With such a grand title, the ‘Institute of Brewing and Distilling Sensory Suite’ at Heriot-Watt University brings to mind low, soft downlighting and sculpted, ergonomic couches. The reality is just a little different – the squat, rendered campus building actually resembles a driving theory test centre, complete with small booths, monitors and headphones. The other week though, these were shunted aside for a series of small tables, as judging for the IBD’s second annual homebrewing competition took place. Asked to take part, I shuffled in with the other judges, all senses turned to maximum, ready to click at first sight of a horse approaching suddenly from a side road.
Now in its second year, the IBD Homebrew competition spawned two fantastic beers last time – the winner Impale IPA from Ed Young, and runner-up Zombier by Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis. As part of their prize, each was brewed commercially – Impale by Williams Brothers and Zombier by Fyne Ales. With that arrangement in place once again, dangling like a carrot, the entrants knew only too well what finishing in the top two places would mean. The only slight difference with this year’s competition were the breweries involved – Fyne will be producing the winner, with Stewart Brewing putting out the runner-up.
Anyone can enter the IBD competition, which breaks down the beers into the standard categories – bitters up to 4.9%, bitters 5.0% and over, etc. One interesting rule is that each entry requires submission in sextuplicate* – reason being that alongside the judging process, each homebrewer exhibits their beer in a hall at the University, giving the public a chance to have their say. I’ve always thought that’s a great idea – and although the ‘peoples’ choice’ winner isn’t brewed, the homebrewer responsible gets a day at the Harviestoun brewery.
*Thank you, online dictionary
For the judging, I was allocated to one of the bitters brackets, and then the final itself – sharing the rarefied air with a table of brewers and barpeople, just at the exact moment the Budget statement came through, confirming the cut in beer duty (the universal reaction was disbelief, rather than anything else). As to the homebrew, it was really interesting to see how the entrants had interpreted the style categories, particularly in the final. Overall, there were some that hit and others that fell short – as you would expect in any competition, with the top three beers apparently extremely close in the final reckoning.
Following the judging, it was time to head over (via a warming soup-stop) to the Heriot-Watt Union to chat to the homebrewers themselves. Timed to co-incide with the Charity Beer Festival (which was being set up in the background), last year I remember drinkers sprawled on the grass in every direction. Not so, 2013 – dodging the snow flurries was the order of the day this time around. Still, it was warm enough inside the Zeros bar, and it was great to chat to the homebrewers – several of whom were on the Brewing and Distilling course at the University, starting out on their careers in the industry.
In the end, once the results were in, the overall winner of the IBD Homebrew competition was Frank Christian with Snotty IPA, a 7% American-style India Pale Ale. It had a great balance of sweet floral and bitter citrus flavours, and will be brewed commercially by Fyne Ales. The runners-up were Carey Fristoe, Campbell Morrissey and John Mleziva with their cold extract coffee stout, Yoga Chef Stout – which will be produced at Stewart Brewing. The People’s Choice award went to Ian Tenner, for his 9.4% American Strong Bitter Myhopic-Madness in the Glass.
Congratulations to all the winners, and many thanks to Abhi at the Institute for the invite. Once the beers have been produced, there will be public launches in Edinburgh, as last year. Speaking of which, during the judging day I was chatting to Jamie Delap of Fyne Ales, and he told me that Zombier – last year’s runner-up – has become so successful that they are keeping it as a seasonal release. Proof, if any were needed, of possibilities of homebrew!