GABF Pro-Am Brew Day and Competition with Starr Hill (with video!)

This could be a very, very long blog post, but I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet.

In August of this year, I was asked by Brewmaster Mark Thompson of Starr Hill Brewing Company to do the Pro-Am entry with them for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). The Pro-Am is where a brewery partners up with a homebrewer and makes a batch of the homebrewer’s award winning beer in their brewery. The homebrew recipe is scaled up and put into the competition during the GABF in Denver.

Of course, I jumped at the chance.

Starr Hill has done this for more than few years and they even won a Pro-Am silver medal at the GABF in 2008.

The beer that Mark was most interested in was my California Common, or “Steam” beer. I jokingly called it “McSteamy” not long after it had been brewed and the name, making fun of the steam name and Grey’s Anatomy, simply stuck.

Every homebrewer, at some point, dreams of brewing with professional equipment and making a huge batch of their beer. In this case, instead of making my normal 5 gallon batch, I worked with Starr Hill to make 360 gallons of beer.  This means that instead of using 14 pounds of grain, we used 875 pounds. Instead of 5 ounces of hops, we used 10 pounds of hops. Upconverting that recipe was stressful for me, but it all worked out in the end.

On the brew day in August, I showed up at the brewery with my friends Will and Jon. Will has there to help out and enjoy the brew day, and Jon was there to do the same, AND he brought along his video camera to record the brew day.  More on that later.

Walk into any big, craft brewery (a bit of an oxymoron, but bear with me), and you will be overwhelmed with the scale and the amount of steel that surrounds you. It is complicated, but glorious, steampunk dream.

On the brew deck I met Levi, who was my Starr Hill brew partner for the day. Levi was amazing, and he truly made the brew day collaborative.  His constant narration of the process of brewing beer on their system was as educational as it was reassuring. I wasn’t a by-stander to my own beer. I was actively working with him on the control panel and transferring the beer from here to there.

Then it was brewing as usual. Well, except for the giant equipment with scientific accuracy.

Just like my equipment at home. Or not.

Once it was all over, McSteamy was transferred to its fermenter, dropped down to 60 degrees F° and it was ready to go.

This is me trying to act cool and pretending that I did it alone (I’m not and I didn’t):

A dry-hopping and a month later, McSteamy was kegged up for the Starr Hill tasting room, the GABF and a few watering holes around Virginia. There were a few bomber bottles, too, that were for the actual GABF competition, and I got a few of those to share with friends and the homebrew club.

The Charlottesville unveiling of McSteamy happened at Beer Run, and that was an amazing evening. It was truly humbling to see so many friends and extended family show up to the event. I’m still stunned that so many support my hobby/addiction. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such good people.

In September, I flew out to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. If you ever get the opportunity to go to the GABF, do it. It is awe-inspiring festival of excess, but worth every moment. And a few of the days it, later, takes to recover from it.

McSteamy did not when a medal, but it turned out great and very drinkable. The whole experience was remarkable.

If reading this wasn’t enough, please click on the video below and check out the amazing job Jon did in capturing the experience. It eloquently captures the brew day more than my mere words do.

Thanks, again, Jon.

Check out McSteamy:


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