March 11, 2013

Lessons Learned from a Homebrew Competition

So it’s been a couple weeks since I participated in Brewerie’s Homebrew Frest.  I’ve been tied up with some other things, but I wanted to share my interesting experience on dispensing soda at a beer event. I feel I've come out with a few lessons to learn from for next year, or for any other homebrew competition.

Being so busy pouring, this is the best picture I got of my setup.  Ginger Ale in bottles, kegs of root beer and coconut lime under the table.

Types of People
The event itself was not set up as a competition with judges like some homebrew events, but there were people’s choice awards.  It was $16 for a ticket, which gained you entry to the hall where brewers were set up to let you taste their wares.  With that in mind, there seem to be three types of people that attend a homebrew fest of this nature. 

The Guzzler:  The Guzzler is there to drink as much beer as he can to get the most bang for his buck.  He doesn’t care what variety it is or who is serving it.  He just wants beer.  I even had some Guzzlers come up to my table and just hold out their glass without even looking at what I had available.  I filled up one Guzzler’s glass with my ginger ale while he was talking to someone else, just holding out his glass to me.  It was a little awkward, and I still wonder what his first reaction was when he took that first sip.  I don’t know because he walked off before I could explain what it was. 

Connoisseurs-in-Training: The Connoisseur-in-Training (CIT) is there to explore the different tastes and to enjoy the social atmosphere.  They're the ones who enjoy craft beer, but don't care how it's made.  CITs don’t necessarily care what’s in the recipe, or what makes a certain style into what it is.  All they want to know is what style it is, possibly its ABV, and that's about it.  I would say this encompasses most of the people there.

The Homebrewer: What's a homebrew fest without homebrewers.  Most of the homebrewers there were busy showing of their pride and joy.  But there certainly are plenty there that get around to the other tables.  This being a "festival" rather than a full out "competition" the atmosphere was light and friendly rather than critical.

I guess there was a fourth type there, the Mormon boy in the corner serving sodas.  Yeah, that was me trying to sort of fit in.

Setup
Not having attended an event like this, I wasn't sure what to expect.  I've served my soda at church picnics before and have gone through it rather quickly on those occasions, so I wanted to plan for lot's more people.  I had three recipes on the entry form, and I thought that perhaps 10 gallons of each would probably get me through with a little bit left over.  I didn't fully realize that people are there merely to taste, not to drink full glasses.  So each serving was about 1/4 the size that I had in mind, and surprise, I only went through about 1/4 of what I had on hand.  Funny how that works out. 
I took two flavors in kegs, and one flavor bottled.  I would have liked to have had a Draft Box to hook the kegs up to, that would have been much easier, but I didn't want to go through that much expense and I didn’t have much time to build one. 
So the lesson here is make sure you plan your setup well ahead of time.  The bottles were great, and easy to pour from but added a lot more bulk to hauling things around.  The kegs took less trips back and forth from the car, but the picnic taps were drippy and sticky.  I also had to keep fiddling with my gauge to get the serving pressure right on one of the regulators, this could have been better planned.  Make sure you figure these things ahead of time before you go.
It's hard to say which is easier in the end.  I preferred serving from the bottles despite the extra work before with filling and after with cleaning.  If I had a draft box, I might be singing a different tune.

Be Ready for the Aftermath
Getting ready was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it.  However, having only gone through a fraction of what I had made, now I'm stuck with a lot more soda than I'd care to drink by myself in a short period of time.  And without preservatives or that much refrigerator space, I think I may be out of luck.  I hadn't thought about that.  Plus there's the cleaning of all the bottles, kegs, and tap lines.  Be sure you're ready to take care of it all when you're done.

Keep a good supply of CO2
My CO2 gauge took a beating during carbonation, so I thought I had more than I did.  So the lesson here is two-fold: 1)Don’t drop your gauges.  I’m not sure why I haven’t learned this one yet.  Even though I know how to fix them, it’s still a huge pain to deal with.  2) If you’re going to carbonate 7 kegs, make sure you have enough to serve them.  I ended up just barely squeezing by on the tank I had.  I served all that I needed to for the event, but it could have been a problem if I hadn’t

Have Fun
This is sort of a no brainer, but you’re there to enjoy the atmosphere and to share/develop your talent.  This isn’t the Olympics.  You’re not on international TV.  The only person you’re letting down by not winning anything is yourself, and it doesn’t have to be such a downer.  For me, it was fun to see grown people light up like little kids.  Some would timidly approach my table, but then light up when they tasted it, realizing that soda isn’t just for little kids.  Others would almost sneak over with a little smile like a 3yr old going for a cookie car.  A middle aged gentleman commented to me, “This is what ginger ale tasted like 50 years ago.”  He didn’t look much more than 50, and given his smile, I knew that was a quite a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better compliment.

Be Open to Criticism
I liked the atmosphere that the Brewerie had created by making it a “festival” rather than a “competition.”  It made it feel like people were more appreciative of each other instead of competing against one another.  But I do feel like there is a place for constructive criticism.  Most of the comments I got in that regard were “This would be good with…” But I would have been open to much more.  I felt like this was an opportunity for me to test the waters and see how well my flavors were received.  I went with basic flavors because of the audience, and the fact that they’d never had a homebrewer present soda before.  So in a way, I almost wanted someone to come out and say, “It needs more root beer flavor,” (Because it sure did, unless I wanted to call it cream soda.) or “It’s a little on the sweet side, you may need to cut back a bit.”


1 comment:

  1. That's a very nice blog post and thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I personally love soft drinks. In parties also I never preferred alcohol to it.

    Regards,
    Finn Felton
    Kopi Luwak

    ReplyDelete

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