Arbor Wine & Beer Supplies Homebrewing Contest at Fatty McGee's – 12/7/2013

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This past December we were honored to be the judges for the first annual Arbor Wine & Beer Making Supplies Homebrewing Contest held at Fatty McGee’s in East Isilp, NY. The event had a great turn out and there were some truly excellent beers entered into the competition. Family and friends came down to support the brewers and in a variation on the usual beer competition theme each brewer brought growlers of their brew to share with the attendees prior to judging wrapping up. While we were a bit nervous in the weeks leading up to the event once everything got rolling and we saw people enjoying themselves it was clear that we had been part of something unique.

How did we find ourselves behind a table drinking lots of homebrews and passing judgment on them? It’s all about who you know or rather who knows you. We met the owners of Arbor Wine & Beer Making Supplies Rachel Acevedo and Laura Arbacas about one year ago. This was around the time they had purchased Arbor from the previous owner. Both women are avid brewers, winemakers and craftspeople and as proprietors of Arbor aim to share this passion with their customers. To accomplish this they have made their store a welcoming place for the local brewing community and brewing novices to shop. They were big supporters of the 17th Annual Brewer’s East End Revival Brew-Off which we coordinated.

Laura and Rachel knowing of us from the Brew-Off and this very site you are now reading felt comfortable coming to us when they decided to put together their own contest. They were hoping that we would be interested in helping them do a bit of organizing and if we were wiling to act as judges. We happily accepted, looking forward to providing guidance for our friends as needed. Several concepts were already in place. A few tweaks were required here and there and some original thoughts were tossed in to round everything out. One large problem that Laura and Rachel had already found the answer to was the issue of space.

Arbor is not large but it is also by no means small. However it would have been very cramped to stuff in homebrewers and friends among the aisles of carboys, malts, and various odds and ends. Since they both grew up locally and have frequented local bars they thought partnering up to host the event would be the way to go. Rachel and Laura chose to work with Fatty McGee’s in East Islip, NY. The people of Fatty’s could not have been nicer in helping when they could. They made sure signs were made up (which announced us as judges) and that there would be specials going on during the festivities.

Having worked out the basics and the space long secured it was time to fine tune a few points. After a little back and forth it was decided that we would judge the beers in two separate categories, Truest to Style and Most Unique. These two categories gave the entrants a chance to try and recreate a style or to go out on a limb and create something different. During the judging process BJCP score sheets and guidelines were used, for the most part. The brews in the Truest to Style category fell more easily in line with the BJCP judging criteria while those entered into Most Unique lent themselves to interpretation.

The night of the event we showed up early to get acquainted with the surroundings. Fatty’s is a bar that warmly embraces it’s local feel in a giant buffalo wing sauce coated bear hug. A neighborhood feel permeates the joint and is in a sense literally nailed to the walls in the form of local sports team memorabilia. Having both a main bar area with a few high top tables and a back room housing booths (as well as a Simpsons pinball machine and an electronic beer pong game) there was ample room for the competition and Fatty’s regulars alike. The night of the event we were told Fatty’s wings are legendary and while Alicia does like a nice wing, that evening we were there for one thing: to judge homebrew.

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Each contestant in the competition brought with them two growlers of their beer. This was the idea of Rachel and Laura. They hoped that by having each competitor bring a gallon of their brew not only would everyone be able to try the beer they would be competing against but their friends would get to as well. Sharing the beers among the gathered group formed a connection between the brewers. It allowed them to open up and discuss their successes and failures instead of giving each other the stink eye from across the room. A green light was given to everyone to talk about what we were all there for, the beer. Besides, if an icy glare or a back handed compliment was in order each brewer had their entourage in tow to dole out the punishment.

Judging beer while the brewers along with their family and friends drink and glance over at you, often, can be intimidating. With only 10 total entries in the competition (five in each category) we were not under fire for very long. Each beer was considered, carefully, while being graded using the BJCP guidelines as a starting point. After a beer was scored we’d take a moment to discuss what we each thought before coming to an agreement on a final score. There were no bad beers in the competition. We were served a few that had flaws but the potential was there if the brewer reexamined what may have gone awry. Several of the beers were very good, fully formed ideas that were well executed. Here are the winners of the first annual Arbor Wine & Beer Making Supplies Homebrewing Contest as judged by yours truly.

The winners in the category of Truest to Style:

1) James Scala – English Pale Ale
2) Chris Chimeri – Amber Ale
3) Jason Rice American Pale Ale

The winners in the category of Most Unique:

1) Ken Heiss – Mint Chocolate Stout
2) John Prada – Strawberry Blonde Ale
3) Dan Fischer – Gingerbread Winter Warmer

Both first place finishers made wonderful beers. James made an EPA that had a nice toasty note which blended well with the caramel malt base. Ken’s Mint Chocolate Stout was exactly what you would want from a chocolate stout and the mint was implemented very well in this beer. We reached out to James and Ken and asked if they would like to do a quick interview for BLC. Luckily both agreed and what follows are pictures of and interviews with these first place finishers. Congratulations gentlemen (that is an ATHF link btw).

WINNER TRUEST TO STYLE – JAMES SCALA

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You walk into a bar, what do you order?
When out I always try to find something I have heard about/wanted to try but have not tried yet. After that I will have something new but definitely local.

What (or who) got you into brewing and how long have you been doing it?
I have been brewing for only 1 1/2 yrs. after my wife suggested I give it a try. I had plenty of unused garage space to set up in and it has quickly gone from simple extract to all grain, converted keg setup w/ grain mill, multiple fridges w/ temp. control, kegerators etc. Whenever I learn of something that can improve my beer, I try to incorporate it into my process.

What is the best beer you have ever made? What is the worst beer you have ever made?:
I made a Black IPA over the summer that came out fantastic, I have had more requests for that brew than any of my others. The worst was my first attempt at oatmeal stout, every bottle was a gusher. Dumped the whole batch.

Name a beer style you love then one you hate.:
Love anything but wheat beers. Hate wheat beers.

What do you currently have brewing and/or what are you excited to brew in the future?: Currently have Centennial IPA, and American Amber Ale on tap. I have been tweeking amber ale for a few batches in a row. Next up will be Black IPA, I have not made it since the summer. Looking forward to that one.

WINNER MOST UNIQUE – KEN HEISS

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You walk into a bar, what do you order?
Something new or seasonal…I like to be sure I am getting something fresh.

What (or who) got you into brewing and how long have you been doing it?
A good friend of mine received a brew sack for Christmas in 1997. It was a 5 gallon bladder with a cap. It fermented for a month and then we relieved the bladder. The sack provided a brutal and violent drinking session/hangover…one to never forget. I embarked on my personal brewing discovery in 2007 with a homebrew ipa kit I bought at Kedco.

What is the best beer you have ever made? What is the worst beer you have ever made?:
BEST: All Citra Double IPA
WORST: West coast style hoppy red ale…got infected with acetobacter.

Name a beer style you love then one you hate.:
I love IPA and Pale ales…they have always been my fa vorite. I can’t say I hate any beer by style. I seem to find something I like in all styles, although I do find Belgians to be one of my least favorite.

What do you currently have brewing and/or what are you excited to brew in the future?:
Last batch I made was a Lagunitas Brown Suggah clone. Next brew I’m looking forward to making is a Black (chocolate) Pumpkin. I like to call it a “Blumpkin”.

(Note: a blumpkin is an adult themed act. Careful when Googling it.)

All of the competitors should be commended for having the bravery to bring in their products and have them publicly judged. It takes courage to put your creation in front of the world. It truly was an honor to help put this event together and to be the judges. We want to thank Rachel and Laura for giving us this opportunity, Fatty McGee’s and it’s staff for hosting and a big thank you to all of the brewers. Without them there would not have been a contest at all. We look forward to seeing these brewers and new ones at more homebrewing competitions in the future.

17th Annual Brewer's East End Revival (B.E.E.R.) Brew-Off – Beers, BBQ, Awards

Last Saturday, May 18, 2013, marked the 17th annual Brewer’s East End Revival Brew-Off held at the St. James American Legion Hall. This competition/celebration is held once a year and includes one of the largest home brew contests on the east coast. This year, around 260 home brews of varying styles were entered by brewers of all experience levels; some looking to make the leap into professional brewing while beginners want some honest feedback and critique to improve. There was a panel of about 25 volunteer judges on hand that graciously sampled beer for several hours, beginning at 9 am (not the worst way in the world to spend a Saturday).

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Though the homebrew competition is the crux of the event, there were other festivities that occurred simultaneously and continued after the winners were announced. Starting at 6:30 am, a crew assembled outside to man the grill and feed the hungry judges and volunteers. Since most in attendance would be there for upwards of 9 hours, the cooking crew knew that donuts and sandwiches weren’t going to cut it all day. They prepared a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and English muffins to be enjoyed prior to the first round of judging. At about 9 am, the judges, stewards and cellar masters gathered inside the American Legion Hall to begin round 1, which lasted about three and a half hours. When they emerged into the daylight, palates perhaps a little burned out from all that home brew, jockey boxes were set up that were pouring even more, you guessed it, home brew donated by B.E.E.R club members. In addition, a lunch of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, tuna salad sandwiches and accompaniments was served.

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After a brief lunch break, it was time for round 2 of judging. Some new faces showed up, including Mike Philbrick of Port Jeff Brewing Company, who would ultimately be deciding the winner of the Brewer’s Cup, a prestigious honor that came with a hefty prize-having your winning home brew produced and distributed by his brewery. Once judging for all categories wrapped up, a smaller panel of esteemed judges assembled to deliberate the “best in show” winners. This session went until about 4:30 and after much careful deliberation it was time to announce the winners.

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Yet again, the judges emerged to a plethora of events going on outside. The brew-off had opened to the public so the backyard of the hall had really filled out. Prizes for both the competition winners and raffle winners were on display, and once again the grill was fired up. On the menu this time was pork that had been slow cooking all day, grilled chicken breasts and thighs, fresh bread and assorted salads. Unfortunately, it had started to rain fairly heavily at this point but the club was prepared with tents to house the prizes and most of the crowd under.

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The home brew competition winners can be found at the B.E.E.R official website and there were plenty of raffle winners due to a generous influx of prized from both local businesses and national outlets. As we already mentioned, Bobby Rodriguez won the Brewer’s Cup which means his delicious barrel aged beer will be available by Port Jeff Brewing Company in the near future.

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This was our first year attending the event, which made running it a bit of a leap of faith into the unknown, but we had a great time and want to thank everyone for participating. The day could not have gone off mostly glitch free (with the exception of a translucent cup debacle) without all the judges, volunteers and companies who donated prizes. It has been going strong for 17 long years and we don’t doubt that year 18 will bring its own new set of great memories and experiences.

Blue Point Brewery Cask Ales Festival (2013)

If you’re from Long Island and have ever set foot in a bevy (“home d” if you must) or bar, odds are you have heard of Blue Point Brewery. Most likely, you’ve even paid a visit to their tasting room once or twice (or any chance you get). So you may or may not know that Saturday, April 13 is their 9th annual Cask Festival. The event is held outside of the brewery, rain or shine, and features cask only beers from Blue Point Brewery alongside other local craft breweries and home brew clubs. There will be over 100 different beers brewed by 30+ brewers. Food is available for purchase and Blue Point will be holding a food drive for Long Island Cares, so bring cans of nonperishable foods to donate if you can. Tickets sold out online in record time, so hopefully you were able to purchase one or can get your hands on one from someone who can’t make it.
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For those wondering, cask ale (also known as “real ale”) is unpasteurized, unfiltered and is actually conditioned right in the cask. There is no carbon dioxide or nitrogen added to the cask, so the beer that is served is not artificially carbonated. Any carbonation occurs naturally from the priming sugar and yeast used in the brewing process. There is an organization called C.A.M.R.A (The Campaign for Real Ale) who actually coined the term “real ale” and aim to promote awareness of cask brews. Typically bars and breweries don’t have cask ales available and if you happen to run into one or two you’re in luck, so it is a real treat to have 100+ casks under one tent.

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As members of B.E.E.R (Brewers East End Revival), we will be working the festival and also pouring a beer that we brewed along with fellow club member Bobby Rodriguez. Like Frank, who we brewed our gruit with, Bobby is an experienced home brewer and all around craft beer lover. We will be detailing the brewing process right here, so look for everything from recipe brainstorming to casking the beer in the weeks leading up to the festival. Though this will not be our first time attending the Blue Point Cask Festival, it is our first time brewing for it and also our first cask beer, so we are excited to complete the brewing process and serve our creation to patrons of the festival.

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This is a not to be missed Long Island event, as Blue Point will possibly be brewing a mint oatmeal stout and cooking something up with myer lemon, schezuan peppercorns and ghost chiles (all in separate beers). There was also talk of a “black and blue”, which is a mix of their blueberry ale and oatmeal stout, but the cask version will feature aseptic blueberry puree. This beer cocktail has been a favorite at the brewery for years, so a cask spin off is something to look forward to. Of course, they have a few surprises up their sleeve as well. So make sure to have your tickets ready, bring a can or two of food to donate and we will see you all there.