*Our journey with the Urban Hops Homebrewing Competition came to an end last night when we crowned our winner, Ed Burns. I asked Ben to write a blog about the experience, as well as the winning beer. Thank you to our partners for helping us with this endeavor, and to Ben for seeing it through to a very successful finish! Look for Ed’s beer for sale on the shelves of The Urban Grape in the coming months.
The last several months have been an incredible learning experience here at The Urban Grape. I was surprised that when I first brought up the idea of doing a homebrew competition to TJ & Hadley that they didn’t send me home for the day. A homebrew competition? Even I thought the idea was a little outlandish, but they were in. The Urban Hops Homebrew Competition was born. I started having to ask myself questions that I had never asked before… what kind of timeline should we give people? What kind of beers can people submit? Will ANYONE submit?! It was the first time for all of us doing something like this, so we felt our way as we went along, and I am proud to say that the finish line was awesome.
Getting to that finish line was an exciting and terrifying experience. With some timeline changes along the way, we slowly but surely started receiving submissions. I felt a huge sense of relief as soon as the first submission came in- at least we had one! Each week at our meetings, Hadley would ask how many entries we had, and as the numbers grew, our nervousness turned to excitement.
On September 7th, I sat down with two people whose palates I trust immensely, my friends Cat and Jeff.. Cat works at The Urban Grape as our Special Orders Manager, and is a knowledgable lover of all things craft beer. Her boyfriend, Jeff, worked for Stone Brewing in California for years, and has an excellent palate that I knew would be honest and discerning. We tasted through the submissions one at a time, discussing the qualities each one brought to the table. We set aside our favorites as we went through, we talked about flavor, aroma, mouth feel, and even the marketability of the beers. As we tasted them, I was blown away by the diversity of the entries. From pale ales to coffee porters, Abbey-style table ales to wheat beers, everything was completely unique. Much to my surprise, there were very few American IPAs, a style that I figured would make up the bulk of our tasting. We were thrilled with the number of beers that were possible finalists, it was a difficult process to narrow it down. Finally, as the day came to a close, we had our final six. One step closer to naming a winner.
Last night, Megan Parker-Gray of Row 34, Christopher Tkach of Idle Hands Craft Ales, and myself tasted through the six finalists’ beers. With brewers and friends, family and spectators, the three judges analyzed the merits of each beer. I definitely felt the pressure, this was a pretty big deal! So many brewers are looking for that one break that will get them into the public eye, could this competition end up being one of those breaks? After tasting through the six beers, the judges conferred and came to a unanimous decision. The winner, Ed Burns, had created a beautifully balanced Black Rye IPA. The roasted coffee and chocolate notes were beautifully balanced with the subtle spice of the rye and hops. It wasn’t too sweet or too dry, too heavy or too light. The balance was excellent. Having the chance to taste these beers, I can truly say that the next wave of professional brewers is ready and waiting. They are lawyers and teachers, repair people and firefighters. They are everywhere, and that is good news for the craft beer industry.
TJ said yesterday, “I think it is so cool that we can do something like this with beer. You can’t have a competition for wine making at the store, we’re really excited that we can do this.” One of the biggest reasons we are able to do this is because of one man, Glenn Barboza. Glenn is the owner and head brewer of Berkley Beer Company, located in Berkley, MA. Glenn is exactly what you want every person in the beer industry to be like. He is kind and down to earth, knowledgeable and unpretentious, engaging and fun. Our winner will be joining Glenn at his brewery in Berkley to produce a commercial batch of Ed’s winning homebrew which will be sold at The Urban Grape this winter. We can not thank Glenn enough for lending his time, guidance, and equipment to us and Ed, and allowing this to come to life.
A huge thank you must be given to Megan Parker-Gray and Christopher Tkach, who took time out of their incredibly busy schedules to spend an evening with us at The Urban Grape, doing what we love- talking about beer. If you have not been to Row 34, you are missing out one of the most well curated beer lists anywhere in the country, and if you are looking for some of the most thoughtfully crafted beers out there, look no further than Chris and Idle Hands Craft Ales. His beers are complex and balanced, and are always of the highest quality. Thank you also to TJ & Hadley, who always support not only me, but the entire staff in all of the crazy ideas that we come up with. It is awesome to work for people who share our passions and drive our success.
Lastly, we have to thank you. All of the homebrewers out there. Your creativity and passion for beer makes our jobs so much more fun. I love being able to spend my days talking and tasting with you, and I can’t wait till the next one!