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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stone's 2012 March Madness Homebrew Competition & AHA Rally

Welcome Sign
This past Saturday I competed in Stone's 2012 March Madness Homebrew Competition & AHA Rally with my Scott's BIG IPL. This was the second time in a row that I took part in the competition and the first time I really planned for it.  Last year I found out about it mid-February and with only a month till the competition I had nothing put together for it so I decided to brew my Hopped Up Hef (my photos from last year).  This year I knew I wanted to do it again and really wanted to enter the Scott's BIG IPL.  This rally/competition was the reason I brewed Scott's BIG IPL both Alchemy Guild (All Grain) and Excelsior (Extract) back in December, so that I would have a complete 10 week cycle to get it ready.   Honestly I think the BIG IPLs could have benefited from another couple of weeks of lagering and it seems to be that they moved the rally up a week this year, but in the end I had no choice and got ready to go.

Gearing up for the event I looked at which of the two versions I wanted to enter.  For some reason neither seemed to be 100% what I was looking for and neither seemed to clear.  This represented the first time I was unable to brew a crystal clear lager.  During my tastings I mixed samples and found the mixture of the two to be greater then the sum of it's components.  This phenomena was seconded by my wife, Daniel and Marshall in taste tastes.  I therefore decided to blend them 50/50 at kegging.  Once I had them blended I decided to try and use gelatin to clear the competition keg of beer.  Even though I followed the directions to a t it failed to clear after a week.  Fortunately the gelatin had the same effect on the taste as it did the clarity (the reason I only did it to one keg) so I was set.

An Impressive list of Beers
Daniel had volunteered at the rally and even though they never contacted him he still volunteered to give me and my set up a ride down in his Prius.  We got down there around 11:20 and I was surprised to find everything pretty much set up and only one other jockey box. Last year 90% of the draft beer came out of jockey boxed this year, only 2 with everyone else using cobra taps.

In total there were 40 entries, 22 bottles and 18 draft.  As a sign of my early entry this year I was number 23, the first of the draft beers (the year before I had been 38). To take part in the competition, as both a competitor and a consumer, you have to be a standing member of the AHA (American Homebrewers Association). The event is free to AHA members and you can register or renew at the door.  The basic set up of the competition is simple, all 400 AHA members in attendance (they actually had to close the event online this year do to capacity constraints) are given a ballot with 3 spots to vote for their 1st, 2nd and 3rd favorite beer.  The votes are then tallied and the 5 top vote getting beers advance to a final tasting panel made up Stone personnel.  Stone then announces 4th-1st with the winning beer becoming the next Stone Collaboration. 

Pirate's Breakfast from Chism Brewing Voyage
Of the 40 beers available (I didn't try them all) some of my favorites were, Pirate's Breakfast (8.0 Imperial Breakfast Stout made by Curtis over at Chism Brewing Voyage who I got a chance to meet and hangout with), PP Steeze Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter (10.5% Oak-aged Stout) and  Mango Habenero IPA (by far one of the best aromas I've ever smelled on a beer - super mango goodness).  Mint beers seemed to be a theme this year as four were present, the best of which was Ken Schmidt's Pillow Mint at the Ritz (Ken won the first Stone Homebrew Competition and would go one to win this one with this beer).  The other theme seemed to be bad beers as Daniel went through a particularly bad streak dumping over half the beers he tried, the worst of which was a beer called Lactic Lupulin which was a "dry hopped sour mash ale." I'm using quotes it as it was questionable whether it was a beer at all.  Not only was it a drain pour but it stained our glasses with it's sink requiring a very strong stout to get it back.

One interesting interaction occurred that day when I suggested to one gentlemen that he try #23. He scoffed and remarked that he was "pretty sure it was the same guy that won the Karl Strauss competition the year before" as if that alone was a reason not to try it.  I then told him that I had first hand knowledge that it did indeed win the Karl Strauss competition as I had brewed both. I explained a few of the challenges that went into brewing the Strauss batch and insisted and if he had tried that version (Karl's) he owed it to himself to try my version there. Pretty funny if you ask me.

Yes, I am doing my "Greg Face"
As much as I really wanted to win or at least place, I had deep doubts if I'd see anything.  It wasn't the best batch of BIG IPL I'd done both in clarity and taste.  So as we waited I really didn't think I'd hear my beer mentioned.  Turns out I was wrong as the first beer that Mitch Steele announced was "number 23, Scott's BIG IPL a Double India Pale Lager". This placed me in forth. Stoked, I made my way to the front and onto a bolder to shake hands with both Greg Koch and Mitch Steele while posing for photos.  I even had Greg snap one of his famous self shots of us with my camera.  I also scored a certificate for dinner for two at the Stone World Bistro and Gardens, which is pretty damn awesome. Rounding out the top 4 were the PP Steeze Imperial Coffee Vanilla Porter in 3rd, Mango Habenero IPA in 2nd with Ken Schmidt's Pillow Mint at the Ritz winning the day.

After the lack luster Scott's BIG IPL w/Citra and the clarity and flavor issues I'm detecting with the latest batches, I was having a lot of doubts about my ability to recapture the magic that was my second batch of Scott's BIG IPL.  So while I didn't win, placing 4th is a competition with some seriously good beers really lifted my spirits prepping me to go back to the lab and make the next batch of Scott's BIG IPL the best one yet.  

As for next year, at this point I don't know what I'll enter.  It could be another batch of Scott's BIG IPL (under a different name), a monster Triple IPL I have floating in my head or even a big stout.  At this point I don't know the only thing I do know is I'll be back.



Additional Pictures
Geared up to go
The IPL ready to go
The draft section
The only two jockey boxes
The calm before the storm
Draft list at the start of the day
Tasting program
Close up on Scott's BIG IPL
The awesome tasting glass
The storm after the calm
Daniel being interviewed
Gary Glass, Director of the AHA
Draft list at the end of the day
My "Winnings"


  1. Thanks for the shout out Scott. It was great to meet you and the Big IPL was quite tasty. Good work!


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