Cory Day is a homebrewer from Vancouver, BC who has won Brewer of the Year two years in a row. Here’s our chat with him about his wins.
CHA: How did you get into homebrewing? Can you talk a bit about how your homebrewing has evolved over the years?
About 7 years ago while working out of Toronto I just needed a hobby. A friend and I were talking about how fun it would be to make beer and away I went. My goal was to try and make a beer that was worth sending to a competition in the first 12 months Over that first year, it all tasted like burnt hair, it was horrible. Despite the catastrophic failures, I was loving it. I was hooked. So to really get better at brewing, I zeroed in on a style (Best Bitter) and stuck to brewing that until I got it right. That’s really where things took off from process to recipe design and ingredient selection. I started to understand how different processes were impacting my beer and how different ingredients were contributing to flavour. It took time, but I was having fun, so didn’t notice.
CHA: Are you a competitive home brewer?
Short answer is yes. But, I should start by saying I am obsessively competitive at everything, even when I stink.
Competitive homebrewing however was an opportunity to channel my neurosis for good. Just before I moved back home to Vancouver, I sent my first beer I thought worthy to a competition (the best bitter I had been working on), which was the Beau’s Octoberfest competition, and I medalled. I was ecstatic. Taking the love I had for homebrewing and now adding pride!?! It was like throwing jet fuel on a bonfire. I loved it and started to seek out as many home-brew competitions I could find. After about a year of living back in Vancouver, I had haphazardly landed on the Brewer of the Year Circuit. My mind was blown. It was a national competition for home-brew competitions! All of which were BJCP certified. So I set a goal for myself to climb up the rankings each year. There were so many amazing brewers (some of whom are now running their own breweries) across the country like Chris Nowlan (@innercitybrew), Chris Bourdages, Mike Foniok (@estbrew) and locally here in Vancouver like Kent Cortez (@boomboxbrewing), Ari Gilligson and Alvaro Reyes. The chance to put my beers up against those guys was such an opportunity.
So I dove in and realized after the first serious year of competing that I was going to have to learn how to make a lot of different types of beer. The brewers at the top were medalling in almost every category it was insane. So over the next 2 years I kept making better and better beers and adding new styles to my roster. I worked my way up to top three in 2016 and then in 2017 I was able to lay claim to the “Brewer of the Year”, the first from BC to do so. And then again in 2018! I really wanted to defend my 2017 title so was so proud when I won again this year.
|CHA: How did you feel when you found out you won Brewer of the Year? Was it something that you were expecting?|
The first time I won Brewer of the Year (in 2017), I was ecstatic and I have to say it provided three amazing experiences in my competitive homebrewing experience.
First, I had been chasing that title for years and finally getting my hands around it was unreal. That season was a real nail bitter and I think I won by 4 points, which is only 2 entries. So going into the last weekend where results were being announced I was on pins and needles, so much fun! Whatever you do in life, when you set big goals and achieve them it is such a high. So when the dust settled and I was announced champion I was ecstatic.
Second, shortly after winning I received a DM through Twitter from the previous years Brewer of the Year winner, Chris Nowlan. He invited me over to his home to pass over the Alexandria Cup in person (the trophy Brewer of the Year wins). It’s been a tradition for the trophy to be passed from champion to champion. I was planning to be in his hometown in the next few weeks so we set it up. It was just a real great example of how awesome people are and how this hobby brings people together. We had never spoken in person but we sat in his basement, put a dent in his amazin catalogue of beer all at his insistence, we celebrated my victory. We talked beer, competing, family and you name it, it was like we were long lost friends. It was a real perspective-changer on how to be gracious and how this hobby can bring people together. I would love to be able to pass this trophy off to the next winner with as much class.
Third, Gordon Strong who was a guest Jjdge at the 2017 GTA Brewslam called me up on twitter and asked for a recipe for one of my beers! His book on homebrewing basics was the first I every bought so that was nuts!
As for 2018, early in on I thought I was going to be in trouble. Marie-Annick Scott and Alex Cochran, who are incredibly talented brewers, were going to be competing again and who knows who might come out of the woodwork.
Early in the season, in one of the biggest competitions of the year there was a shipping mishap and most of my entries did not arrive for judging so it put me way back in the standings. With those ahead of me being so good, I really did not see how I was going to make up the ground. But I went on a tear starting in the Edmonton competition, really killing it at the Vancouver competition and was able to claw my way back to the top or near the top. Towards the last couple competitions, I had moved myself into a good lead, so I felt fairly sure I would close it out, but you can never count Alex or Marie out so they still had me sweating a bit! At the GTA BrewSlam the last and biggest competition in the country with over 800 entries, I finished strong and was able to seal the deal on the 2018 title. VICTORY!
CHA: Tips for homebrewers planning to get into the competition circuit for next year?
Brewing for competitions is a lot of fun. Here are my tips for getting into it and getting the most out of it:
Get on Twitter and follow home-brew clubs and home-brewers across the country. It was one of the best things I ever did when I started all this. I have made so many connections and friends across Canada, you wouldn’t believe it. This hobby is really such an amazing community, take the time to enjoy being part of it. You can start with me @bernerpark, feel free to DM me. I have had lots of brewers help me out over the years, I am always happy to pay it back.
Join a home-brew club. Having access to great homebrewers and people to share beer with is invaluable. I joined the VanBrewers homebrew club and it has been a great medium for improving my beer and for making some really great friends.
Find yourself a good recipe design tool like Beersmith or Brewers Friend, they are cheap, help you document prior beers and make brewing math easy.
Nail down your sanitation. Don’t short cut on processes. Introducing variables like temperature control and wort oxygenation (with pure oxygen not shaking) will move your beer up to a new level. It’s very much worth the investment.
Keep recipe design simple at first, books like Brewing Classic Styles and Modern Home-Brew Recipes are fantastic starting points. As your process evolve, these recipes will turn out great, then you can start tweaking it with changing out ingredients like yeast and malts. It’s a good foundation to start from before you start free-styling your own recipes.
Competition judges provide feedback forms that you will get back for each competition. This feedback is amazing, but don’t knee jerk react to feedback right away. Let a beer go through 3 or 4 competitions first, then collect all the feedback and see if any common themes come up. Small tweaks are better then the classic overcorrect.
Pick 3 or 4 styles you’re interested in making well and focus on those. Go to the Brewer of the Year website and get familiar with it. They keep tally of all the results and a schedule of all the circuit qualified competitions. Makes it easier to plan bottling, shipping etc.
Enjoy it. Days where results for the homebrew comps are announced on Twitter are a blast! It’s a lot of fun, even when you don’t win. But it’s really great when you medal.