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home brew league

If you heard the name “Home Brew League” you might think it was some kind of summer softball showdown or a group of guys playing fantasy football. But for Boyd Culver and Chris Musil, owners of Coldbreak Brewing Equipment in Cedar Springs, the Home Brew League is a revolutionary idea to test the skills and bring together some of the best home beer brewers in Michigan. The inaugural competition they’ve created is a one-of-a-kind brewing challenge that stretches the skill of the participants and has them producing beer that rivals your local microbrew favorites.­

“The way we do it, it’s the only one like this in the country,” proclaims Musil. “There’s 32 teams and each division has 8 teams. Each team has 4-6 homebrewers.” Unlike other brewing competitions, all 32 teams submit the same style of beer for each round of the tournament. Culver adds, “There’s homebrew competitions all over the place all the time, but there’s definitely not one like this. There’s 32 teams all brewing the same beer.”

The league’s “season” stretches from the beginning of May through the end of October. Throughout the season, there are seven different events where teams compete with a new variety. The teams who rack up the most wins during the season then move into the “playoffs,” where one set of talented brewers will be crowned the first ever Home Brew League Champion.

This unique setup quickly captured the interests of local brewers who are anxious to see how their beer measures up. “Having these monthly competitions is really helping me refine my palate when I’m drinking a beer and what to look for when I’m creating my recipes. Plus, I’ve been brewing like crazy. It’s keeping me on my toes,” says John Wesorick, a member of a team known as “The Brew-Tang Clan.”

The idea for the Home Brew League came to Boyd and Chris as they were looking to create a fun promotion for their store, Coldbreak Brewing Equipment. They convinced three other local brewing suppliers, Siciliano’s Market, O’Connors Homebrew Supply, and Gravel Bottom Brewery and Supply, to sign on as sponsors. They were overwhelmed when it was time for brewers to sign up. “We didn’t think we were going to fill it up at all, and then it sold out in 24 hours,” said Culver. “The Siciliano’s division sold out in just 8 minutes.”

Although the event has already proven to be a winner for the stores business-wise, Musil explains that it’s not just about creating revenue. “It’s not all about us. It’s about getting everybody together. It’s about the community.” Culver adds, “That’s the cool thing, there’s four stores that are essentially competitors, all joining together for this great event.”

The way the league is organized isn’t the only unique aspect. The Home Brew League is also putting its competitors’ brewing knowledge to the test with some uncommon beer varieties. The first event in May required each team to brew a British Golden Ale. If you’re not sure what that is, you’re not alone. Brewer Rick VandeKopple says he had never even heard of it before. “There’s a lot of reading done online to find out, O.K., what’s this style like? It was all a new experience to try and build this recipe. It’s kind of a cool way to be forced to branch out,” said VandeKopple.

home brew league

Even the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges for the event were entering new territory. “This was a new style for me,” said Jim Halliberger, a judge who volunteered to offer his expertise. “I’ve been judging beers 20 years, and I’ve never seen a competition like this. To do a single style every month for several months…it’s just a really different idea.” The other beer varieties for this season include Scottish Heavy, Dunkles Weissbier, Pre-Prohibition Porter, Marzen, White IPA, and Foreign Extra Stout. “The styles are all something that people usually wouldn’t brew,” Culver explains. “And every month we have one mandatory ingredient, and most of them are Michigan ingredients.”

There are prizes for the winning teams after each event, but the last team standing in December will get to brew 15 barrels of their championship beer at Cedar Springs Brewing Company and have it served on tap. That’s an enviable prize, but some competitors say they’re only doing it for fun and for the expert feedback to help them become better brewers. “We thought it’d be kind of a fun way to take our beer making to the next level,” said Rick VandeKopple. “The judges let me know about a little bit of an off flavor they found, so that helps me get my brewing level up so that I can brew a better beer.” One of those judges, Mark Thomson, believes their feedback and these competitions are doing exactly that. “I expect there to be a lot of good beer. I think overall, the quality has gone way up in the ten years I’ve been tasting home brews,” said Thomson.

Culver and Musil agree that the entire homebrew community is on the rise, both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of quality. And with the public’s appetite for craft brew rising right along with it, any one of these competitors could become another successful brewing entrepreneur. “The majority of brewers at one point were homebrewers,” claims Culver. “Brewers are like guitar players. We don’t know who the greatest guitar player is to ever hit the big stage, and it’s the same concept with homebrewers. I know a guy who won’t leave his basement who makes the best beer I’ve ever had.”

To learn more about the Home Brew League or Coldbreak Brewing Equipment log on:

www.coldbreakbrewing.com

www.homebrewleague.us

 

Following is the first in a series of pieces spotlighting area home-brew clubs. If you have been seeking a way to engage in the home-brewing community, or would like to see how beer can be made at home without investing in equipment first, joining a club or attending a club meeting is a phenomenal way to fortify your understanding of the many ways people make beer at home.

The tale of Patriots Brew Club is one that coincides with that of the forefathers of this nation. The members of this club pride themselves not only on their ability to make beer for themselves, but also on their ability to help others understand how beer is made. Like the original patriots, these are people capable of making much more than just beer for themselves, and their pride in teaching others extends to their vast wealth of cultivated hobbies as well. This is a group of people who like to hunt, not just in the traditional sense, but for ways to fix things, solve problems, build things, and live a mighty life.

When I asked the club if there were particular styles of beer they liked to focus on making, the answers seemed to encompass all of beer. I took this to mean that they like to make any and all styles of beer as long as the process and product align with the integrity and authenticity the club so thoroughly exudes.

The club does not operate in a rigidly scheduled meeting archetype; instead they favor spontaneous gatherings that center around the making of beer, food, and merriment in kind. If you’re the type who likes to saddle up and ride on short notice, this is the crew for you.

The club gladly accommodates new brewers, experienced brewers, and those who just want to know a little more about beer. More the drinking type than the making type? No problem, just show up with a hand to lend and you’re in. Located in the Grand Haven area, the members of the club would love for you to come to their next gathering. More information can be found on their Facebook page

A showcase of the Patriots Brew Club, as well as many of the other clubs to be featured in the further articles, can be found on the Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids each year on Big Brew Day. The pictures in this article were taken at the event, hosted by Siciliano’s Market, in May 2015. More info about the Big Brew Day can be found here.

It’s very easy to forget the most important component of any painting is not its nuance, direction, color scheme, or even its finished image; the most important aspect of any painting is actually the canvas on which it is painted. Without the canvas, or raw material an artist paints on, there is no painting. It is almost always the things we cannot see, or forget are even there, that are most intimately responsible for how we eventually perceive something. Forgive the overly poetic metaphor, but such is the case of yeast in beer. Though hard to see and rarely glamorized like the ever-popular hop, yeast could be argued to be the most important ingredient in beer.

This is one of two articles meant to provoke thought on one of the four pillars of beer’s creation. This article is designed appeal to the layman and stress the importance of yeast, while the following piece will offer more technical advice and expertise on the subject for those who are or are seeking to become more advanced home-brewers.

Let’s say you want to design a recipe for an IPA. Aside from dreaming up the taste profile and stylistic category you’d like it to fall in, most homebrewers will decide on the the hops they want to add to the beer to make it unique or to emulate another beer’s taste. Once the hops have been decided on, usually the questions of malts will be attended to. Will the beer’s malt bill be simple so the hops shine? Will the malt bill be complex so as to balance the hops? If you’ve decided the beer should be a hop bomb, a simple malt bill seems the way to go. Now, if you reference other recipes to see what type of yeast is typically used for, let’s call it an American IPA, you’ll likely see a generic American ale yeast in use. You might think, “Great! I’ll use that,” and move on to deciding how much water you’ll need to make the size batch you intend. However, there are two questions you should ask yourself first: why am I using that yeast, and how much of it do I need?

The why, when making an American IPA, is likely the fact that the yeast generally creates little to no flavor of its own during fermentation. That characteristic is paramount to the IPA because it will let the hops do the talking in the glass, besides providing the amount of alcohol we desire from the recipe. Say you made the same beer with Belgian ale yeast, there would be a multitude of flavors created by the yeast during fermentation that could run the risk of clashing with those hops you wanted to showcase.

The answer to the question of how much yeast to use is always recipe dependent. This is where the math your teachers always told you would someday come in handy comes in handy. You see, many home-brewers operate under the assumption that one pack, satchel, or vial of yeast is enough yeast to make any batch of beer. This is not the case. For instance, liquid yeast generally only has enough cells to ferment 5 gallons of beer at a 1.050 – 1.060 gravity range on its own. If your American IPA has an original gravity (OG) of 1.080, there is too little yeast in that liquid culture to ferment the beer the way it ought to be fermented. Add just the one pack or vial to that 1.080 batch and it will still ferment, but it won’t be an ideal environment for the yeast. Sometimes an under-pitch will work just fine, even wonderfully, and sometimes it won’t. The same can be said for over-pitching. The negative effects of too little or too much yeast can be stalled fermentations, unhealthy off-flavors, haze, or a whole host of other effects.

My purpose here is to enlighten, not to frighten, so I reiterate that much of the time, an under- or over-pitch will result in a beer that tastes just fine. However, it is important to note that professional breweries invest a great deal of time, effort, money, and personnel into making sure that their yeast is added in the proper quantity, chosen specifically, and cared for immaculately. If you want to make beer at home like a professional, it’s worth your while to think about your yeast. Look forward to a more in-depth discussion about yeast, yeast starters, and yeast resources in the next article.

GRAND RAPIDS — The parking lot was definitely an indicator that we’ve reached Conference Week. License plates from Florida, Alabama, Oregon, Maryland, Iowa and Ohio, just to name a few, were present in Brewery Vivant’s lot prior to the start of the second and last day of its ‘Rare Beer & Food Experience’ event. Attendees got to fulfill their appetites with this exclusive food and beer pairing event featuring the Belgian-inspired small batch beers Vivant is known for.

The newly renovated patio/beer garden spaces played host for some 60 AHA members and their guests. “Michigan weather welcomes you!” Brooks Twist, Prophet (yes — that’s his title), greets a member of Beer Nuts, a homebrew club from Cedar Rapids, Iowa at Station #2 during the on again, off again down pour of summer rain. Despite uncontrollable weather situations, everyone stayed reasonably dry while they enjoyed the culinary treats and rare beer that the kitchen staff and brewers offered.

Four stations each offered different food and beer pairings, while a small bar offered samples of all Vivant’s mainstays like Farmhand.

“To put it simply — the beers we have at service are some of our most wonderful offerings. Things we squirrel away for special occasions, beers very good for pairing with interesting culinary exploits,” said Alex Atkin, brewer and head of the Quality Control lab.

Chris Weimer, Executive Chef/General Manager, and Chris Vander Meer, Chef de Cuisine, worked together to create the menu for the night’s event. “It’s definitely centered around the beer, and we developed these food options to go with it,” Vander Meer said. “I like the fact that these are mostly finger foods — things people can grab. They can try this or that and walk around, talk to each other. This menu gives a little sense of what we do here, but in a different format. All really fun stuff that highlights what we do best.”

Station #1 featured cheese and charcuterie — a perennial favorite on Vivant’s regular menu. Boss Mouse Peppercorn cheese out of Northern Michigan was offered up with prosciutto, beer wort chutney, locally-made Fire & Fire baguette and MI Bee Company honey. To pair? The renowned and much-loved 2012 Escoffier — a Bretta Ale brewed in collaboration with New Belgium. The brettanomyces’ beautiful funk and little bit of sweetness pair excellently with this plate. If anyone has any cans hiding out in their beer cellar — now is the time to crack them open. It’s hard to believe that Escoffier could get any better, but it has.

Station #2 was a teaser, a preview of next week’s annual Smoke Week. Dry rubbed ribs, chicken wings, deliciously moist, fall off your fork beef brisket and an incredibly flavorful smoked Portobello mushroom cap were served alongside Zaison, an Imperial Sasion. The sweetness of the orange peel and bite of the tellicherry black peppercorns present in the Zaison went nicely with this smokehouse plate.

On to Station #3, the tartines. “Tartines are kind of our French sliders, if you will,” says Vander Meer. This is classic Vivant — four different French inspired options pairing with North French — a 6% abv Biere De Garde, roasted malts, bready (in a good way), a little tart, a little sweet. Four options were available: pickled beets with kale; smoked salmon with fried capers and dill; house made bacon, tomato relish and a beautiful little hard boiled quail egg; and honey, goat cheese mousse and black pepper served on thinly sliced baguettes made for easy transportation to meet and mingle with other attendees.

Katy Waltz, Pastry Chef created the decadent desserts that rounded out the meal at Station #4. The beer was Paris — a wood aged brew that really needs to be sampled to be understood. “It was a pretty tricky beer to pair with because it’s tart and bitter. I tried to go more fruit forward with the desserts,” says Waltz.

Braised rhubarb crepes and blackberry mousse cones ended up being the options.

“The rhubarb has a lot of spices, cardamom, orange and ginger — it brings out the sour notes in the beer. The blackberry pairs well with the red wine barrels the beer was aged in. The mousse and mascarpone [in the crepe] tone down the sourness. It balances. We used fresh berries, just keeping everything fresh and seasonal.”

Weather proved to not have any effect on the vibe, despite initial concerns. Food disappeared quickly, cups were emptied and refilled, and everyone — from the gentlemen from Cleveland to the lady from California — enjoyed their first taste of BeerCity USA.

GRAND RAPIDS — The parking lot was definitely an indicator that we’ve reached Conference Week. License plates from Florida, Alabama, Oregon, Maryland, Iowa and Ohio, just to name a few, were present in Brewery Vivant’s lot prior to the start of the second and last day of its ‘Rare Beer & Food Experience’ event. Attendees got to fulfill their appetites with this exclusive food and beer pairing event featuring the Belgian-inspired small batch beers Vivant is known for.
The newly renovated patio/beer garden spaces played host for some 60 AHA members and their guests. “Michigan weather welcomes you!” Brooks Twist, Prophet (yes — that’s his title), greets a member of Beer Nuts, a homebrew club from Cedar Rapids, Iowa at Station #2 during the on again, off again down pour of summer rain. Despite uncontrollable weather situations, everyone stayed reasonably dry while they enjoyed the culinary treats and rare beer that the kitchen staff and brewers offered.
Four stations each offered different food and beer pairings, while a small bar offered samples of all Vivant’s mainstays like Farmhand.
“To put it simply — the beers we have at service are some of our most wonderful offerings. Things we squirrel away for special occasions, beers very good for pairing with interesting culinary exploits,” said Alex Atkin, brewer and head of the Quality Control lab.
Chris Weimer, Executive Chef/General Manager, and Chris Vander Meer, Chef de Cuisine, worked together to create the menu for the night’s event. “It’s definitely centered around the beer, and we developed these food options to go with it,” Vander Meer said. “I like the fact that these are mostly finger foods — things people can grab. They can try this or that and walk around, talk to each other. This menu gives a little sense of what we do here, but in a different format. All really fun stuff that highlights what we do best.”
Station #1 featured cheese and charcuterie — a perennial favorite on Vivant’s regular menu. Boss Mouse Peppercorn cheese out of Northern Michigan was offered up with prosciutto, beer wort chutney, locally-made Fire & Fire baguette and MI Bee Company honey. To pair? The renowned and much-loved 2012 Escoffier — a Bretta Ale brewed in collaboration with New Belgium. The brettanomyces’ beautiful funk and little bit of sweetness pair excellently with this plate. If anyone has any cans hiding out in their beer cellar — now is the time to crack them open. It’s hard to believe that Escoffier could get any better, but it has.
Station #2 was a teaser, a preview of next week’s annual Smoke Week. Dry rubbed ribs, chicken wings, deliciously moist, fall off your fork beef brisket and an incredibly flavorful smoked Portobello mushroom cap were served alongside Zaison, an Imperial Sasion. The sweetness of the orange peel and bite of the tellicherry black peppercorns present in the Zaison went nicely with this smokehouse plate.
On to Station #3, the tartines. “Tartines are kind of our French sliders, if you will,” says Vander Meer. This is classic Vivant — four different French inspired options pairing with North French — a 6% abv Biere De Garde, roasted malts, bready (in a good way), a little tart, a little sweet. Four options were available: pickled beets with kale; smoked salmon with fried capers and dill; house made bacon, tomato relish and a beautiful little hard boiled quail egg; and honey, goat cheese mousse and black pepper served on thinly sliced baguettes made for easy transportation to meet and mingle with other attendees.
Katy Waltz, Pastry Chef created the decadent desserts that rounded out the meal at Station #4. The beer was Paris — a wood aged brew that really needs to be sampled to be understood. “It was a pretty tricky beer to pair with because it’s tart and bitter. I tried to go more fruit forward with the desserts,” says Waltz.
Braised rhubarb crepes and blackberry mousse cones ended up being the options.
“The rhubarb has a lot of spices, cardamom, orange and ginger — it brings out the sour notes in the beer. The blackberry pairs well with the red wine barrels the beer was aged in. The mousse and mascarpone [in the crepe] tone down the sourness. It balances. We used fresh berries, just keeping everything fresh and seasonal.”
Weather proved to not have any effect on the vibe, despite initial concerns. Food disappeared quickly, cups were emptied and refilled, and everyone — from the gentlemen from Cleveland to the lady from California — enjoyed their first taste of BeerCity USA.