Dec 23 2010

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:


Mar 2 2009

California Common (Steam Beer) Batch 2009 – McSteamy – “CC”

This one of the notes I’ve written to friends to describe the beer I just made. I’ll throw a few of these out to the blog to see if they are of any interest to surfers. Nothing complicated here. I’m just prepping people to try to the lastest batch, to help them understand the style and let them know if I did anything strange or unusual in the making of this one. – jb

What the hell is this thing? Good question. I’ve made a few California Commons before (often referred to as “steam” beers) but this one is different. The last few I’ve done have been kinda like IPAs brewed in the steam style. (The style being a beer that is fermented with cold-loving lager yeast at warmer, ale-like temperatures.

Those were pretty cool and infinitely drinkable beers, but not quite to style. The key to this style is the right strain of lager yeast and temperature control, but much of the flavor comes from using the Northern Brewer hop. I’ve always used NB in the past but in moderation, and often I covered up that flavor with citrusy Cascade hops in the finish.

This time, I only used NB hops and a good bit of them. I also used Maris Otter, which is a British Pale Malt, as the base instead of American Pale Malt. It was what I had on hand, and I wanted to see if the slightly more malty, bready, nutty biscuit, etc. character of the Maris came through. Oh, it did.

This batch is very interesting. The malt is much more in your face and hops give off a strong woody character (with a hint of mint as it warms and as a final taste). You might think this is an English Pale Ale that was aged in an oak barrel for a few months. I like this and it is growing on me more and more, but it will be completely different from what you may have been expecting before you read this email.

The BJCP guideline the California Common Beer.

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