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2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition winners (and a gripe)

October 26, 2012 By: mike Category: Competition, Events, Homebrew, Memphis, Travelin'

Mike at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am

For homebrewers, one of the highlights of the Great American Beer Festival in Denver is the Pro-Am Competition.

Homebrewers from across the U.S. who are members of the American Homebrewers Association team up with professional brewers and scale up homebrew recipes on professional brewing systems. In its seventh year, the 2012 competition earlier this month saw a record number of entries, with 94 different beers. All the beers were served over the three days at GABF, and many of the homebrews were really fantastic.

I was lucky enough to enter this year’s competition with Memphis’ Ghost River Brewing, and my Red Hop Ale was served on the first night of the festival. (Click here to read all about my awesome brew day at Ghost River’s sister brewery, Boscos Squared.)

And while that’s me in the photo above with the pitcher, I didn’t actually get to serve my beer at GABF. The photo, sadly, was staged before the doors opened. Only volunteers were allowed to serve beers at the homebrew booth, a policy I really don’t understand. I was told by the Pro-Am organizer that the presence of homebrewers serving their beers somehow overshadowed the other beers at the booth whose brewer could not make it to Denver — a  really lame excuse. I was told I could stand in front of the booth, if I really wanted to.

One of the main reasons I like brewing for festivals is the opportunity to get immediate feedback — good and bad — from folks who try my beer. And what better setting to get feedback from beer lovers than the Great American Beer Festival? Making it all the way to Denver and being told I couldn’t serve my beer was a real disappointment. Brewers from professional breweries are encouraged to staff their booths and pour beer at the festival, and I hope the Pro-Am organizers re-think this policy for the Pro-Am booth. Homebrewers stand to learn a lot from those brief interactions with beer drinkers.

Anyway, I was thrilled to be at the festival. And to the winners below, cheers!

Gold: More Fun Blonde, New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, Colo.

Brewmaster: New Belgium Brewing Co., AHA Member: Jay Shambo

Silver: Pointon’s Proper – An English Mild, RAM Restaurant and Brewery – Wheeling, Ill.
Brewmaster: Lanny Fetzer, AHA Member: Scott Pointon

Bronze: Classic American Pilsner, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, Minn.
Brewmaster: Mike Hoops, AHA Member: Kyle Sisco

Memphis made, Denver bound: Brewing the Red Hop Ale at Boscos

September 10, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Competition, Craft beer, Memphis

It’s every homebrewer’s dream: leaving the garage and getting to brew your beer at a real brewery.

Last month, I was lucky enough to do just that.

As the winner of  2012 Boscos/Bluff City Brewers Pro-Am competition, a qualifier for the Great American Beer Festival Pro Am in Denver, I brewed my Red Hop Ale on the professional system at Boscos Squared in Memphis.

The Red Hop Ale, an American Amber/Red Ale, was inspired by Green Flash Brewing’s Hop Head Red. I tried it in California a couple years ago and it left me wanting to brew a hoppy, red beer.

Working under the tutelage of Boscos founding partner Chuck Sypeck and head brewer Adam Hargrove, we adapted my 5-gallon recipe, scaling it up to brew on the 7-barrel system at the brewpub.

On brew day, fellow FuzzyBrew blogger and homebrewing buddy Grant Smith was able to join me. Adam was gracious enough to let us do most of the work while showing us how to operate a system that was far more complex than our homebrewing set-ups.

It was undoubtedly one of the biggest thrills of my life, and Grant and I took plenty of photos, from start to finish.


Boscos - grainThe Red Hop Ale recipe called for 540 pounds of grain: 450 pounds of pale ale malt, 40 pounds of Caramel 40, 40 pounds of carapils malt and 10 pounds of roasted barley.

Boscos - mashtunA view of the spotless mashtun from above, before adding in the grains.

Boscos - Mike pours grain into mashtunHere’s me adding in a 50-pound bag of grain. The process of brewing at a brewpub is similar to homebrewing, except for the scale. Instead of a spoon for stirring, we used an oar.

Boscos - Grant and Adam workingGrant (left) and Adam at work on a narrow ladder. The brewery at Boscos is tiny, and three people is probably the most that can work in it at any one time.

Boscos - Mike stirring the mashHere’s a shot of me, taken from the restaurant looking into the brewery, as I stir the mash. Brewing is not easy work! My shoulders were sore the next day.

Boscos - spargeDuring the sparge, the wort was drained from the mash and the grains were rinsed with hot water.

Boscos - Beer moves into kettleA first look at the red ale as it’s moved into the boil kettle. The roasted barley gave the beer its nice color.

Bocos - brew kettleSteam rises from the kettle as it fills up with wort.

Boscos - hopsThe Red Hop Ale was brewed with Columbus, Centennial and Cascade hops.

Boscos - Adam looks at recipeAdam documented every step and measurement throughout the brew day.

Boscos - weighing hopsUnlike homebrewing, where hop additions often measure less than an ounce, at a brewpub you may add a pound or more at a time.

Boscos - Mike is ready to add hopsReady to add the first hops into the kettle. The smell was glorious.

Boscos - Mike adds hopsHere I’m adding 50 grams of gypsum, which helps bring out the hops.

Boscos - spent grainsAfter the mash, it was time to clean out the mashtun.

Boscos - Grant shovels spent grainsGrant shovels the spent grains from the mash tun. We filled up three trash cans to the very top.

Boscos - fermentersA view of three of the fermenters at Boscos.

Boscos - Grant turns on the pumpYou can see how cramped the brewery is in this photo. Here, Grant operates a pump.

Boscos - fermenterRed Hop Ale is about to go into this shiny fermenter.

Boscos - Grant sanitizes the fermenterGrant meticulously sprays sanitizer on the fermenter.

Boscos-Mike adds yeastAction shot! Here I’m pitching the yeast. After that, we quickly sealed up the tank and we were done.

Boscos - brew kettle trubInside the kettle, the bottom was caked with hop residue after the beer was moved to the fermenter. I got to spray it out as the clean-up started.

Boscos- Clean upAnother shot of the brewery as Adam cleans up.

Boscos - Adam in the brew kettleTo get the kettle REALLY clean, Adam jumped in and scrubbed it out, capping off an incredibly fun day.


The Red Hop Ale is now on sale for a limited time. And as part of a special charitable fundraising effort, Boscos will donate $1 for every pint of Red Hop Ale sold to the Mid-South Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, so grab a pint soon.

Thanks to Boscos and the Bluff City Brewers & Connoisseurs, I’ll be traveling to Denver in October for the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am competition. The Red Hop Ale will be competing against other beers from teams of homebrewers and craft beer professionals from across the country.

Thanks again to Chuck and Adam for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Sampling the Red Hop Ale

Coming soon to Boscos in Memphis: Red Hop Ale

September 01, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Homebrew, Memphis

I was thrilled to see that my Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am beer — the Red Hop Ale — is being teased on the menu at Boscos.

I brewed it on Aug. 18, and it’s been fermenting away at Boscos.

It will go on sale in the next few weeks, so be on the lookout for it. And I’ll be posting soon about my experiences brewing on the big system at Boscos.

Coming soon: Red Hop Ale