Posted tagged ‘Iron Brewer’

Iron Brewer 2015 – The results

October 8, 2015

The Iron Brewer competition has come and gone and alas, the trophy which so proudly adorned my family room mantel for twelve months has gone to a new home. Here’s how it went down.

After examining the bag of ingredients, I decided to make two beers, which would give me a choice of which one to bring to the competition. The batches I wanted to make were too small for the Teaching Bewery’s pilot systems, so Nate Ferguson, the college’s Brewmaster Program Coordinator, again offered to let me use his home system.

Mashing in

Mashing in the Vienna lager

First off, I decided to make a Vienna lager — a basic amber lager style noted for its bready, full-bodied flavour. There was only enough Vienna malt to make up about 65% of the grain bill, so I used pilsner malt and a bit of the double roasted crystal to supplement. Alas, while mashing in (and posing for photos), I knocked the lauter plate out of position. The plate is essentially a false bottom in the mash tun — it has holes or slits that allow the wort to drain away while holding the grain back. Of course I didn’t realize that I had knocked the plate out of position until I tried to drain the wort — and nothing came out. It was the dreaded “stuck mash”. Sometimes this occurs if the grains form a mushy impenetrable layer — this often happens with wheat or with barley that has a high protein content. Or it happens if the lauter plate is not in position, allowing the mash to block the discharge tube. When I realized what had happened, Nate helped me to reach in (with protective gloves — that mash is HOT) and reposition the plate. Then we cleared the discharge tube by pushing water into it from the outside. The rest of the brew and fermentation went without a hitch.

My second beer was a sarsaparilla mild. Mild was very popular in Britain between the wars but is now difficult to find. It is a low gravity style (often only 3.0%-3.5% abv) but with a round body and full flavour profile usually associated with bigger beers. The colour is dark brown to black, and it tends to the sweet side, with notes of chocolate. In my previous two Iron Brewer competitions, I stayed away from the specialty flavourings — I was concerned that if everyone else used the same flavouring, my beer wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. However, the aroma of the sarsaparilla seduced me, and besides, my main beer and probable entry was going to be the Vienna lager.

This time the brewing process went without incident. Rather than adding the sarsaprilla root during the boil — I felt that would extract astringent tannins — I hung a bag of it in the fermentor once fermentation was complete.

Two days before the competition, I bottled both beers, and it turns out that the Vienna lager was rather meh. Whether that was due to the mash problems or my recipe, I’m not sure, but it wasn’t a stand-out. I decided to go with the sarsaparilla mild, even though my chances would hinge on not too many other of the brewers choosing that same flavouring. It was a very good beer, with a nose of dark cherries and vanilla, and flavours of cherry, vanilla, chocolate and caramel. I felt fairly confident in my chances… until I arrived at the competition. Of the fifteen brewers, seven of us had used sarsaparilla. Dang.

In the past, the Iron Brewer trophy was awarded to the most popular beer as voted on by attendees. This year the trophy was awarded by a panel of three judges. (Attendees still voted on a “People’s Choice”). In the end, the winner and new Iron Brewer was Ian Johnston, an avid homebrewer and last year’s third-place brewer, who made an excellent smoked porter. The People’s Choice was Mick Muzzin’s Imperial Pilsner.

And the seven sarsaparilla beers? It seems sarsaparilla was not anyone’s favourite flavour — none of us were in the top three either as a judges’ choice or people’s choice.

(The judging scoresheets, which were returned to us at the end of the competition, were a bit of a headscratcher for me — none of the judges mentioned sarsaparilla, cherry, vanilla or chocolate, but they did comment on “smoky flavours”, as well as “raisins” and “cloves”. Hmm.)

Next year I hope to be back in the competition, but since I didn’t place in the top three, my name goes back in the hat for the random draw next May. Got my fingers crossed already.

Iron Brewer: The planning begins

July 23, 2015

Yes, it’s that time again. The Master Brewers’ Association of Canada (MBAC) has just released the list of ingredients for the 2015 edition of the Iron Brewer competition.

For those of you who have joined this channel since last summer, the MBAC provides 15 brewers with identical bags of ingredients. Each competitor must make at least 10L of beer using only the ingredients provided plus brewing water. (Just like Iron Chef competitors don’t have to use every ingredient on the pantry table, Iron Brewers don’t have to use every ingredient in the bag.) The beers are judged, the scores are toted up, and one brewer is crowned the Iron Brewer.

Since there are always more than 15 brewers interested, names are drawn from a hat, with the exception of last year’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers, who are given a bye into the next competition.

Here are the ingredients in the bag this year:

Base Malts:
Czech Pils, OIO 2-row, Weyermann Vienna, Simpsons Pale Ale Golden Promise

Specialty malts:
Briess Smoked Cherry Wood Malt, Bairds Carastan 30/37, Chocolate, Simpsons Light Crystal, Simpsons Double Roasted Crystal, OIO Toasted barley, Weyermann Carabelge, Crisp Clear Choice, Harvest Malt & Hops

Hops:
Admiral (13.6% AA), Celeia (4.3), Pilgram (9.0), Jarrylo (14.8), Pekko (15.4) + whole leaf from Harvest Malt & Hops & possibly Winterbrook Farms

Yeast:
Belle Saison, Munich Classic wheat, Abbaye belgian, S23 Lager, US05 Ale, Fermentis Abbaye

Special Ingredients:
Oak Chips, Sarsaparilla, Whirlfloc

There may be some additional ingredients added by the end of next week. I have until the end of September to brew at least 10L of beer with only the above ingredients + brewing water.

Does anyone have suggestions on what type of beer I should make?

Iron Brewer Throw-down

December 2, 2014

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!

 

Iron Brewer: The Results

September 29, 2013

As long foretold by email scribes, the day of the Iron Brewer competition, heralded by a blood-red dawn, arrived.

Okay, I don’t actually know what the dawn looked like — I had stayed up late thinking up a name for my Iron Brewer beer and then designing some labels, so dawn was long gone by the time I rolled out of bed.

labelThe name I had thought of … or that someone had suggested but I can’t remember exactly who … was A Winter’s Tale Winter Ale. And this is the label I stayed up late designing … and printing … and putting on the bottles.

(There’s something Tolkienesque or Game of Thrones about the label, but I’m not sure what.)

At mid-afternoon, we met on the field of battle — Cool Brewing in west Toronto — armed with only our beer. And now, we revealed to each other what wonders we had wrought:

  • Andy Preston: “Paddywack Black”
  • Dan Unkerskov: “Pencil Scratch Pilsner”
  • Jeff Broeders (a Brewmaster grad): “Rye Knot Sour Ale”
  • Erica Graholm: “Cinnamon Vienna Lager”
  • Michael Hancock: “Para-dice Rye-der”
  • Mary-Beth Keefe: “Rye Another Day”
  • Helen Knowles: “Mild Dark Horse Ale”
  • Andrew Lamore: Underdog Brown Ale
  • Mark Murphy (another Brewmaster grad): “Rye’n Express” (on cask!)
  • Nick Muzzin: “Ryedemption Amber Ale”
  • Victor North: Mild Iron
  • Adrian Popowycz: Red Light Ryes
  • Jamie Mistry: unnamed
  • Siobhan McPherson: unnamed rye ale
  • Me: A Winter’s Tale

A bag of toasted rye flakes had been included in our ingredients, and as you can see, seven of the brewers chose to make the rye a central part of their beer. And no wonder — rye gives a distinctive spicy, dry taste to your beer. However, it can be a notoriously hard grain to use because its kernels are small, narrow and slippery. If you try to crack open the kernels with your barley mill, they just slide right on through the rollers untouched. So, using trial and error, you have to adjust the distance between the mill rollers in order to catch the rye between them. Once you are finished with the rye, you have to try to reset your mill to its original settings for barley. Good luck with that. Pre-processed rye avoids this entire problem — the rye has been steamed and rolled into flakes and does not have to be milled. You can just add it straight into the mash. Hence everyone’s excitement at the inclusion of easy-to-use rye flakes in our ingredients.

I had been tempted by the rye — my second choice was going to be a dry Vienna rye lager. But I have to say that my very first thought when I looked at the list of ingredients was a spiced winter ale. I thought it was such an obvious choice that I believed I would be duking it out with several other winter ales.

Nope. Seven rye beers, and an assortment of other styles, but no other cinnamon-spiced winter beers. Huh. As a matter of fact, the only other beer that used the cinnamon was Erica Graholm’s sunny and sassy “Cinnamon Vienna Lager”. Whereas the cinnamon in my beer was dark, muted and woody around the edges, Erica’s beer had the bright peppery taste of cinnamon hearts.

Mark Murphy's table display: samples of grain.

Mark Murphy’s table display: samples of grain.

Everyone was clearly in it to win it. Some of the contestants even had special desk displays. In addition to his casked Rye Mild Ale, Mark Murphy (Left Field Brewing) also brought samples of the grains he had used, in the proprtion he had used them, complete with little cards that described the grain type and extract value.

Nick Muzzin was right next to Mark, but he did not suffer by comparison:

Nick Muzzin's desk display: samples of grains and hops, palate-cleansing crackers and a custom logo.

Nick Muzzin’s desk display: samples of grains and hops, palate-cleansing crackers and a nice graphic.

Nick not only displayed samples of the types of grains he had used, but also samples of the types of hops. He also brought some crackers so contestants could cleanse their palates before trying his “Ryedemption Amber Ale”. And he had borrowed a great publicity graphic from Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare for his display.

My desk display: Spartan.

My desk display: a bit Spartan.

By comparison, my desk display was … uh … Spartan. I had a small sign describing “A Winter’s Tale”, a bottle opener and, underneath the desk, a cooler with twenty 650-mL (22-oz) bottles of my beer.

I was the only one to bring my beer in bottles, which is understandable. The Teaching Brewery at the college is set up to bottle small runs of beer, but most of the contestants work in larger breweries, which usually don’t have bottling systems capable of handling tiny 20-litre batches. Other contestants were homebrewers, and bottling at home is a pain, as well as expensive. In contrast, a keg is cheap and easy. Other than Mark Murphy, who casked his beer, it was very understandable that everyone else brought kegs.

[Correction: Apparently at least two of the brewers, Andy Preston and Nick Muzzin, bottle-conditioned their beer, brought the bottles to the competition and then decanted the beer into a pitcher to serve it. See comment below from another attendee.]

Victor North hooks up his keg.

Victor North hooks up his keg.

Yes, I could have kegged my beer, but there are few drawbacks to bringing a keg to an event like this. In addition to the keg, you also need a cylinder of carbon dioxide in order to push the beer out of the keg. Then you need a hose and tap through which the beer will move from keg to glass. You also need an ice-filled “jockey box” — the hose from the keg runs into the cold box, chilling the beer and convincing it to hold onto its CO2 so you don’t end up with a glass full of foam. Add a wrench to attach all the fittings and a screwdriver to adjust the gas regulator, and that’s a lot of hardware to be moved.

Me, I had to pack a bottle opener. However, I think a nice table display might be in the cards for next year. And maybe a large screen TV behind me. And perhaps some food — nothing much, but maybe I can convince one of the culinary students at the college to cook something while I pour beer.

Set-up complete, the competition started. Members of the MBAC spent the next three hours tasting each of the beers and then marking a ballot with their choice for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. It was good to see during the voting that the 1st-year students from the college had arrived and were participating — they had started with a tour of Sleeman in Guelph that morning, had arrived in time for a tour of Cool in the afternoon, and now were getting a chance to see some serious brewing creativity at work.

I was busy pouring beer, so I didn’t have time to go around and taste, but luckily Elaine had come to watch, and was able to bring me samples. And here’s what I though of the competition:

Wow! The beers were REALLY GOOD! Tasty, interesting styles, and creative use of the ingredients. Even just a couple of years ago, the quality of some Iron Brewer beers was uneven. But this year everyone was really bringing it.

Finally, the ballots were handed in, the results tabulated and the winners announced.

First place was awarded to Andy Preston of Molson for his delicious “Paddywack Black”. This is Andy’s second consecutive win, so clearly we need to step up our game in order to unseat him from his throne. Second place went to the nicely balanced “Ryedemption Amber Ale” by Nick Muzzin. Third place went to “A Winter’s Tale”. Hey, wait a sec, that’s me!

Woo-hoo!

Yes, it felt great to have my name called, but what is even better: as the 3rd-place brewer, I’ll have a reserved spot in next year’s competition.

Obviously I need to keep in practice between now and then. Hmmm… since I used the entire batch of “Winter’s Tale” at Iron Brewer, maybe I should make another batch in time for Christmas. Hmmmm…

Kudos

  • A quick shout out to Black Oak Brewing for letting me use their small pilot system to brew “A Winter’s Tale”, and then for letting my fermenter sit in a corner undisturbed for a few weeks.
  • Props to Jamie Daust of the Teaching Brewery, for setting up the bottling line for me.
  • And a big thank you to the various maltsters who contributed their grains to the competition, to Bob Latimer of Beer & Wine Filter for contributing the yeast and British and American hops, and to Mike Driscoll of Harvest Hop & Malt for contributing the Canadian hops.

Cheers!

Brewing up an Iron Brew

September 22, 2013

As you may have noticed, I took my own sweet time describing our beer geek summer road trip — the trip itself ended on the last day of July, but I only managed to finish writing about it as the autumnal equinox arrived.

But now we move to other matters. Let’s travel back in time to just after Elaine and I arrived home from New England.

As constant readers might recall, I entered the Iron Brewer competition this year — a beer-making competition sponsored by the Master Brewers’ Association of Canada in which each contestant is given an identical bag of ingredients, and must make at least 10 litres of beer using only the ingredients from the bag. There are only 15 spots open in the contest — I was lucky enough to have my name drawn from the hat.

Shortly after we returned, I picked up my bag full of ingredients that were donated to this competition by the various manufacturers. It contained:

Enough of three base malts to produce about 40-50 litres of finished beer:

  • Canada Malting Ontario Select
  • Munton’s Pale Ale
  • Weyermann Vienna

Six specialty malts:

  • Great Western Dextra Pils
  • Briess Victory
  • Franco-Belge Kiln Coffee
  • Weyermann Special W
  • OiO Toasted Rye Flakes
  • Munton’s Roast Barley

Seven types of hops:

  • U.K.: Goldings, First Gold, Target
  • U.S.: Chinook, Columbus, Golding,  Willamette
  • Canada: Bertwell

Three types of dry yeast: Mauribrew Ale, Lager and Weiss yeast

Four other items:

  • 12 cinnamon sticks
  • about 50 grams of Grains of Paradise
  • a 5-inch stick of toasted white ash wood (used to simulate barrel aging)
  • a tablet of Whirlfloc Irish moss (to help coagulate proteins at the end of the boil)

So all you brewers out there, take a moment, look over this list again and decide what type of beer YOU would make.

For my part, I was of two minds. Given the cinnamon, kiln coffee malt, roast barley, Special W and Victory, my first option was a spiced winter ale — strong, dark, a touch sweet, and full-bodied. However, I could also see using Vienna malt, rye flakes and the Weissbier yeast to make a dry rye ale.

In the end, I decided to try to make the winter ale, envisioning a malt-driven barrel-aged full-bodied cinnamon-spiced beer, with hints of coffee, chocolate, some roastiness and a strength of about 6.5%.

I started to work on a recipe and discovered that although the Iron Brewer organizers had been extremely generous with the quantities of ingredients, they had neglected to give us any information about the malt analysis of each grain. (Usually a brewer likes to know how much sugar can be extracted from the grain, what the water content of the grain is and to what degree of colour the grain has been kilned, toasted or roasted.)

Luckily my ingredients had been given to me in the grain bag for the Canada Mailting Ontario Select. With the batch number from the grain bag in hand, I was able to contact Allison Nimik at Canada Malting and at least get the malt analysis of the Ontario Select. (For the record: 79.9% extract, 4.2% moisture, colour = 2.9 degrees Lovibond.)

For the other grains, I had to look on-line for average values and cross my fingers that they were representative.

In the end, since I had the most confidence about the values of the Ontario Select, I used it for 50% of the final grist bill. The other grains I used and their proportions were:

  • Munton’s Pale Ale (35%)
  • Briess Victory (5%)
  • Flaked roast barley (3%)
  • Kiln Coffee (3%)
  • Weyermann Special W (2%)
  • Dextra Pils (2%)

Since I wanted the cinnamon and barrel-aged characteristics to be the main drivers of flavour and aroma, I was very restrained with the hop additions, planning on a bitterness of only 25 IBUs. My plan was to add 4 grams of Target at the start of a 60-minute boil, then 15 grams of First Gold at 30 minutes, and finally 15 grams of U.K. Goldings with 10 minutes left, when I would also add half of the cinnamon (freshly ground) and the Whirlfloc.

Next up was where to brew it? I had been planning on using the pilot system at the Teaching Brewery, but the brewery was undergoing an expansion to triple its size. Luckily my friends at Black Oak agreed to let me use their small pilot system.

wort

Vorlauffing the mash: Is that not a deeply sensual colour?

So, on August 12, I packed up my ingredients and headed over to Black Oak. And here’s what happened when I brewed the wort:

I brewed the wort.

No mistakes, no problems, no technical issues, no stuck lauter, no missing ingredients, no lack of hot water…

No, seriously, that’s a first. It was like building a piece of IKEA furniture and not having to go to IKEA to get one tiny little part that was missing in order to finish the project — it almost never happens, right?

After vorlauffing, sparging and boiling, I ended up with 20 litres of deep chestnut-coloured wort with an original gravity of 1.063 (15.8° Plato).

I transferred it to a 50-litre cornelius keg borrowed from fellow Brewmaster graduate Chris Marconi (now working at Trafalgar Brewing in Oakville), added the ale yeast and waited for the magic to happen.

Here’s where some problems started — and why brewmasters lie awake at night. I hoped the ale yeast would eat enough sugar to bring the gravity down to about 1.012 (3° Plato). The reality was that the ale yeast only took the gravity down to 1.020 (5° Plato) — and then stopped working.

Hmmm.

There are several technical strategies I considered using, but in the end, I tried to rouse the somnolent yeast through the simple expedient of shaking the fermentor vigorously while yelling “WAKE UP, YOU LAZY FACULTATIVE ANAEROBIC GOOD FOR NOTHING LOSERS!” (This is a strategy you can use on a 50-litre keg, but is probably not a good plan for a 10-hectolitre fermentor. Well, I suppose you can still yell at the yeast.) I then moved the keg to a warmer room for a few days. It seems to have worked — after another week, the gravity was down to 1.016 (4° Plato), which I could live with. The difference between the original gravity of 1.063 and the final gravity of 1.016 represents an alcoholic strength of 6.1% abv.

I had been planning to add the other six sticks of cinnamon during maturation and aging, but frankly the cinnamon was already very well represented in aroma and taste, so I decided to hold off. I did hang that stick of toasted white ash in the fermentor for four days. (You can add it for up to four weeks, but I just wanted hints of caramel and vanilla from the wood, not the impression it had been sitting in a barrel for a year.)

Last week I packaged the finished beer in 650-mL (22-oz) bottles.

The tasting/judging is this Friday afternoon. My winter ale (currently without a name — suggestions welcome) will be up against creations by 14 of the best brewers in Ontario.

Fingers crossed…

 

Iron Brewer: Game On!

July 4, 2013

Today I received an email from the organizer of the MBAC Iron Brewer competition: my name had been drawn out of the hat for one of the 11 open spots in this year’s contest. Woo-hoo!

I announced this on the Niagara College Brewmaster Facebook page. Scant minutes later, fellow competitor Mark Murphy posted, “You’re going down, Brown.”

To which I replied, “Bring it, Left Field.” (Mark is co-founder and brewmaster of Left Field Brewery.)

If that seems a bit mild, watch out. As we get closer to September 27, my trash talk will likely descend into the gutter, with comments about his yeast’s asexual proclivities and how his alpha amylase is degenerate. (That’s pretty smashmouth stuff  in the brewing world.)

However, the real competition will begin in two weeks when I pick up my bag of ingredients.

 

 

Iron Brewer: twiddling my thumbs

June 29, 2013

Addendum to yesterday’s post: Elaine pointed out that I gave the impression I am only working at Niagara College over the summer. I’ll actually be there for a year.

In addition to finding a job (yay!), I also took the time to enter the Iron Brewer competition. This is a fun annual event for members of the Master Brewers of Canada, if your idea of fun is to make a beer and then watch while it is publicly judged and scored by your peers.

I’m sure you’ve seeen or heard of TV’s Iron Chef — two top chefs go head-to-head preparing a four-course dinner in a limited time using only provided ingredients. The Iron Brewer competition works roughly the same way: 15 brewers are each given an identical bag of brewing ingredients — various grains, hops, yeast, etc. — and must make a batch of beer using only some or all of those ingredients in the bag.

Which ingredients, how much of each and what sort of brewing regimen each brewer uses is, of course, the big question.

Each brewer then has to bring at least 10 litres of the finished beer to a judging night hosted by a local brewery. Other MBAC members then taste and score all 15 beers, and the brewer with the high score is crowned Iron Brewer.

Of course there are usually way more that 15 applications, so names are drawn out of a hat for the chance to compete. (This year there are actually only 11 spots open. The organizers decided that last year’s top three brewers get an automatic berth this year; likewise, the host brewery also gets a spot, just like the nation hosting the World Cup soccer tournament gains an automatic berth.)

I decided to enter the competition this year. Why? Well, like I said previously, it sounds like fun. It’s a chance to use some of the recipe formulation calculations we learned in school. And it’s also a chance to show the new students entering the Brewmaster program, or those who are about to enter second year that they have been (or will be) taught the skills necessary to compete at this level.

If I am one of the lucky ones, the bag of ingredients will be delivered at the end of July, I’ll brew up a beer in August, and the judging night will be near the end of September.

But until the names of competitors are announced, I’ll just sit here, twiddling my thumbs… And I might as well have a beer while I’m waiting, right?


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