Inside every successful commercial brewer beats the heart of a home brewer.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a brewery owner who didn't get started with plastic buckets in a garage or basement. Many of the dozens of small breweries that have opened in Colorado this year were launched by home brewers looking to share their beer recipes with the world.
The All Colorado Beer Festival in Colorado Springs on Saturday is a celebration of this rich beer landscape. No out-of-state brewers are welcome among the 64 who will be pouring. The event raises money for Theatreworks, Homefront Cares and The Gazette's Empty Stocking Fund.
But what about the brewers who haven't yet made the leap to selling their beer? For every Red Leg or Great Storm, both startups recently launched in Colorado Springs by home brewers, how many people in the Pikes Peak region are making great beer solely for their friends?
I set out to find out.
I assembled a panel of experienced beer judges from the club Brew Brothers of Pikes Peak: club president Ned Brush, Rich Mock and vice president John Haven, who will oversee judging at the All Colorado Beer Festival. I joined amateur judges Mark Lutinski, one of the festival organizers; and Alyson Hartwig, founder of the Brewers Broads club and a brewer at Pikes Peak Brewing Co.
I put a call out for the best home-brewed beer in town, through social media, these pages and signs in home-brew stores. Brewers responded with more than 70 entries, and on a long, beer-soaked afternoon Oct. 19, we picked the best from anonymously poured samples. As I found out, it's not only about selecting our favorite beers, but beers that most conform to rigid styles set by the Beer Judge Certification Program in aroma, appearance and taste.
I also found out there are some pretty amazing home brewers in Colorado Springs. Here are the five best. Each received a pair of free tickets to the beer festival.
Ryan Martz: light hybrid/amber hybrid
Martz has only been brewing for about three years, but his Das Kuken, a German-style Kolsch, blew the judges away. Light, with a subtle fruit and mellow maltiness, it easily rose above the five others in the category.
In fact, the beer resembled a Kolsch you might find in Germany so much, the judges named Martz's beer "Best in Show" from among the five category winners.
Martz used pilsner, Vienna and white wheat malts, Hallertauer Mittelfrueh hops and a Kolsch yeast.
Todd Horak: Belgian and French ale/German wheat and rye
After serving in Germany in the Air Force in the early 1980s, Horak came home and was "totally dissatisfied with the beers here in the States." So he started making his own and has been brewing for 27 years. His Summer Saison won from among 16 entries. It had the grace of a fruity, spicy flavor, derived from the Belgian yeast. The all-grain recipe also included pale, Munich and Carapils malt, malted wheat and Aurora Slovenian hops.
Josh Bye: porter and stout
Bye worked his way through college at a brew pub in Florida and began home-brewing in 2009 after moving to Colorado and seeing the huge selection of beers available here. His Baltic Ale won from among 15 beers in the category. It should have come as no surprise. The beer has won medals in three other home-brew competitions.
He brewed five gallons fermented with lager yeast and five fermented with ale yeast.
This isn't the last you've heard of Bye. Along with four others, he has signed a lease and is in the process of getting permits to open a brewery on Ore Mill Road, to be named Fossil Brewing Co.
Eric Johnson and Jose Balderrama: India pale ale and American ale
Hopped-up brews are the most popular style of craft beer these days, so there was no surprise this was the largest category, with 22 entries. Though competition was stiff, the Blackout American Amber Ale stood above them all.
Both brewers are techies by day and are "very detailed and process oriented, traits that lend themselves well to brewing," Johnson said. They dry-hopped the beer to bring out the hoppy aroma.
The ale is the "pride and joy of our recipes," and the judges agreed. The bitterness of the hops was well-balanced with the sweetness. While so many of the beers in this category were overloaded with hops, the fact the brewers held back helped tip the scales. "It sure goes down smooth and its not hard to drink a few pints," he said. I agreed, and wished for more.
Channing Law, Michael Scarbalis and Stephen Marzulla: English pale and brown ale
"Why seek out beers we like from other breweries when we could just brew our own?" These three brewers asked themselves that question while sipping in a brewery, and after just one year of home-brewing produced Mellis Dea, the winner from among six entries in this category.
With a strong aroma of honey and roasted chocolate, the beer poured dark brown and impressed the judges for its pleasing sweetness, which lingered on the palate. It was brewed with pale, caramel and chocolate wheat malts, American hops, ale yeast and nearly five pounds of honey. And the secret ingredient?
"Copious amounts of passion, tenacity and love."