When it comes to the world of homebrewing, competitions are nothing new; ever since cavemen discovered berries could be mulched into a fermentable paste, groups of self-beerians have gathered together to assess who has the better skills (it took the invention of the wheel to solve the cavemen’s next problem: distribution). That homebrewers are willing to submit their careful creations to the scrutiny of their peers quashes one of the myths of the craft – that they are all doing it just to get loaded as cheaply as possible. Sure, the 25p a pint brigade do still exist, but many homebrewers recognise that working their way up from extract kits to full mash can – for some – lead to the ultimate scaleup; their own brewing facility.
Here in Edinburgh, the Southern Bar on South Clerk Street has always had an affinity for the art of homebrew – possibly because of its proximity to the city institution that is Brewstore (formally Edina). Last year, the Southern hosted their first annual ‘Get Your Brew On’ competition for local kitchen superheroes – with the winning entry to be brewed commercially by Stewart Brewing. As it turned out, during the judging process one beer was head and shoulders above the others – First World Problems, a 6.2% Belgian IPA brewed by James Hardacre. This promptly went into production, and even now sits as the highest ranked Stewart beer on RateBeer (I’m not sure how they necessarily feel about that).
Fast-forward twelve months, and the second iteration of Get Your Brew On has rolled around – although the number of entries has decreased a little from last year, it’s still pretty impressive. I was part of the finals judging panel (not particularly on reputation; I was down for the day before but was bumped when I couldn’t make it). Tasting the eight beers that made it through was interesting – as all beer judging is – two winners having been selected from each of the four categories. Variety was certainly there – we had everything from a steam beer to an imperial treacle rye stout (rye certainly seeming to be an ingredient of the moment).
The most unique thing about the Southern’s competition is the element of feedback. Rather than judge the beers, noting down the numbers for appearance, aroma etc and then meekly having to fish for the calculator app to add three sevens, a twelve and a five, Get Your Brew On delivers precise feedback. Anyone who enetered a beer can come back and request the judges sheets, which include non-standard questions such as ‘how could this be improved’ – now, seeing as I’m not a brewer and have never homebrewed, that’s not any kind of advice I feel qualified to give, but the professional brewers on the finals panel were able to give that kind of detailed feedback.
The overall impression I had of the 2014 competition was that it was far more even than last year – making the judging a much harder process. Also, despite my earlier comment about homebrewers having a higher moral ceiling than simply getting loaded, the lowest abv of the finalist beers was 5.5% (the highest, 9.5%). That’s probably a reflection on the styles that got through, of course. Speaking of which, the overall winner was something of a welcome surprise in style terms – a 90 shilling, brewed by Rory Lancellas. Creamy, sweet toffee, with a perfect level of carbonation, it was hugely impressive. Rory’s 90/- will now be brewed commercially by Stewart Brewing – look out for it in the bottle shops soon!