As everyone knows, the most important homebrew competition of the year is our in-house, bare knuckles, no-holds-barred cage match for Best Underground Brewer Of The Year.
This the the one meeting each year where we abandon all pretense of collegiality and let our animal natures show. Winner gets Von’s spoon, his/her name on the ceremonial cup, and unlimited rights to talk trash about other members’ beers for the year.
This year’s competition was held at Clay Viands’ new house in Redding. A lovely place, with lots of room for this sort of thing. Clay was his usual consummate host, working the grill and pouring yumminess from his extensive cellar. A meeting at Clay’s place is always an amazing sensory experience.
Eight brewers competed this year, entering 14 beers and meads (half of which were Saisons). Bottles were obfuscated. Teams were made up. Judging commenced.
When all the noise died down and the blood was wiped off the walls, Andy Tipler stood alone, reigning supreme for another year with yet another outstanding English Barleywine. The spoon and the cup go back to his house and the rest of us lick our wounds and plot to unseat him next year.
Also in the Best-of-Show round: Mara Henecks with her American IPA, myself with a dry hydromel, and Andy Cox with an American Brown Ale.
Congrats to Andy T!
But don’t get complacent. We’ll be ready for you next year.
Homebrew Con (AKA the National Homebrewers Convention, AKA HBC) has been around a long time. The Underground Brewers have been around even longer. As far as we know, the club has never had an official presence at the convention. Until now….
The 2019 Homebrew Con was held in Providence, RI, practically in our backyard. From June 26 to June 29, hombrewers from all over the country gathered to learn, socialize, compete, and (of course) drink beer. Providence became, for that brief period, the homebrew capital of the world.
The HBC is rarely held anywhere near us. Most are held in the Midwest or on the West Coast. It had literally been decades since the last HBC in New England. So you can imagine our excitement on hearing that one would be happening just a short drive up I-95. A decision was quickly made: the club was going to be there, and we were going to show up in style.
What followed was a flurry of activity most unlike the normally-unfocused YAHOOS: an AirBnB was booked, a booth for Club Night was designed and fabricated, costumes were bought, beer was brewed. Hell, we even designed an entirely new logo to go on the booth decorations and costumes.
(Credit where due! Jaime Luna designed our awesome new logo, booth backdrop, and table skirt. Steve Victor and Caysey Welton put together the costumes and Caysey designed our beer menu. Pierre Margraff built our entire beer delivery system – 9 taps! Andy Tipler managed all the details of the housing, the kegs, the logistics, and the carpooling.)
The convention started, as it always does, with a day of BJCP exams and business meetings. The hot new exam on the block is for Cider Certification; only a few cider judges exist yet. Our own Steve (Pivo) Victor jumped in to take the exam and get certified. He will act as proctor when we administer the exam in February.
Most of the rest of use showed up later that day in a complex caravan of cars, kegs, costumes, and people, convening at a local watering hole for a few beers before retiring to the Airbnb. Once there, we had a few more beers. And meads. And ciders. You know how these things go.
Thursday’s dawn came far too early. But we had to saddle up. What are YAHOOS, first and foremost? Judges. And Thursday was the final round of the National Homebrew Competition. 4 or 5 of us were judging. A couple were stewarding. Our own Jim Link, Grand Master judge, was even invited to work the Best Of Show table. Game on!
Thursday night brought the official kickoff party featuring beer brewed by many local(ish) commercial breweries. As we roamed the aisles, we all thought the same thing: our beer is better. We’d all rather be back at the Airbnb, drinking our own homebrew. So, eventually, that’s where we went.
Friday was full of lectures and panels. Good stuff. Lots to learn and lots of people to meet. The lectures were generally excellent. But we were distracted. By mid-afternoon, we were all in the Club Night room, setting up our booth.
And then, the moment we’d all been waiting for: Club Night. We were ready to pour our best for the other homebrewers.
Once more, we limped back to our Airbnb, there to rehash the glory of our booth and drink a few more beers. We were joined by Mara’s dad, about whom we’ve heard so much. Andy T and Pierre, however, went to bed early because…..
First thing Saturday morning, Andy and Pierre gave their lecture on techno brewing toys for cheapskates. The room was packed. The talk was VERY well-received. By all accounts, one of the highlights of HBC. Woot!
After that, we broke down the booth and packed it in the cars, caught a few last lectures, had lunch (and a couple of more beers), and stumbled home. There were more parties going on, but we were done.
A wildly successful convention and a great showing by the club.
Time to start planning for next year in Nashville!
For our May meeting, we were once again hosted by one of our pro-brewer friends. In this case, it was Aspetuck Brew Labs who graciously provided space. Owner Peter Cowles was behind the bar, pouring his delicious beer, and also gave us a tour of the brewing area, answering our many nosy questions.
Aspetuck is part of Bridgeport, of course. Connecticut natives of a certain age, like me, grew up with a mental image of Bridgeport. Not a good one. There was even a song about it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvPsFTjPRM), released when I was in high school and played in heavy rotation on the New Haven radio stations for a while.
Can a brewery change the image of a city? I’m thinking maybe so. ABL is cozy, friendly, and makes great beer. Definitely a destination worth traveling to. Maybe it’s time to retire that song.
Peter provided the space. Zach provided the food and poured the entries. He handled both of these duties like an old pro despite the fact that this was his first time. I forgot to take pics of the spread (or of anything, oops), but nobody went home hungry.
Zach was faced with a happy problem which we’ve had at a number of our recent meetings: a zillion homebrews for judging. The club seems to be in high gear, with everyone brewing often and looking for feedback. We were awash in beers. Zach had it all organized. Never broke a sweat.
We had a number of new members as well, another happy trend of late. We’re never organized enough to get everyone’s name. All are welcome, nonetheless.
We also saw one of our longest-serving members, who hasn’t come to a meeting in years: Gregg Hero Glaser. Let’s hope he rejoins us on a regular basis.
Dark Mild, Eric: Dark sugars and molasses, fruity, coffee notes. “Wonderfully watery, just like it should be” (Andy T). Dry, tart finish. Low carbonation. To be served on beer engine at Homebrew Con. 34.
Ordinary Bitter, Andy T: Fuggles and sulfur, light malt. VERY bitter finish, almost astringent. Very dry. “I’ve just been to England and this is what they taste like there” (Andy T). 32.
Czech Pils, Caysey: Very fruity, phenolic, green apple, grassy, tannic. Very young. Needs time to clean up. 27.
Pilsner, Mara & Liam (Makehaven): Banana, green apple, butter, chlorophenols?, no hops. A bit sweet. Cloudy. Needs bubbles. 25.
NEIPA, Caysey: Grapefruit and pineapple and a million other tropical fruits. Super strong aroma. Smells sweet. Whiff of chamomile. Dry, bitter, slightly tannic. Drinkable. Needs bubbles. Session strength, 5.5%. 41.
Session IPA, Andy C: Resiny, piney, grassy. Hint of malt. Opalescent. Tannic and fruity. Needs bubbles. Nugget, citra, mosaic. 3.8%. 36.
German Lager, Andy C: Banana, green apple, butterscotch, somewhat medicinal. A bit sour. Dry and bitter. Needs bubbles. Stressed yeast? Starter was very old and a little funky. 26.
IPA, David: Clone of Pliny The Elder. Mint, menthol, SUPER bitter, malty, rich. Truly old school. Not scored.
American Amber, David & Andrea: Toffee, subtle hops, clean, inviting, drinkable, yummy. 41.
Coffee Chocolate Porter, David & Andrea: Lots and lots of coffee. Some roasty malt. Bitter finish. No chocolate. Hard to find the beer under the coffee. Needs bubbles. Dry-“hopped” with coffee beans. Chocolate in the boil for bitterness. 30.
Hoppy Kweik Farmhouse, Mara & Liam (Makehaven): Bandaid, grass, pine, green pepper. Cleaner flavor. Hoppy and bitter. Tannic. Needs bubbles. Drinkable. 36.
Tripel, Pierre: Clove and bubblegum. Candy sweetness. Traditional. Metallic, dry finish. Thin, but drinkable. 37.
Tripel, Pierre: Clove and bubblegum, citrus (lime). Sweetness. Pepper. Perfectly clear with a great head. A bit chalky and thin. 31.
Lemon-ginger Hydromel, Andy T: Fantastic nose, great mouthfeel, fizzy, enormous mousse-y head. Very drinkable. Not scored.
Raspberry Berliner Weisse, Liam: Tons of raspberry. No lactic acid on nose. Clean and tart. Berries overpower the beer. Beautifully pink and clear. Needs bubbles. Drinkable. 34.
English Cider (dry), Pivo: Tobacco and cloves. Clear. Tastes like apple pie. Dry and very drinkable. Soft tannins. Cider Days blend. 42.
New World Cider (medium dry, sparkling), Pivo: Lots of Brett – horse blanket, mussels, brine. Not quite enough apple. Flavor cleaner than aroma. Not scored.
Bochet Cyser, Jackson: Smoke, mushrooms. Boozy. Made with freeze-concentrated juice, Lapsang Suchong tea, peat smoke? Honey boiled for 25 minutes. 33.
Were there more? Probably. I began to lose track by the end. Sorry!
The Underground Brewers have been the recipients of massive amounts of support and love from area breweries and brewpubs lately. No fewer than five different breweries have offered to host our meetings this year, and a brewery that hasn’t even opened yet has offered to host SNERHC. It’s an understatement to say we are grateful. But we’ll say it anyway: Thank you!
Our April club meeting was held in the brewing area of Bad Sons Brewing in Derby. This is in a great old factory building near the center of town. A beautiful space with plenty of room for us.
Most of us arrived early enough to sample some of Bad Sons’ wares. No one was disappointed. They have an excellent line-up of fine brews. Hats off to the brewers.
We were excited to see several first-timers, all of whom brought excellent beers for judging. We certainly hope they’ll become regulars.
Andy Tipler provided the food and ran the meeting. He overdid it on the munchies, as usual. No one complained.
Many excellent beers were judged. Notes:
Helles Export, Andy Cox. Strongly malty, some chlorophenols, not quite crisp enough, some banana esters. 27
English Brown, Zach. Roasty, with lots of caramel, toffee, coffee, and toast. Earthy hops. Dry finish. Could use a little more body. 40
Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, Rich. Lots of peanut butter. Hints of mint. Some fusels, solvents, phenols. A touch or roast. 27
Imperial Milk Chocolate Stout, the Huxfords. Chocolate, roast, honey, sweet raisins. Boozy. A bit thin. Was brewed with cocoa nibs and lactose. A year old now. 33
Belgian Strong Golden, Zach. Bubblegum and banana. Spicy finish. Alcohol is well-hidden. Could use a touch more malt. Very drinkable. Made from Charter Oak competition wort. 39
American IPA, Zach. Tropical hops – pineapple, melon, sour banana. Not a lot of malt. Some hop astringency. Needs more bubbles. Made with 007 hop blend. 35
American IPA, ??? (sorry!). Piney. A touch of solvent. Crystal clear. More malt in flavor than in aroma. Lingering bitterness. Old school. 37
Gose, Mike. Floral and sweet in aroma. Tart and salty in flavor. Lemongrass. Fizzy and refreshing. Just freaking perfect. “Cheater” beer – Mike added lactic acid to sour it. Do we care? 44
Wild Fermentation IPA, Andy T. Dusty Brett. A little musty, cellar-y. Not a lot of hops, but some lemon. Dry and bitter. Made from just wheat and oat, no barley at all. 38
Our March 2019 meeting was not the first one hosted by Eric and Jessica Sforza and The Cutest Puppy On Four Legs ™. But it was the first hosted in The Love Shack, their renovated home officeparty room pub in the back yard. It will not be the last.
First, the space is simply awesome. Everyone (except the Sforzas) felt more than a twinge of envy surveying the wood paneling, 6-tap bar, timber-framed hearth, Vermont Castings wood stove, and comfy furniture. I’m sure there were a few discussions later that evening about transforming similar structures at other homes. But it would be very hard to equal what the Sforzas have done with that space.
Second, the bar is amazing. Beautiful reclaimed wood. Numerous taps. A beer engine. Tasting glasses. A glass rinser. Yeah, a real one. The amount of joy provided by that rinser was just a bit obscene. (We’re all going to look at Pierre a little differently from now on.)
Third, the food was over the top. Homemade sourdough. Many cheeses. And homemade cookies bearing the host’s own face. (For real.)
Fourth, the puppy. They don’t come any cuter.
And finally, the host’s own beer, mead, and cider. Which was all fantastic.
We dispensed with formal judging for this meeting and just sampled. There was a HUGE variety of entries across the range of beer, mead, and cider. Some commercial. Most homebrew. Almost all excellent. (My mead was a rare clunker.) Notes below.
So, an enormous “thank you” to the Sforzas! We will be back!
Tasting notes. I actually think I’m missing a few. I know I’m missing my own mead (which was bad anyway). And they were still pouring when I had to leave. But this is most of it:
Jaime’s Orange Blossom Mead. Still, semi-sweet, 9%. LOTS of citrus, good acid, slightly petillant, hint of vanilla. Young (3 months). Made with Wyeast cider yeast(?)
Eric’s Pyment. Still, dry, sack (18%). Made with 9lbs Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Left on skins for months. Pink/red, hazy, very floral, hint of vanilla, bone dry, a touch too tannic, some peppery alcohol. Could benefit from a little backsweetening.
Eric and Andy’s Acerglin (maple syrup mead). Still, standard strength. Made with maple sap and syrup. Blend of two fermentations. With vanilla and oak.
Pierre’s Traditional Mead. Still, sack. Wildflower honey. A bit boozy and solventy, some apple notes, a little fusel, good acid/tannin balance, crystal clear. 3 years old.
Pierre’s Cyser. Still, standard strength. NY juice and Costco honey. Hazy, sweet, tastes like plums and apples, tangy acid, balanced. 6 months old.
Mara’s Cider. Backyard pressing with natural yeast and Brett. From 2015. Super funky, very acidic, briny, bone dry.
Eric’s Cider. Beardsley juice from 2017. Placed at SNERHC. Caramelized apples, almost dry, petillant, a little thin.
Eric’s Cider. Beardsley juice from 2018. Just kegged. Hazy, note of walnuts, refreshing, just a hint of sweetness.
Jaime’s International Dark Lager. Dark brown, hazy, clean except for a slight vegetal note, very lager-y, super dry, quite roasty. Make with 3 year old Boho Lager yeast.
Pierre’s Saison. Made from Charter Oak wort and Affligem yeast. Kegged 3 days prior. Aroma of dill, no funk, some pepper, very dry finish, needs bubbles.
Eric’s US Blonde. Very grainy, clean, slightly hoppy, quite dry, refreshing, aromatic.
Gerry’s US Amber with Peach Extract. Extract beer. Smells of mint and nutmeg, light in color.
Eric’s Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout. Black, head never quits, smells and tastes exactly like Andes Mints in a glass. Made with Godiva powdered chocolate and mint tea leaves. Tea added when pitching yeast.
Eric’s Dark Mild. Served via beer engine. Dark brown, loose head, light body, low carbonation, very malty, floral, dry. Yum.
Brew Haven launched the first-annual Connecticut Inter-Club Homebrewing Championship and Paul Hayslett took home the top honors for his Baltic Porter, which means he and The Underground Homebrewers of Connecticut are the 2019 Champions!
Only a couple home brews, but several great commercial beers this month.
This month’s meeting was a more casual affair. Mara welcomed around 10 Yahoos into her home for what was supposed to be an Oktoberfest theme. While there was a German beer (or maybe two) on hand, we mostly sampled a wide range of other commercial styles, including some choice offerings from Mara’s cellar.
We only tasted three blind samples, but one was actually Maine Beer’s Lunch, which scored 36 overall. We also did open evaluation of two of Pierre’s Belgian-style ales, as well as Mara’s brett IPA and Paul’s bouche.
Thanks again to Mara for hosting! October’s meeting will be held at Phil and Cathy’s home in Norwalk. Check your email or Facebook for more information.
Also, don’t forget about SNERC! We still need judges and stewards, and there are still plenty of entry spots left.
A Belgium beer theme, along with many other styles on hand.
More than 10 Yahoos came out for this month’s meeting at Pierre’s. We sampled more than a dozen homebrews, along with several commercial beers, some of which fit our August Belgian theme.
Big thanks for Pierre for his hospitality. Not only did he have ample homebrews and commercial Belgians (and seltzer on tap) to share, but he also provided a terrific cheese plate and stout-infused chili. He also took us on a tour of his basement brewery.
The club judged seven homebrews and two ciders blind. Fittingly, four of the seven happened to be Belgian styles! Plus, Andy shared his wild-fermentation bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout. It was finished three ways with three different fruits—plumbs, tart cherries and black currants.
Stay tuned for more information on SNERC. In the meantime, save the date: October 28th. We will need lot’s of help, and encourage everyone to participate.
About a dozen Yahoos gathered at Andy’s in Trumbull last Wednesday. Lawnmower beers were this month’s theme. There were a few commercial examples on hand, along with some bigger beers that would probably be more appropriate to pair with shoveling snow… but we drank them anyway.
We shared a lot of excellent beers, ciders and meads throughout the night, including nine homebrews we judged blind (scoresheet below).
Andy also treated the group to a demo of his very large stir plate. He took us through the detailed build process, as well as some basic troubleshoots. So if you’re looking to upgrade to a stir plate that can create a vortex in 5-plus gallons, you should definitely talk to Andy.
Club business was discussed, specifically our upcoming Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition. Identifying somebody to spearhead prize acquisition was the most important topic, which Phil and Cathy H. enthusiastically agreed to take on. More to come on SNERHC soon!
Further, we discussed having a Yahoos presence at next year’s Homebrew Con in Providence, RI. We all agreed we need to have a strong presence, and should begin planning and preparations soon. (A mixed fermentation barrel, perhaps?)
Pierre will host our next meeting on August 15 in Trumbull. More to come.