Brewnosers' Homebrew Competition Poster
The Brewnosers Homebrew and Beer Appreciation Club is hosting an Amateur Brewers Beer Competition May 23-25, 2015. While the Maritimes has seen an explosion of commercial breweries opening in recent memory, the homebrewing community has seen similar growth. A combination of new beer drinkers, those realizing not all beer is “fizzy yellow lager” and looking for beer with more taste, and those who enjoy the DIY culture and want to add beer to their repertoire are just a few of the groups to thank for this explosion. As Craft Beer grows, so does the Homebrewing community, and vice versa, as many commercial brewers start out as homebrewers looking to turn their passion into a career.
While getting comments on homebrew from family and friends is nice, it can be difficult to receive impartial feedback, especially if the beer is free and plentiful. Enter homebrew competitions, where homebrewers can receive honest feedback from judges drinking their beer blind, without any preconceived notions. Local breweries have supported this idea by giving homebrewers an opportunity to do that for years (Garrison Brewing, Big SpruceGahan House Charlottetown, and Hammond River to name a few), but those competitions are usually restricted to one style, as the winning brew will be turned into a commercial beer. With 23 categories and more than 80 sub-categories recognized by the BJCP, many homebrewers brew outside of these single styles.
This is where homebrew clubs come in! For more than 30 years, Canadian amateur/homebrew clubs have been holding competitions to allow entrants to receive honest feedback on their brews, earn some bragging rights, and maybe some cool prizes at the same time. Annual club competitions are hosted in Vancouver, CalgarySaskatchewan, Montreal, and many cities in between. In Halifax, the Brewnosers have previously hosted All About Ales in 1999, a combination homebrew competition and conference at John Shippey’s Brewing Company and Rogues Roost, but have not hosted an annual competition until now. Thanks to passionate Brewnosers members willing to donate their time to organize and judge the competition, Canada’s East Coast will become an integral part of the homebrew competition circuit. One driving force behind the renewed interest is Jeff Pinhey, one of the original Brewnosers members when the group formed in 1986. As a National ranked BJCP judge, he has lead study groups and beer seminars in our region, including guidance and study assistance for a crop of a dozen new BJCP judges in 2013. The Beer Judge Certification Program is an international non-profit organization encouraging knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of beer, by offering a standardized method for evaluation, ranking, and giving feedback. There are more than 15 BJCP judges in our region, who have taken both knowledge- and tasting-exams, and most of them will be taking part as judges (or participants) in this homebrew competition.
Registration for the Inaugural Brewnosers Homebrew Competition is now open, and accepting entries from amateur brewers from across the country. All BJCP beer styles are welcome, and will be evaluated by a team of BJCP-certified and industry-member judges. As the name implies, only beer brewed by amateur brewers, on non-commercial systems may enter (commercial brewers can/should enter the CBAs, whose registration ends April 1st). The competition is also registered as part of the Brewer of the Year, which tracks amateur brewing competitions across Canada. All entrants will receive honest feedback on their entries by means of scoresheets, and the top entries in each category may be eligible for prizes from competition sponsors. The Best of Show winning brewer will have the opportunity to work with Best Case Beer to produce a DIY Craft Beer kit from their winning beer, to be sold at homebrew shops across Canada. Other sponsors, as of publishing time, include Bad Apple BrewhouseBig Spruce Brewing, Breton Brewing, FastRack, Garrison Brewing, Ladies Beer LeagueSchoolhouse Brewery, Wrought Iron Brewing, and we here at the ACBB, with more groups expected to assist with category prizes and other sponsorship.
The deadline for registration is May 15 at 5pm, and must be done online at www.brewnosers.org/competition. Samples (2 bottles of each entry) may be dropped off at any Noble Grape (in the HRM and in Coldbrook and Fredericton, with the Burnside location being the central point for accepting mailed entries) before the same deadline. Costs are $7 per entry (and $5 for subsequent, via online payment only), and the number of entries is being capped at one per sub-category and 15 total per entrant, and 325 overall. As of publishing time, there are more than 150 entries registered, from brewers across the country.
If you are interested in supporting the competition by means of sponsoring a category, or donating funds, merchandise or time towards the prizes and logistics of the competition, please contact Competition Coordinator Andrew Newton. The goal of the organizers is to have the competition break even, while providing the entrants, judges, and supporters a valuable and worthwhile event.

Another full week of Atlantic Canadian Beer News, and we’ll focus on the Garrison Brewing Home Brew-Off, whose results were announced last night at a great gala.


Kellye Robertson, with some of her 2012 Home Brew-Off winning beer, Kellye R’s Wild Rye’d IPA

Last year’s Brew-Off winner, Kellye Robertson, was in attendance to help launch “Kellye R’s Wild Rye’d IPA”. The beer was on tap, and the double-dose of Citra she and Brewmaster Daniel Girard used really comes through, and it’s great! I can see this beer selling out quickly, so be sure to pick it up soon, where better beer is sold. Brian Titus also announced that after she finishes her diploma at the Niagara College in the Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management program, she will be returning to work at Garrison. Welcome aboard!


Garrison Brewmaster Daniel Girard

Daniel spoke about the challenges of scoring and picking winners from 69 entries. They had to change their plan this year to taste and evaluate the beer in groups of 8, with several folks helping to whittle it down to a final four. The final four were judged the day of the gala, by three BJCP-certified judges, and from them, the winner was chosen. And the winner is… Peter Welton!


2013 Home Brew-Off Winner, Peter Welton. pic courtesy of @NobleGrape

The judges loved the carbonation level and clarity of his beer, and thought it was a great example of the Belgian Blonde style. Peter will be brewing his beer with Daniel in the spring. Congratulations, Peter! Also congratulations to Andrew, Gerald and Dewi for top four finishes. We were fortunate to try all of the beer, and they were all great. Well done!


Former Home Brew-Off winners Brian Harvey, Adam Comeau and Scott Tilford

I was also lucky enough to snap a picture of the 3 previous Brew-Off Winners in front of the trophy now on display at Garrison (only 4 years late). Brian Harvey (2009, Harvey’s Bitter), Adam Comeau (2011, Adam Und Eric’s Neuschottland Schwarz Black Lager), Scott Tilford (2010, Nit-Wit Belgian Wit).

In other important news, next year’s Home Brew-Off style was announced (after much poking and torturing of Mr. Titus), and it is BJCP Style 15A: Weizen/Weissbier. So start your kettles now, homebrewers! This is one of my favourite styles of beer, so I’m looking forward to brewing up a few test batches to perfect a recipe for submission.

In other Garrison news, their next One Hop beer will be released soon, and it will be showcasing the Citra hop. I’ve got word that there might be more than one batch of this made, which means we won’t run into a sold-out situation like we did with the Comet release. As I mentioned above, I’m a big fan of Citra, so I can’t wait!

With the Garrison Brewing Home Brew-Off announced for this year, I wanted to write a a post about my recent journey into all grain brewing.  With all of one batch under my belt (my second brew day will be over the holidays and third as soon as that one is done) I’m obviously not an expert but hope I can encourage others on the fence, especially those who have done kits or have basic knowledge to get into this incredibly fun hobby.

Making the Plunge

Up until recently, I had been brewing kits (mostly Festa Brew) for several years now.  Of the 20 or so batches I’ve done I’d probably say a few I really enjoyed, most weren’t bad and a couple I don’t think I finished.

As a beer geek, I wanted to better understand beer and brew recipes that I like that are hard to get here.  I’ve waited as long as I have mainly because I can’t get all grain supplies locally (they could be ordered but there is the additional shipping cost) and have been intimidated by the equipment and its price that I thought was required for home brewing:  grain mills, immersion chillers, mash tuns, large pot, outdoor burner (I had heard most stove tops couldn’t deal with large batches), etc.  The thought of McGyvering a Coleman cooler was a scary one…

Last Summer I had the chance to attend a Brewnosers meeting and sample some of the different beers.  Most were excellent and many were unique styles.  While I didn’t make the leap then, that was really the first real push to do so.

A few months ago, I met someone at the Oktoberfest des Acadiens in Northern N.B. that it turned out lived down the street from me and was into home brewing.  I asked him if he made his mash tun he told me he didn’t have one and brewed his beer in a bag.   I thought something was lost in translation (we were speaking in French) or I had made a few too many visits to the Acadie-Broue booth.   The next time I ran into him he told me his brother who was into home brewing was selling a dual tap kegerator (small bar fridge with taps that can hold 2 kegs), 3 kegs and a CO2 tank for a very good price.  The thought of drinking draught and not having to bottle beer?  This I couldn’t pass up.

Keeping it Simple

My goal was to make the transition into all grain as easy as possible.  My plan was to buy a burner, a large pot (I ended up buying an aluminum 10 gallon one), make an immersion chiller and also a mash tun (here’s a link to a great article about start-up home brew equipment).  I made an immersion chiller following a video on You Tube (so easy even I could do it).  As I was doing research I came across the brew in a bag (BIAB) concept.  Turns out you can brew all grain beer without a mash tun by using a large grain bag (it wasn’t too many trips to the Acadie-Broue booth after all).  I asked a couple of experienced brewers about it and they indicated it was easier, faster, didn’t negatively impact quality and many long time home brewers are starting to use this technique.  Based on this feedback, I decided to go the BIAB route.  The other piece of equipment I expected I would need was a grain mill.  Noble Grape locations will mill the grain for you (at least the Burnside location) so instead of buying one I asked them to do it when I picked up my order during a trip to the area.  The burner (70K BTUs), 10 gallon pot, equipment to make the immersion chiller and grain bag ran me about $180.  The cost of supplies for my first batch of beer was $58.26 (due mostly to the large quantities of hops – I had to substitute a couple of types). 

Oversimplified Description of the Brewing Process

Here’s a very high level overview of the major steps to follow in the Brew in a Bag method:

  • Bring the water to the proper mash temperature (in the recipe I linked to it was 151.5F).
  • Once you hit the mark add your grains into the bag and leave it in the pot as per the recipe (in this case 1 hour).
  • Remove the grains in the bag and bring to a boil.
  • Boil as long as called for in the recipe, normally an hour or 90 minutes (in this case 1 hour).
  • Add hops and other ingredients when called for in the recipe (60 means with 60 minutes left in the boil or in this case at the start, 10 means with 10 minutes left, etc.)
  • Cool down your brew using an immersion chiller (you need to add it with 15 minutes left in the boil to sterilize it).  Connect it to a hose and run water through it (it doesn’t need to be blasting through) in order to bring down the temperature of the brew.
  • Transfer the beer to a primary fermenter.
  • Add yeast and let it ferment several days.
  • Move to a secondary fermenter (some leave in a primary until bottling) for several more days.
  • Bottle or keg the beer.
  • Let it age a couple of weeks.

Above is an oversimplified overview but it’ll give you the major steps.  I haven’t identified every step along the way such as gravity and pH readings but want to keep this simple.  For a more in depth description go to this link.  You’ll need to create a free account to download the 8 page “The Commentary” pdf document.  It ends prematurely but will give you information about the vast majority of the process.

Advice for Newbies:

Based on my many minutes of all grain home brewing experience, here are key tips I would have for anyone about to start BIAB all grain brewing:

  • Clean and sanitize everything thoroughly.  Cliches are cliches because they are true.  You don’t want to lose a batch of beer.
  • I’d buy at least a 10 gallon pot, larger if possible.
  • Buy a large grain bag.  The one I bought at Noble Grape probably won’t support some of the bigger brews I want to do.  Here is a link to one of the Brewnosers who sells large grain bags in different styles (with handles or without).
  • Read as much as you can about home brewing.  Check out the local Brewnosers, the BIAB section of their site including this introduction to the topic, New Brunswick Craft Brewers or Brew in a Bag websites.  Better yet go to their meetings to talk to the “Vets”.  Buy  a book or two on home brewing or borrow from the library.  Also look at blogger sites about brewing.  Meek Brewing Co. is an excellent blog with recipes, tasting notes and tips.  More on Shawn in a minute…
  • Plan your brew session.  The BIABrewer.info website has a great checklist to help you plan out step by step what you need to do.  If you are going down the BIAB road, it also has a calculater you can use to determine how much water to use in your pot based on its dimensions and grains used in your recipe.
  • Try and find a mentor.  As with anything else you are learning, it is so much easier to have someone to bounce questions off in terms of approach / questions you’ll no doubt have.  I have been lucky to get tips and advice from multiple home brewers but have received an unbelievable amount of help from Shawn Meek. Some would say there is a fine line between asking questions to interrogating someone to outright harassment. I don’t know exactly when I crossed those lines with Shawn  but definitely did so a LONG time ago.  He’s a great example of a home brewer who loves the hobby and wants to help others wherever possible.
  • The most important advice?  Get started.  Pick a style (Belgian Blonde Ale anyone?) do some research, ask questions and get going.  I’ve made some mistakes during my first batch but have learned from them and can’t wait to brew again.  In hindsight I wish I would have started brewing much earlier.

Here’s hoping I’ve encouraged some others to start all grain brewing.  After only one batch under my belt (I kegged my first one last night) I am hooked.

I’d invite any Vets to add comments correcting anything in this post or to add additional recommendations for newbies.