The CHA caught up with Steven Oliver, True Grist Homebrew Club‘s Special Events Director, to discuss True Grist’s recent unique club competition—Beer Wars. True Grist is a homebrew club that represents brewers predominantly in Guelph, Cambridge, and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.
CHA: How did Beer Wars come about?
SO: A subcommitee of the True Grist Club Executive came up with the idea of our Beer Wars competition in one of their planning meetings at the end of 2018. The idea was to host a friendly internal homebrew competition that was:
• team based,
• presented a specific brewing challenge, and,
• offered a pro-am opportunity with one of the local breweries that supports the club.
Around the same time as these discussions, Kevin Freer of Block Three Brewing had approached us about having our club brew beer on their pilot system… and like that we had our first brewery partner!
Block Three Brewing specializes in Continental European styles of beer – mostly Belgian. Based on this, and our timeline we decided our first Beer Wars would be Battle of Belgian Pale Ale. The competition was announced at our first meeting of 2019, which was held at Block Three. We coupled the announcement with a short educational talk on the BJCP description of the style, 24B.
When Jonah Greenbaum-Shinder, Homebrew Lead at Escarpment Labs and True Grist Member, learned of the competition, he offered sponsorship of the competition with a new yeast Escarpment Labs had been trialling that they’ve been calling “Ringfish”. Escarpment Labs had one request: that participants shared some samples which they’d run through their sensory panel to explore the expression of this new product.
With the competition details finalized, we opened up registration. 28 club members put their names forward for the competition, which were then divided randomly into 7 teams. Teams then planned their recipes and met for their group brews.
CHA: Did you participate in the competition? What did you brew?
SO: I did! My team took a trip to visit one of our most remote members in Port Elgin on a snowy day in February. Our hosting team member, Scott, had an indoor electric brewery that we used. We brought along the malt and hops from Short Finger Brewing Company in Kitchener and the Ringfish yeast from Escarpment Labs in Guelph. Between sharing some homebrew and admiring the snowfall, we cranked out 15 gallons of Belgian Pale Ale, which we split 3 ways to be fermented under different conditions. My portion was allowed to free rise to 25°C, where it was held for the remainder of the fermentation.
Prior to the entry deadline at our club’s March meeting, my team met to select the version that we’d submit for judging. We were all served the beers blind, and voted on our favourite. In the end, we selected my batch to submit! It turns out several other teams split-batched and compared results to select their submissions as well.
CHA: What was the yeast strain like?
SO: In addition to trying the different versions of our beer with my team, I had the opportunity to try other teams’ beers during the Homebrewer Social at our March meeting. One thing that was clear from this was that the yeast really responds to temperature in terms of its ester expression. At more conservative temperatures the esters seemed more banana, and berry-like, while under heat there seemed to be more citrus. I expect the yeast would work well across a variety of Belgian styles based on fermentation conditions. An official summary and description of the yeast from Escarpment Labs is forthcoming!
CHA: How did the judging go on the 14th? What was the winning entry?
SO: Kevin Freer, head brewer of Block Three judged the entries along with brewer James Pate and co-founder of Block Three, Graham Spence. The winning team called themselves The Five Horsemen of the Hopocalypse, and was captained by one of our club’s veteran homebrewers, Martin W. His teammates and co-brewers were Kent R., Chris L., Seth R. and Mike H.
CHA: Will you run more “Beer Wars” competitions in the future? Any closing thoughts?
SO: This was a fun new event for the club, and we do plan to run it again, hopefully about twice a year. Each iteration of Beer Wars will be with different partnering breweries, different teams, and different challenges. There is a lot we can learn from one another as homebrewers, and the group-planned and group-brewed beers that this event encourages are a great opportunity for that.
Justin Angevaare is the president of True Grist Homebrew Club.