A Winner!

Holy homebrew competition 2015 -- That. Was. Bonkers.

Now that we've made it safely to the other side of the judging, chosen a winner, and can confirm that nobody tried to poison us (spicy ramen beer, you came so close), I can tell you that the experience was equal parts daunting and fun. I'm not quite certain that we had specific expectations going into the whole thing, but we certainly hadn't anticipated 129 beers to judge. Or the number of jalapeño/habanero submissions. Or the fact that somebody would put garlic in a beer. GARLIC!

Truthfully, the judging took us quite a long time because the task of tasting over 100 beers is (I'm just going to say it) difficult! It was the first time that we felt the saying "it's a hard job but somebody's gotta do it" applied earnestly. Normally we say that as a joke, when our only task is testing the newest batch of Jutsu for deliciousness, but this past week was all about serious scrutiny, meticulous note taking, and many, many hours of discussion.

We had been clear to participants from the get-go that this contest was not about BJCP guidelines, or any existing guidelines for that matter -- there are plenty of by-the-book contests but we weren't concerned with those sorts of rules. Our scale was a simple one, and yes, every beer did receive a grade that designated whether or not they would be passed onto the next round (of which there were 3: an initial weeding out, a secondary set of good offerings, and a final 'top six'). Our only requirements (aside from the basic rules outlined here) were that the beer needed to be good, period. Not extreme, not boundary-pushing, not even pretty. The yum factor, as mentioned, is our creative guiding light.

But before we announce the winner I want to take a second to go through some honourable mentions, some not so honourable mentions, and also say a humungous thank you to those who took the time and effort to be a part of this. Brewing is tons of work (we know!), and putting yourself out there is even harder. To all the participants, you da best.

Representing the root vegetable category, we had submissions that utilized parsnips (nice bite!), beets (earthy and fruity), and ginger (in several different styles). In the fruit corner, we saw pomegranates, rhubarb, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, blood oranges, cranberries, grapes, grapefruit, and the good ol' apple. In the more obscure additions, we found pine needles, tamarind, wild flowers picked in Baffin Island, cinnamon, and rare fruits from Brazil. We had our fill of diacetyl, acetaldehyde and stressed yeast esters, but we also tasted a lot of well-crafted beers. The overall quality of the submissions was outstanding.

21 beers made it to the second round, and from that small group here are the final 6, in no particular order, that made it to the third (final) round:

1. Impeached IPA/Quincy Jermyn -- incredible fruity aromatics with a clean malt body. 2. Gingersnap Ginger Beer/Taylor Fernandes -- great spicy aromatics and flavour, great carbonation and body. 3. Berry Funky Wild Ale/Gary Hamilton -- a gusher but beautiful sourness and fruit flavour. 4. Digital Sour Brown/Kyle Teichert -- low carbonation but great sourness and fruity flavour. 5. Midnight Pilot Coffee Stout/David Everitt -- complex malt body and nice hint of coffee. 6. Noir Belgian Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout/Aidan Sawyers -- Smooth, velvety, balanced. Bold but delicious.

We had a really hard time narrowing it down to just one, and feasibility did inevitably have to enter into the mix. Any of these top 6 could have won, and each seemed to be in the running for a gold at one point. We also asked questions like, can we realistically make this on our system in a reasonable amount of time (considering we have no long-term storage space)? And what do we actually want to brew? It seemed like we each had a different favourite, and for a while I thought we weren't going to be able to decide on anything. But what sealed the deal, was a submission that tasted great but also incorporated an ingredient from a local Toronto business, a coffee roaster that if we were to be perfectly honest, sustains, fuels, and facilitates the work we do everyday here at the brewery. Pilot Coffee Roasters, life-source, blood in our veins -- I'm looking at you.

The winner of the 2015 Bellwoods Brewery Homebrew Competition is David Everitt, with his submission of a delicious, well-balanced, and approachable coffee stout! His 7.2% Midnight Pilot represents a type of stout we haven't really brewed here before. Bravo to David and to each and every participant for fermenting their hearts out.

Next order of business: brew day for David!