Iron Brewer Throw-down

Yes, it’s been over two months since I last blogged. Here’s what happened: a BIG project. Back in the summer, I was given responsibility for creating an on-line version of our History of Brewing course. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It started off as a normal project. But, like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, the project began to grow and take on a life of its own. By the end of the summer, I was working on it seven days a week. By October I was working on it seven days a week, often from 8 am until 1 or 2 in the morning. It’s done and dusted now, doubtless a real achievement in the annals of on-line education. I’ll blog about the whole thing later, once the nightmares and flashbacks have calmed down.

However, now that I have a life again, let’s return to the matter at hand — the Iron Brewer competition some eight weeks ago.

In case you need a reminder, the Iron Brewer is an annual competition held by the Master Brewers Association of Canada (MBAC), where all the entrants get an identical bag of ingredients, and have to make at least 10 litres of beer using only what’s in the bag plus brewing water. I had chosen to make a strong Scotch ale.

View from my table. Nice place.

View from my table. Nice place.

This year, competition judging happened at Amsterdam Brewhouse,  a brewpub down on Queen’s Quay at the Toronto waterfront. It’s a very nice location, right beside a marina, if you can get there — for the past two or three years, Queen’s Quay has been a construction zone, raising the challenge of Toronto traffic from impossible to nigh impassable. But finally I and my cooler of Scotch ale arrived.

My wife’s coworkers had suggested possible names for my beer, and I was particularly taken with “Highland Gale Highland Ale”. (I came soooo close to using “Big Jimmy”.) I didn’t print labels this year, but I did have a graphic on the table of a highland warrior laying about with a claymore.

Last year, my table was pretty Spartan compared to some of the other displays of grain and hops brought forth by competitors. I had every intention of creating a better display this year, but… well… anyways.

table

My table, as Spartan as last year

So my table was a bit barren again.

This year, Elaine wasn’t able to make it, so I didn’t have anyone bringing me beer samples from the other competitors. I did manage to slip away a couple of times, and man, the other beers I was able to taste were fantastic this year! Andy Preston, who came in second last year, was at the table next to me, and had concocted a delicious brown ale. (That’s actually a pun, because he had used a double decoction method to make the beer. “Concocted”. “Double decoction”. Get it?)

<crickets>

Never mind then.

The special ingredient in the bag this year was heather tips, and many took advantage of this. Victor North, who with his wife Sonja has started up Garden Brewers in Hamilton, had made something incredible with the heather tips, although the exact style escapes me right now. (It WAS eight weeks and a lot of beers ago.) Siobhan McPherson also used the heather tips — again, I can’t remember what the style was, but it was good. A fellow Brewmaster graduate, Chris Freeman, now brewmaster at Collingwood Brewery, brought a delicate heather-spiced English mild. Current third-semester Brewmaster student Caleb Gilgan eschewed the heather tips in favour of the oak-smoked wheat malt, brewing up a crisp and lip-smacking smoked Oktoberfestbier.

crowds

This was early on. It got way more crowded.

While the judging was going on, I tried to describe my beer to each drinker: a nose of wild honey, a full rounded palate, with soft notes of caramel leading to a lushly sweet finish. Or words to that effect. However, it got quite crowded, and noisy, making erudite and witty commentary impossible By the end of the afternoon, I was pretty much reduced to pushing beer into people’s hands and screaming, “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!”

trophy

Organizer Paul Dickey hands me the trophy. No, I don’t know what the object on top of the trophy is.

After a couple of hours of judging, it was time for the winners to be announced. Third place went to Ian Johnston — unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to sample his beer. Second place went to Victor North for a beer I hope Garden Brewers produces commercially. And for first place: me.

“Gobsmacked” is not a word I commonly use, but for the first time, it was perfect: I felt gobsmacked. There was some fantastic beer there, far more complex than my simple Scotch ale, but apparently Highland Gale Highland Ale had achieved some sort of zeitgeist. Huh.

Of course, I am never at a loss for words, so when I was handed the mic, I held forth: “Errr.. Ummm… Uhhh… Thanks.”

Since that time, my fame has known no bounds. People stop me on the street.

Okay, I’m lying about that part.

However, Jon Downing, the brewmaster at the Teaching Brewery, borrowed my recipe, and last week, I helped mash in what will become about 400 litres of the Highland Gale Highland Ale. It should be available later in December — perhaps in time for Christmas!

 

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2 Comments on “Iron Brewer Throw-down”

  1. oneforward Says:

    This is fantastic news, Alan! Congratulations. I hope we can get to NC Brewery for the release.


  2. […] keg-cleaning until some of the boys were done with the mash. The project today was to make some of Alan Brown’s strong Scotch ale, Highland Gale Highland Ale, that won him this year’s Iron Brewer […]


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