Homebrewing is a labor of love, the creative pursuit of some new twist on beer or refinement on a standard style. Few homebrewers expect anything more than a fresh supply of tasty beer and perhaps a nod of approval from friends and family.
But for those few who aspire to greater levels of fame, scaled-up production for national distribution and a $5,000 royalty check, there is the Samuel Adams LongShot competition. Entries for the next contest are due between May 17 and May 28.
And, whether you need a point of reference for just what kind of beers the judges are looking for or you just want to sample some excellent homebrews without spending your free time sanitizing equipment, this year's winners are now available in a mixed six pack featuring two beers apiece from the three 2010 winners: Mile High Barley Wine by Ben Miller (New Mexico), Old Ben Ale by Michael Robinson (New Hampshire) and Lemon Pepper Saison by Samuel Adams employee Jeremy White (Massachusetts).
All three were surprisingly good--superior to most Sam Adams products, honestly, and miles better than the company's signature Boston Lager. Nonetheless, I am very curious how the mass-produced versions compare to the original entries. For example, all three were remarkably clear, and I wonder if they were pasteurized, filtered or otherwise smoothed out during the production process in order to make them more marketable. After the jump, all three get the business from the Hophead Beer Ranking System. Then, just for laughs, I rate my own Brigid's Brew, my second attempt at homebrewing chronicled in this column.
Lemon Pepper Saison
Appearance: Pale golden hue with a frothy white head, and surprisingly clear for a style usually marked by cloudiness. 7/10
Nose: Citrus dominates an unspectacular aroma. 7/10
Taste: Slightly peppery with a very strong citrus flavor. This is brewed with grains of paradise, a peppery relative of ginger, though the spiciness is mercifully subdued for a beer meant to be refreshing. 32/40
Body: Light with peppy carbonation, a bit thin. 7/10
Finish: A bit of sourness and spice on a very crisp, refreshing finish. 10/10
Style/Originality: Using grains of paradise would seem a lot more original if this weren't brewed by an employee of a company that already makes a summer beer with the same ingredient. 7/10
Party Factor: This 12-oz. beer has an ABV of 6.4 percent and is included in a six pack with a suggested retail price of $9.99 (though I received a free sample six pack from a publicist). That comes to a score of 3.84, which rounds up to 4.
Old Ben Ale
Appearance: Clear, amber-ruby with a yellowish-creamy tint to the head. 8/10
Nose: Raisins, prunes, sweet dark fruit and alcohol combine nicely. 10/10
Taste: The elements foreshadowed by the nose are all present, along with a surprisingly assertive hoppiness out of character for an English-style Old Ale. 37/40
Body: Rich and creamy with perfect carbonation. 10/10
Finish: A bit of caramel as suggested on the label, balanced with refreshing bite. 10/10
Style/Originality: A nice modern Americanization of an old-school British style. 10/10
Party Factor: This 12-oz. beer has an ABV of 9 percent and is included in a six pack with a suggested retail price of $9.99 (though I received a free sample six pack from a publicist). That comes to a score of 5.40, which rounds down to 5.
Mile High Barley Wine Ale
Appearance: Almost indistinguishable from the Old Ben Ale, right down to that odd yellowish head. 8/10
Nose: Like Old Ben, dark fruit sweetness and alcohol are present, but citrusy, piney hops are also surprisingly pronounced. 10/10
Taste: Very malty, sweet and mellow, with dark fruit, caramel and toffee notes along with a surprising resiny hoppiness, almost like an aged double IPA. 38/40
Body: Full and rich without the syrupy quality that can make even good barley wines a bit too cloying. 10/10
Finish: Nice lingering sweetness with a bit of hop bite. 9/10
Style/Originality: Very original balance of hops with the barley wine style. 10/10
Party Factor: This 12-oz. beer has an ABV of 9.9 percent and is included in a six pack with a suggested retail price of $9.99 (though I received a free sample six pack from a publicist). That comes to a score of 5.95, which rounds up to 6.
Appearance: Brownish-red and extremely cloudy with copious flakes of the white sediment that formed a millimeter-thick layer of sludge on the bottom of the bottle, despite a careful pour. The brewer used a mismatched variety of bottles and didn't even bother with a label. Quite possibly the ugliest beer I've ever seen--which makes it kind of endearing. The off-white head disappears in comically short fashion. 3/10
Nose: Caramel mallty sweetness with a hint of roasted barley. 8/10
Taste: Strong maltiness with a bit of molasses sweetness and just a hint of roasty flavor--not as much as I had hoped. Still, for just my second attempt at brewing and my first partial-grain recipe, I'm pleased. The Columbus and U.S. Goldings hops add soft, subtle floral and piney notes. Feedback from friends and family, if they can be trusted for honest opinions, is very enthusiastic. 35/40
Body: Rich and thick, with fizzy, almost cola-like carbonation. 6/10
Finish: Sweet, not sickly, very drinkable and with just a tad of bitterness. 8/10
Style/Originality: An interesting attempt to modify the Belhaven Wee Heavy style, but the difference is far more noticeable in its hideous appearance than the roasted-barley addition. 6/10
Party Factor: Not sure. I spent about $80 on this trip to Homebrew Headquarters and another $10 at the grocery store, but part of that was to replace lost or broken equipment and part of it was for ingredients I'll use in the future. Also, I don't have a hydrometer and thus can't calculate the ABV, though the recipe I (mostly) followed should have resulted in an ABV of 7.5. Assuming a cost of $80 for the 50 or so 12-oz. servings (I used a variety of bottle sizes, so again, I'm not quite sure) and a final ABV of 7.5, that comes to a party factor of 4.68, rounding to an unofficial 5.
Total: 71 Not quite ready to take the LongShot challenge, but I'm proud nonetheless. Next up is a double bock collaboration with a friend.
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A couple of events worth mentioning...
The Fort Worth Flying Saucer location is the host of the 2010 Barleywine Experience Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. A cool $30 gets you a punch card worth 15 3-oz. samples (or use three punches at once for a 9-oz. snifter) with 11 barley wines from 9 breweries: Left Hand Brewing Company's Widdershins, North Coast Brewing Company's Vintage Old Stock Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's Bigfoot, Anchor Brewing Company's Old Foghorn, Avery Brewing Company's Hog Heaven, The Brooklyn Brewery's Monster Ale, Lagunitas Brewing Company's Olde GnarlyWine, Real Ale Brewing Company's Sisyphus 2006 and 2009 and Stone Brewing Company's Old Guardian 2007 and 2008. Reservations are required. Also, a word of warning from someone normally not inclined to be a wet blanket: 45 oz. of barley wine is a lot of alcohol, considering that barley wines are usually about twice as strong as normal beers. Take plenty of time, or arrange for a ride home.
Also, the new Flying Saucer on the Lake is having a Brooklyn Brewery tasting at 6 p.m. Wednesday night with four Brooklyn beers (Summer Ale, lager, Local 1 and Local 2) and three courses of food for $30, or $25 for U.F.O. club members.