Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Big Shoulders, Beer, and Ben

A few weeks ago, while picking up some craft beer at our favorite store, Binny's Beverage Depot, we ran into a friend and her boyfriend.  They too were looking for some delicious craft beer for their evening, but they were also toting around a little brown bag of coffee beans.  We asked about it and were told about a contest.  A local coffee roaster/shop, Big Shoulders Coffee, was giving away a bag of their coffee bears to homebrewers for a contest.
After investigating, Ben found the contest to seem pretty easy and straightforward. Brew a beer and include the coffee beans in some way.  Bring in twelve bottles of your beer for a friendly competition to be held on December 4th.  That's it, no entry fee or anything. 
Now, Ben hadn't participated in any time of homebrew contest before.  He receives compliments on his beer all the time, but it's generally from our friends.  I mean, who wouldn't like free, good beer? But deciding to participate in a public contest was a big step for him.
  One Sunday afternoon, we stopped in Big Shoulders to grab a cup o' Joe and picked up our beans .
I have yet to document Ben's brewing process.  I've tried to start a few times, but it's lengthy and I generally get bored.  Ben brews an all-grain process, which start to finish takes him about six hours right now. I *will* document it some day, and hopefully soon. Generally, after brewing, the beer ferments four weeks and then is transferred into bottles, where it sits for two weeks to carbonate.
One of the first beers Ben brewed was a coffee stout, over a year and a half ago.  It wasn't good.  It tasted too strongly of coffee and was flat.  Ben researched for the competition and found that cold-brewing the coffee (like a french press) would help keep the head on the beer (carbonation) and that it did.  The resulting product was delicious.
On Sunday night, we dropped off Ben's twelve bottles of beer at the coffee shop. The email from Big Shoulder had welcomed the brewers to invite friends to the tasting on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, none of our friends were available to join.  Thus, Ben and I showed up last night, not knowing what to expect.  The rules were that two winners would be named by three judges, who used official scoring cards.  During this announcement, we learned that Big Shoulder Coffee would be opening Big Shoulders Brewing in January.  One of the judges was the headbrewer for Big Shoulders.  The last prize to be given was for the popular vote. (This is where having friends would come into play).
Luckily for us, we ended up making friends, kind of.  Our friends who had told us about the contest had entered with another couple, thus we had a little group of six to hang out and discuss the beer, which was fun!
Of course, if you're giving people beer to drink at dinner time, it'd smart to provide food as well.  There were some delicious empanadas.  I may or may not have ate three of these. Plus several cookies and a pecan pie bar dessert.
For the beer tasting itself, there were thirteen entries. Everyone (about 40-50 people showed up, which seemed like a good turned out considered this was the first event of this type Big Shoulders has hosted), was given a red cup and we did the tasting by numbers.  As in "here's number one", everyone go to the bar and get a pour, drink, repeat. Thirteen times.  Ben's beer was the second pour.  It was a basic coffee stout.  Not as crazy as some of the other varieties like "Mexican Coffee Stout" or "Tirimisu Stout", but it was good.
Our friend's beer was good.  They'd added in pepper and all spice to give it a unique taste.  However, similar to Ben's first coffee beer, it was flat.  The guys were pretty embarrassed by it, but no one knew it was theirs since all beers were introduced by number. If it hadn't been flat, it would have been good.
There was one beer I liked as much as Ben's, which was a Vanilla Milk Stout with Infused Irish Creme Coffee.  It was a bit thicker and slightly sweet.

After being there about two hours and everyone had voted by writing down their favorite number, the judges came out to announce the winners.  Both winners from the judges were a milk stout type beer, but.....
Ben WON the popular vote!!!!
He was shocked and I don't think I could have been any more proud.  Granted I'd drank several pours of stout beer, when a few of the other brewers came up to Ben to congratulate him and start asking him about what he did, I definitely teared up.
Ben is signed up for a homebrewer's meetup group, yet he's never joined any of the events.  I think he's nervous and lacks confidence in his beers; so I'm hoping this will help turn those thoughts around and lead him to make more friends in the local craft-brewing community.
I think I left beaming more Ben.

 (For the record, all brewer participants received the above t-shirt. 
For winning Ben received a pound of coffee and gift card to Big Shoulders).


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