National Homebrew Competition 2011

Today, I have the pleasure of being part of the National Homebrew competition. This is an occasion that I have longed to see and get too, I can’t wait.

This is pretty significant, some 150+ (turned out to be 258) entries, being judged by luminaries such as John Keeling, Brewing Director at Fullers, Justin Hawke of Moor brewing in Somerset, Chris Kay & Brett Ellis of Bristol Brewing, Des DeMoor, Mike of the Durden Park Beer circle, and BJCP qualified judges, and little old me.

Considering that some of the most innovative, interesting and novel beers that I have had in the past few years have been Homebrewed, or Homebrewer-turned-probrewer created, I am very excited to see what’s going to be poured.

I am also intrigued to see how the mix of commercial brewers and BJCP functions; I can’t wait to learn, see how others approach and decide those deserving of applause.

So, leaving home in Sunny Kent at 4am, I arrived down in the west country some three hours later. I am just stuffing some food in my face and then a little drive up to Bristol, with the Hawkes of Moor Brewery.

I’m going to try to add some pics and notes during the day. I shall also
add to @beermerchants on Twitter.

Have a great Saturday.



Ali Kocho Williams giving early instruction as to the days running order.


First Beer of the day...


which turns out to be a gusher....

Through the first round we judged some cracking Sour, german wheats and Fruit beers; lovely Raspberry Berliner Weisse, Passion Fruit Wit, Chocolate vanilla Stout and a crystal Weisse!


Our Flight summary sheer


greg - dreadpenguin and I catching up over lunch.


much needed carb intake. Coffee isn't very good as a stomach liner for a beer event.

And after lunch… We’re on to IPA’s. (oh jeeze)


Paul Henderson over Chris from Warminsters' shoulder


The scores of the IPA's.


How not to fill a bottle.

Now on to the double IPA‘s… As I slide off my chair under the table…

So, one lovely double IPA. And off for a burrito.

Congrats to Tom Dobson and Graeme Coates for great beers!

Well done Ali and Bristol beer factory for such a well done and interesting event!

258 entries!!! Wow!

More next year!


Ali sorting out the prizes and raffle prizes.

I for one, would love to see the format of the judging pushed out for wider beer competitions. It works well, gives feedback and is measurable.

And the best beers won! I can’t wait to see next years event.

Copied from Ali, the competition organisers twitter feed, subject to confirmation.

American Pale Ale; 1 Richard Pearce, 2 Steve Syson, 3 Roger Parry

American Amber & Brown Ales: 1&2 Graeme Coates, 3. Adrian Chapman

ESB: 1. Andrew Jardine, 2. Paul Russel, 3. Sandy McClure

Scotish and Irish Ale, English Brown Ale: 1. Graham Kingham, 2. Paul Mills, 3. Matt Leaver

Light and Amber Hybrids: 1. David Halse, 2&3 Nigel Poustie

Smoke and Wood-Aged: 1. Ali Kocho-Williams, 2. Paul Russel, 3. David Halse

Strong Ales: 1=Andrew Jardine, Graeme Coates, 2. Andrew Jardine, 3. David Budd

Belgian Strong: 1. Owen Sheerins, 2. Steve Syson, 3. Tony Milner

Belgian and French Ales: 1. Graeme Coates, 2. Steve Wright, 3. Karl Noonan

IPA: 1. Richard Poole, 2. Andrew Jardine, 3. Roger Parry

Standard and Best Bitters: 1. Arkadiusz Makarenko, 2. Mark Hulston, 3. Mark Nelson

Amber Lager, Bock: Gareth Lester-Olivier, 2. Gareth Lester-Olivier, 3. Tony Milner

Porter: 1. Sandy McClure, 2. Mark Grundy, 3. Matthew Hicks

Stout: 1. Mike Plamer, 2. Roger Parry, 3. Allan Gayton

Club Trophy: Bristol Craft Brewers

Specialty: 1. David Wilton, 2= Adrian Chapman, Ali Kocho-Williams

Wheat beers: 1. Graeme Coates

Light and Amber Hybrids: 1. David Halse, 2&3 Nigel Poustie

Light Lager, Pils: 1. Gareth Lester-Olivier, 2. Steve Wright, 3. Ed Murphy

Best of Show – 1st Tom Dobson, 2nd Graeme Coates, 3rd Graeme Coates


Why I Homebrew…

why I Homebrew… Surely someone with massive quantities of beer available to them really need not make their own?

Do I do it because I am cheap? Hell no…

Do I do it out of some hippy ideals? Kinda.

Do I do it out of curiosity? Probably!

Do I do it to get shit faced on the cheap? See q1.

Do I try and make beers that I have had commercially? Yes.

Do I enjoy the process or the product? Both.

Do you drink it all yourself? Rarely, but I try.

Do you make mistakes? Rarely, but I do.

Do I have accidents? Yes, some happy, some painful.

Do you throw away bad batches: always.

Does it hurt? Yes. (to above)

Do you make too much beer? Sometimes…

Got any more reasons… Would love to read them…

yes, that’s homebrew…


Sat in the kitchen, drinking a beer.  Not an uncommon occurrence for most of us,  but if I were to say that the beer that has prompted this little sesh at the keyboard was homebrew, I am sure you’d be surprised.

Homebrew, yes it’s the domain of beerdy weirdies in their garages, or folk  in their kitchens, boiling up cans of goo, adding sugar and more sugar “coz it turns to alcohol“, adding stuff and hoping to get hammered in a couple of weeks?  Then the cold, well, warm realisation that the beer that they are sampling, don’t taste like it orta.

Of course that’s homebrew, just like that stuff that your dad, uncle, brother made in the garage that made your mother irrate at the mess that they made. Eventually leading to a box full of Boots the Chemist odds and sods being sectioned to the shed to gather moulds, spores and fungus’s…

Yes, that’s homebrew…  just like the brown glass bottles that explode on a warm summers day.  BOOM, crash….. oww!

Yes, that’s homebrew…

Or is it? Continue reading

as seen through a phone


When I scan through the many pictures on my phone, I was a little shocked as to just how many there were of beer stuff.

My EOS20d had a fall earlier in the year, so I can assume that the phone somewhat tried to fill it’s shoes.  You can have a little insight into the stuff that I see, the antics that I get up to (with Angelo in tow), and the great beers that my girlfriend says has spoiled me… hell, she works for a brewery, can I blame her.  Certainly, it’s not the beers that I get in for you at – if you follow us on twitter, I am sure that you’ve seen a few of these… Continue reading

The Belgian Biere Feast, with the “Homebrew Chef”

Just for you… click that picture for one of the most impressive beer dinners you’ll ever hear of.

Some time ago, you might remember that I was hanging with some friends in Belgium, perhaps wondering “who?!“, I was fortunate enough to be around Sean when he was going through his thought processes toward this menu, tasting some of the ideas and delights that are there in front of you… I just wish I was there.

“Michelin Star” food and great beers… and great people. It’s the future!

the Home Brew Chef

Wot, more beer?

Founded in Lovibonds Brewery in 2005 with a dedication to producing hand crafted ales and lagers using only premium ingredients. They’re producing their beers on a very small scale. “our beers and have been received with enthusiastic reception from beer lovers and they are increasing capacity to make our products available to a wider audience”. Jeff, the owner and brewer, “Our beers are made with the finest ingredients possible. That includes local Maris Otter malted barley and only fresh whole hop flowers. We are committed to quality and don’t filter or pasteurise our beer and never use ‘convenience ingredients’, like hop oils.”

What was interesting to us here at was how Jeff embraces and respect brewing traditions and styles from around the world. Bring an worldly palate of flavour to British Brewing and doing it oh so well!   Jeff’s beer do fly under the radar of so many beer lovers, such is life.  I can surely say that we’re pleased to be able to sell his beers;  You’ll know that we’ve been selling the excellent Lovibonds Gold Reserve Wheat Wine recently, slowly people are getting their heads around it, for what is such a delicate yet rich brew! We’ve decided to bring in some more, if the lighter end of Jeff’s efforts. His beers very well loved in the environs of Henley on thames, so we thought it’s about time that more people got to hear about, and importantly taste these excellent brews!

Jeff, Brewer, “Chief Zymurgist”, is a keen and active supporter of the Oxford Homebrew scene, as well as a Brewing Network fan, a bunch of great chaps, who’re doing great things out there in Pacheco.  All in all a great mix, I am sure a brewer, we’ll continue hearing great things from.

Get them all here

HENLEY GOLD: They craft Henley Gold by combining the freshest British malted wheat and barley, then ferment with a yeast culture from the oldest brewery in the world, giving this beer it’s truly unique character. Being an authentic wheat beer, we serve this beer with the yeast, giving this beer its natural appearance. Excellent in the sun, a super beer! The pint I had yesterday, was loveeeeeeely! Click here to read more

HENLEY AMBER: Henley has long been known for a great pint of bitter.  This 3.4% session ale is no exception.  We use Maris Otter as a base malt with a special blend of roasted malts to give this bitter a complex malt profile.  Generous additions of 3 English hop varieties give this ale exceptional hop character. The amber coloured ale has a good balance of juicy malt and hop character on the nose.  The flavour finishes with a balance of bitterness from roasted barley, leading to a long clean bitterness of English hops. Click here to read more

HENLEY DARK: Henley Dark is inspired by 18th century London Porter and is crafted with a blend of seven different malted barleys including one smoked with local beech wood from the surrounding hills of the Chilterns.  Deep amber with a ruby glow and creamy tan head.  Rich chocolate aroma with a hint of smoke.  Creamy texture combines caramel and chocolate flavours finishing dry with bitterness from the dark malts and hops.  Click here to read more

Great English Beer

I am a homebrewer

Mike Mraz, an awesome brewer of Sour Beers

Mike Mraz, an awesome brewer of Sour Beers

if you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you might have realised it’s not just for shouting about the latest and greatest beer we have on our shelves, but my wittering, mumbling and drunken pondering s.

I am quite into brewing, as much as time allows – I love it, I occasionally get invited to brew on a professional scale, which is pretty cool and very scary when you await the feedback from both the brewery and the consumer!    I actually started brewing “professionally”, accidentally when I was a student, I really got back into it when I looked at putting a brewery in at the old pub, way back when and have been brewing ever since, our recently July 4th party, there was more homebrewed beer than commercial beer!    This past trip to California, I have been drinking amazing homebrew, from Chad Moshier, Mike McDole, and Mike Mraz, IPA’s and Sours, that were awesome!  (Check out the Brewing Network and this article in the Sacramento Bee for some indication just how big this whole scene/movement is! )

Normally for me,  it’s just brewing beers that I can’t get, originally big hoppy American IPA’s, then right through to big coffee stouts and more recently hoppy belgian style beers, (somewhat been “spoiled” buy, lol).  I still brew fairly regularly, I have been goofing around with Oak, fruits and adjunct cereals for fun to see if I can really nail a few different styles; in fact I think just learning to brew an IPA, a Pale Ale, Stout and Belgian would be enough, and just keep rebrewing them and refining your pracitce is more than enough. I wish that I had a decent homebrew store local to me, and  I just wish the water here would be more conducive to rounder beers,  it’s just so damn hard.

I believe that homebrewing really is a great foundation, even a basis of the American craft beer revolution, perhaps even a better foundation of knowledge than any out there.   You can learn to appreciate the finesse that some brewers out there have, digest the nuances and importantly be really amazed by what is often percieved as a “simple” beer.

anyway, what prompted this blog post, was this excellent “homebrewed” video, an homage to the excellent “I am a Craft Brewer” film professionally produced by Greg Koch of Stone Brewing.

Watch it here, the homebrew’d version, and excellent work it is too!

Peter and Phil talk: Humulus Lupulus

Humulus Lupulus.

Humulus lupulus (Common hop) is a species of Humulus in the Cannabaceae family. (from Wikipedia)
Common hop is a dioecious, perennial herbaceous climbing plant which sends up new shoots in early spring and dies back to the cold-hardy rhizome in autumn.  The flower cones of the plant, known as hops, are used in the production of beer to impart bitterness and flavor, and for their preservative qualities.”

sunset over Kentish hopyards, near Harbledown

Growing up and living in in the hop growing county of Kent, hop poles have been something of a background to here for much of my life, and now somethin I am more curious about.  The public house that I grew up in was annually decorated with hop bines, the various aroma permeating the pub from harvest through to about October, one thing I will immediately advise against is using Admiral as a decorative hop purely because everyone thought that the pub cat had pee’d everywhere, to the extent that they were removed somewhat rapidly.

Maintaining this interest in the Hop has gone to the extent that I have a growing collection of rhizomes in the back garden, last years harvest a bumper crop of Fuggles that some found their way to a green hop beer brewed at home and the rest dried in the roof of the house and used over the next few months batches of homebrew.

home grown!

home grown!

Where has it gone from there?  I am sure we have all gone through phases in our lives, going faster, louder music, smellier deodorants, bigger sunglasses and relating rapidly to beer, NEED MORE HOPS.     I suppose this, as the stuff that I normally write is not in chronological order, so… don’t worry about this making absolute sense, as I am currently drinking one of the marker hoppy beers in the world today, Pliny the Elder.  Pliny who set about recording many plants and their uses.

Interesting Pliny, the chap who gave hops their name -Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia, 14, 149) must have thought that the Celts from northwest Europe were experienced brewers, because he intimated that they had evolved a means of enhancing the shelf-life of beer, when he said:  “‘The nations of the West have their own intoxicant made from grain soaked in water there are a number of ways ofmaking it in the various provinces of Gaul and Spain and under different names though the principle is the same. The Spanish provinces have by this time even taught us that these liquors will bear  being kept a long time.” What, I wonder, was the method that some of the Celtiberians used to preserve beer? Did it involve the use of hops? Pliny’s observation that  there were a number of ways of making beer, suggests that the technology  might have been developed independently by a multiplicity of  indigenous peoples in this part of Europe; maybe European brewing know-how did not necessarily emanate directly from Egypt and Mesopotamia.

When did hops first come to the UK?  or England? The rhyme about hops I really love, my love of beer and carp fishing combined in one rhyme, probably the only rhyme that I can quote, and thankfully exists in several versions, so I have an excuse when I miss quote. “Hops and turkeys,14 carp and beer, Came into England all in a year.” There is a version is the one quoted by John Banister (sometimes spelled Bannister) in his 1799 Synopsis of Husbandry, in which he uses the distich to support his assertion that “hops were first planted in England in 1511”.  To further look at this, John Laurence, who, in his New System of Agriculture (1726), states quite  categorically (without any evidence), “Hops were first brought from Flanders to England, Anno 1524, in the 15th year of K.Henry the 8th: before which Alehoof Wormwood etc. was generally used for the  preservation of Drink.” Dowell (1888) is more specific, and maintains that hops were introduced to England from “Artois in the beer-brewing Netherlands”, around 1525, I can easily assume nothing to do with that Artiois.  Prior, there was an aversion to the use of hops for brewing, because some of the English establishment regarded it to be a Protestant plant, must have been a peculiarly English attitude, because the same author recounts how hops were known to be used for brewing in Spain around this time.

If you want to read further into the history of hops, please do as I have, and get yourself a copy of the excellent RSC book by Ian Hornsey, “A History of Brewing“, it makes great loo side reading.

And to Modern Day, sometime ago, I guess 5 years ago now, I went back to San Francisco and San Diego to find Extreme Hop Usage: American Pale Ales, American IPA’s right through to their big cousins Double IPA‘s and the now not uncommon Triple IPA, probably to satisfy a curiosity and observe these “monster” beers in their natural environment.   First up was the excellent Stone Ruination.    I made the pilgrimage up to Russian River, sat and quaffed Pliny the Younger, Russian River IPA and the Blind Pig.    A few minutes googling will give you the history that Vinnie Cilurzo has been credited with the invention of the Double IPA, with his Blind Pig brew, originally from the time when the brewery was part of the Corbel Winery, in Temecula, California.   He’s since moved the brewery to Santa Rosa continuing on this amazing road of awesome beers that drag beer lovers from all corners of the world to Santa Rosa, for much more than just the wines from that area.

Other breweries from the northern California  have gone onto brew hop forward beers, ones of note for me, Triple Rock IMAX, Drakes Denogonizer, Valley Brew UberHoppy and Marin/Moylans big IPA’s.   Brewers such as James Costas, Denise and Arnie, Rodger Davis and Steve Altamari have pushed the boundaries of hop usage.     But it’s really Southern Californian, notably the sun kissed idil of San Deigo and their 30+something working brewhouses, in a city with a population of 1,256,951 (google it!) that have taken this Big IPA to it’s heart, brewers such as Jeff Bagby, Tomme Arthur, Peter Zein, Lee Chase and Yuseff Cherney.   Between them they have given us brews such as Hop15, WipeOut IPA, Stone, Dorado, and the Alesmith brews.   The palate of flavour driven from their usage of such notable hops, the three C’s – Centennial, Chinook, Cascade – to the newer Amarillo, Simcoe to the very new Citra and Apollo varieties stimulating creativity from these experts in the brew house.  The amazing Double IPA festival, held every year at the excellent Bistro in Hayward, California is one of the best places to really experience real diverstity of flavour that a Double IPA can be.

I have always believed that beer is a great representation of the locality, big IPA’s, be they of the single, double or triple bias is very much a signature of the West Coast of the US.   Jamil Zanicheff, Dr. Scott Lothamer and the ever so cool Mike “Tasty” McDole of the excellent Brewing Network have both suggested on a number of occasions that these styles of beers are what the West Coast has given the world of beer.  I would hope that having read that little rambling intro you might agree with these super knowledgeable people.

But what happens locally?   Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery has been a keen exponent of very locally sourced hops.  Harvest selections of individual farms Goldings being someting that he’s become especially known for.   We’ve also seen brewers such as the very respected Thornbridge Hall using American varieties to create their excellent Jaipur IPA, and moved on to using New Zealand varieties such as Nelson Sauvin for their excellent Kipling. There are of course many more varietials coming on-line every year.   We also have brewers here now, brave enough to try to brew big Californian Style beers, Justin at MoorBrewing in deepest darkest somerset has been brave enough, some might say silly enough too, to brew an amazing big big hopppppppy beer called JJJ IPA, scaling 9% with the massive American hops to match, but what else would you expect from a Californian?   I noted on sometime ago, that if this was brewed in California, it would garner far louder plaudits. I for one look forward to the recent bottling coming to condition…

But, is this hop usage at all new?  well, it depends where your clock started ticking.  I could throw Sierra Nevada Celebration into the ring as the first Double IPA, double the hops, double the malts… But in the UK?  Looking back, the first few times I bumped into American hops, or American hopping rates, was with breweries such as Roosters.   Shaun Franklin was probably the earliest exponent of US hops inthe UK, I would have to check with the very knowledgeable Gazza Prescot to confirm this, but it’ll do for the moment.    Anyway, breweries/brewers such as Oakham, DarkStar and even locally with what was once Swale Brewery and continuing to Hopdaemon brewery with the link with Tonie Prins, became exponents of US hops.   Not in the big IPA way like you’d see in San Diego, but more in the British way,  notably beers like JHB from Oakham, Mount Hood hops to the fore, but in a 3.8% light golden ale.   This made beer exciting, bright grapefruit zesty and citrus notes made the beer “modern” , vs the “old fashioned” brown/copper beers.

But, why are these big American hops so pungent, aromatic and distinctive where as the UK varietals can be seen as somewhat stoic?  So I went to see a friend Dr.Peter Darby.   Peter is one of a handful of hopbreeders in the world, and just so happens to be one of the best.     Of course I don’t get to see Peter as often as I’d like, it would be a too hard on my little brain to comprehend, with out some serious study time.  But, of I went armed with some questions that I had a call out for.    One of the first, and seemingly most requested question was  New world flavours from UK hops – “a very tricky subject”  said Peter.  I was once told “You ask a simple question…” but not from Peter.    He went into to explain that the growing region makes a huge difference, just look at a styrian golding and fuggle – the terroir is the massive effect.  A Styrian Golding is actually the very same hop as a Fuggle, but just grown in Slovenia.    The most appropriate word is perhaps Terroir and the effects therein.

This also came up in subject with Kim from North Peak brewing when she was over recently, that there are Cascade and Centennial being grown in Northern Michigan far from their home territory of the Oregon/Washington valleys.   She’s waiting to see what the Cascade might be like, especially when the recent inovation of Argentinian Cascade, that smell and perform nothing like Oregon/Washington grown Cascade.    Peter was keen to express that Growing of hops in the new world will naturally produce a more intense experience. Our climate really allows for nuances and subtlety. Peter suggested if you were to look toward a new world note Bodicea, Pioneer and and Bramling Cross for some flavour notes.   There are newer high Alpha varieties such as Admiral, Herald and Joan that I have and shall be playing with on the homebrew system.   Peter says he’s developing new variety specifically for aroma profiles – such as a dwarf cascade seedling – that’s overlay for the sensory profile to UK grown cascade – almost identical. But still this isn’t as pungent as a US grown Cascade.   Mind, at the English hop competition held at the big brewery at Marstons. The winning sample was an English grown Cascade from Tony Redsels farm in Faversham. This was a beer brewed at Shepherd Neames Micro Brewery.    I sort of wish that Peter was encouraged to spend more time breeding for selection of highly aromatic varieties, rather than picking ease or Alpha acid content.  I mentioned this, and Peter was keen to mention that First Gold was new aroma, a marmalade/citrus note hop part of a recent program since 1995 for newer hops, including Sovereign.

Peter Darby.

Complicated isn’t it.   Just for a little green flower that once was a hedgerow weed.

After all the brewing questions were fielded, we lead on to the often quoted or question of Hops and Marijuana – Hops and hemp are very closely related – they are so closely related you can graft one one to other. Peter did mention research had been done as to this, but no canabanoid will exchanged – maintaining very separate species.   They are of a close relation to the Common or garden “utrica dioica” or nettles to you and me, the interesting note is that they are so close you can stimulate cone elongation – something sometime practiced in Germany.  Just as the pests are mutual too. Mulberry are reputed to be close.

Jeff from Lovibonds brewery, and also the head brewer at the royal warrant accorded Luxters Brewery posed the question of seed content. When this question was posed to Peter, Prior to 1904 it was a random and poorly understood process!   he says that going showed that research at Wye that seed bearing crop was heavy yielding and critically higher quality. Up to that point it must be remembered that they are “diatous”- separate distinct sexes, some seed will obviously be male or some female – only the female plants are used in brewing as they are the cone bearers.  Prior to 1904 hop pollination was a random occurrence, prior science hadn’t developed the sexual therory of plants. Hop growers didn’t understand – as such becoming varietals.  Seeders were reported to be in the gardens, obviously now that they known, are Male. Prior to 1904 it was a random and poorly understood process! One of the first prices of study at Wye was the by famous professors Salmon and Amos, Amos of the early bird goldings. They were looking at the value of the male plant of hops, to get past the early chaos of hop growing. The principal disease was powdery mildew at the time – the susceptible period is the flowering phase. As such good pollination reduced the mildew. Quite simple really. As such now one in 400 in a hop garden will be male to give uniform pollination.

The rest of the world doesn’t have the problem with mildew.

Having met people like Peter, his like in New Zealand and the guys from HopUnion in the US, I somewhat feel that they miss out on some of the limelight afforded to brewers and writers.   These are the guys that give us these amazing little flowers, we can use, combine to present exciting, vibrant and interesting beers, be they from Oregon or Kent.