Twenty-four sets of amateur brewers gathered in Gowanus on Saturday to compete for top honors at the Pride of Brooklyn Homebrew Festival. The event, held at Littlefield (622 Degraw Street, Brooklyn, 718-855-3388) for the second year, welcomed hundreds of attendees to sample a diverse range of styles, from ESB, smoked beer, and cream ale to gose, a rainbow of IPAs and pale ales, and fruit beers. Organizer Casey Soloff explained that while participants sign up at will, he tries to curate the offerings so that people don’t all bring the same beers.
The strategy worked, as each winning beer typified a distinct style. The People’s Choice winner, selected by attendees, was Alex Kalaf, whose Mirthful Monk Saison had a dry, lemon-pepper flavor with pleasing notes of bread dough. Brewers’ Choice, voted on by the participants themselves, went to Brett Taylor’s Bird on a Wire, a bold American brown ale made with Brettanomyces yeast and aged in a King’s County Distillery bourbon cask.
Cask-aging also benefited overall third place winner Quad Pro Quo Quercus, made by Billingsgate brewers Dylan Mabin, Andrew Said Thomas, and Bill Ryder. This Belgian quad spent time aging in port barrels which lent a rich, fruity flavor more often found in whisky. The second place finisher, BIG, also spent time in a cask — a new charred oak barrel which brewer Patrick Alfred conditioned with several bottles of bourbon. This process gave his Imperial Stout increased richness and highlighted its creamy coffee and chocolate flavors.
But breaking the barrel-aging mold was first place winner Ryan McMahon, who presented Tropical Paradise, an Imperial IPA loaded with tropical fruit notes thanks to the use of Amarillo, Citra, and El Dorado hops. Like a liquid island vacation, it featured mango, pineapple, and citrus flavors with a pleasant dry finish.
While many of the participating brewers do it just for fun, several have ambitions to start commercial breweries in the near future, most of them in Brooklyn. Every beer offered showed the immense passion and talent of the local homebrewing community. Besides the winners, some notable examples included the Triumph of Spring Persimmon Gose by Shannon Bowser, Pride of Brooklyn’s 2013 winner; Tyler March’s East African IPA blended with cold-brew Ethiopian coffee; Lobster Boil, a gose made with lobster tails by Robert and Christopher Sherrill-Moss; Pollination Pale Ale, featuring honey and lavender, by Megan Thorsfeldt and Andrew Wolf; Crow Hill Brewery’s Bourbon Barrel Porter by Ben Kilinski; and Rumpled Pigskin, an English mild made using a recipe from the 19th century by Alastair Hayes of Micro Pig Brewery.
What attracts all these individuals to homebrewing? Besides a love of good beer, the most frequently cited reason is the close-knit community — a quality clearly on display at the competition, where brewers and attendees alike greeted each other like old friends, even if they’d never met.
On the next page, see photos from the event and read some other reasons cited as motivation for getting into the homebrew lifestyle.
“I feel beer has a long history — a thousand years. I really feel bad that this history ended up in making commercial beers that taste all the same, and people try only two or three different styles of beer. And I think the craft beer movement is trying to put a value on all the history, all the hundreds of styles of beers that people had in the past.”
– Fabio Colombo
“[I like] the aspect of crafting something with your hands, that’s your own. And the alcohol. Also enjoying it with your friends. It’s kind of like a labor of love. You work all day to produce something, you wait a month, you take care of it, and when it’s ready, it’s time to celebrate.”
– Mark Scoroposki and Ben Kossoff, Garvies Point Brewing Co.
“There’s so much variety that you can do — it’s one of those hobbies that you can get into and you can just keep falling down the rabbit hole. Different ingredients, different yeasts, different adjuncts that you can use, and you can get into the science behind it too, which is fascinating. We also do it for the community. We’ve brewed for multiple friends’ weddings, which is fantastic — being able to take part in people’s celebrations in that way, and having people come to our house and try our beer, and at events like this where we get to meet and greet with other homebrewers who are doing such fascinating things — I think that’s my favorite part.”
– Megan Thorsfeldt, Shirtwaist Brewing Co.
“I kind of like the experimentation of it, and I like to come up with an idea or a name of beer first — a weird, clever name, and then I’m like, ‘I’m gonna brew that beer,’ and see if I can do it.”
– Tim Meacham
“It’s more fun to brew with friends than by yourself. That’s why we started. We were just drinking and brewing, and then it became, ‘Maybe we should start to focus on brewing.'”
– John Montemurro, Curvy Sticks
“I just love beer. I’m a beer nerd. Typical beer nerd stuff — figuring out how to make it, you understand it better. There’s always things like, ‘I really like that, what goes into it?’ Then you learn how to do it and you mess up along the way but you may still like it. You kind of discover new things when you’re making it at home.”
– John Earle, 319 Home Brew
“It is a hobby that you can really, really get into because it’s part chemistry, it’s part biology, it’s part agriculture, part cooking. And at that point, you’re like, at the end of the day you’ve got something that you can sit back on the couch and enjoy. After about a month, anyway.”
– Jon Luton