final pour was announced, we stopped at the Boston Beer Company’s booth and after sipping on their Tripel, I had to jump in and grab my first ever photo with a cardboard cut-out.

Indeed, that is Sam Adams himself.  Sorry for the reach around!

The end of the session reminded me of the end of a concert when the house lights are turned back on.  The hall lit up and people started to make their way to the exits and pour into the streets of downtown Denver in search of bars and after parties.

We met back up with the Ballast Point crew, snapped a quick photo with them for West Coaster and were invited to join them at the White Labs after party.  Of course we took them up on the offer and headed over to The Shag Lounge just a few blocks from the convention center.

We made quick work of the short line to get in and were pleasantly surprised to find out the bar was hosted by White Labs.  And we even bumped into Chris White at the bar!

The host himself!

He definitely wasn’t the only ‘celebrity’ in the place.  We hung out with Neva Parker for a little, the Societe guys and Tasty McDole from The Brewing Network.

Helena and Neva

Hanging with Tasty McDole from The Brewing Network.

After a few drinks and a long day, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.  We had such a good time and would love to go back in the years to come.  The only thing is that we are certain the experience without a brewer’s pass might not be nearly as fun!

Below is a list of all the breweries we were able to visit during the session and the beers we sampled:

1. Dogfish Head, Midas Touch, Indian Brown and Sah’ Tea

2. Pro-Am, Time to Panic (Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits)

3. Pro-Am, Red Hop Ale (Ghost River Brewing)

4. Flying Dog Brewery, Dogtoberfest

5. Shorts Brewing Co., Peaches n Cream and Bludgeon

6. Victory Brewing Co., Headwaters Pale Ale

7. Ninkasi, Tricerahops and Spring Reign Ale

8. TableRock Brew Pub & Grill, Rye Saison

9. Wynkoop Brewing Co., Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout

10. Rockyard Brewing, Hopyard IPA

11. Deschutes Brewery, Black Butte XX (20th), 21, 22, 23 and 24

12. Russian River Brewing Co., Pliny the Elder

13. Uncle Billy’s, Bitchin’ Camaro

14. Terrapin Beer Co., Hopsecutioner

15. Brick Town Brewery, Kolsch

16. 4 Hands Brewing, Reprise Red Ale

17. Heretic Brewing Co., Gramarye (won gold medal in category 10: rye beer with 62 entries)

18. Kinetic Brewing Co., Afterburner Imperial IPA

19. Iron Springs Pub, Stout

20. Allagash Brewing Co., Curieux Ale

21. Darwin’s on 4th, Lemongrass Saison and Charapa

22. Back Forty Beer Co., Kudzu Porter

23. New Glarus Brewing, Raspberry Tart and Moon Man

24. Miller Brewing Co., Mickey’s

25. Lexington Brewing, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

26. Boston Beer Co., Tripel

White Labs Tasting Room

Located in the central San Diego area, the White Labs facility totals about 13,720 square feet and is situated in what has become a popular area for San Diego breweries.

I had heard a lot about the new tasting room that they recently finished and was excited to have the chance to check it out.  I didn’t know much about the concept and was surprised to see so many taps and a long line-up of beer styles fermented with a wide variety of yeast strains.

The iphone camera I was using definitely did not do any justice for the pictures, but when you walk in and step up to the tasting bar, I was impressed with all the high end contemporary finishes and a large LCD TV with all the styles on tap.  Each style is also labeled with the yeast strain used for that particular fermentation.

For example, if you like porters, you can get a flight of 4-5 tasters of the same porter, but each one was fermented using a different strain.  This is a great way to get a first hand taste into how each variety of yeast affect fermentation based on its profile and characteristics.

Sean happened to be behind the tasting bar and was very knowledgeable and helpful when I was deciding on which flight of beer style to go with.  I chose the red ale that included a flight of 5 tasters.  He laid out a dry-erase place mat and labeled each taster with the corresponding number from the menu board.  This way, I didn’t have to think much about remembering which one had which yeast.

The yeast strains for this flight included Pacific Ale, Cry Havoc, East Coast Ale, American Ale and European Ale.  I consider myself to have a terrible palate with craft beer that has improved and is still improving the more styles and flavor profiles I taste.  With that being said, I didn’t think I would be able to pick apart the differences in each yeast strain.

Fact of the matter was, I did pick them apart and although I’m not one to have several creative adjectives to describe what I’m drinking, each of these red ales had very different and some similar characters to them.  In the end, it got me fired up to try strains I normally might shy away from because of unfamiliarity.

I would estimate the tasting room to be approximately 2,000 square feet.  In addition, the tasting bar includes 3-4 barrels for resting tasters and two displays of White Labs gear and their new Test Kits – all available for sale.  There is also a window from the tasting room looking into a very labratory-like room where the company completes the evaluations of the test kits.

Finally, the building has a large training room that is set up like a classroom with several tables and chairs.  On my visit, it was empty except for one “student” buried in a laptop.

Again, White Labs is perfectly located in an area of San Diego that can be described as the “bulls-eye” for local breweries.  After stopping in for a flight or two and perhaps a tour, craft brew enthusiasts and home brewers can also visit commercial breweries in the immediate area that include, Ballast Point, Alesmith, Green Flash, Societe and Hess.  Also, within a 15-20 minute drive, you can reach other breweries including Karl Strauss, Stone, Pizza Port, Mission, New English and Iron Fist.

Mission Brewery – April 8, 2011

 Since becoming more aware of the beer styles I was drinking, local breweries and home brewing, I had always taken notice of Mission Brewery bottles in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Henry’s stores around San Diego.  Plus, I always associated Mission Brewery with the Mission Brewery Plaza building at Hancock Street and Washington Street in San Diego.  Also, I was aware that Mission Brewery was now brewing out of an older metal warehouse building in Chula Vista.

Wonder Bread building, Downtown San Diego

While talking to a good friend of mine about local San Diego breweries, I mentioned Mission Brewery and what I knew about them brewing in Chula Vista.  As soon as he heard me say Mission, he said to me, “I know those guys and they are just about to move Downtown to the old Wonder Bread building.”

Grain silo. The start of great beer.

Fermenters, surrounded by one of the largest bars I have ever seen!

 As soon as I walked in, Mike was there to offer up a pint or line up of tasters.  I decided to go with the tasters to get an idea of each brew.

Mike, pouring the tasters line up!


Taster line up. Right to left: Blonde, Hefeweizen, Amber, IPA and Double IPA.

 I have not had the opportunity to get back to Mission Brewery since this visit, but I am sure they have made several changes to the set-up and the line up of beers.  I was stoked to have a chance to meet and talk with the owner Dan for a few minutes and I was immediately impressed with his knowledge and enthusiasm for craft beer, entreprenurial spirit and vision for creating a killer brewery in the East Village area of San Diego.