The Blue Bonnet Brew-Off
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.
The last time we went to Dallas was in the 80s for a wedding. It’s a good 600 miles away from Nashville. For years we had been hearing about The Bluebonnet, and depending on who you talk to, it’s either the biggest or one of the biggest in the country.
We left at 9pm and drove all night, taking turns to sleep. Of course “sleeping well” while “someone else is driving” are often close to antonyms. Luckily I didn’t wake up this time in sheer terror thinking I had fallen asleep while driving. After adjusting some bad directions from the net we arrived at the location of the event: the Westin.
We checked in, took our stuff up to the room and then checked in as judges; signed up for a pub crawl.
No rest for the weary judges: on to the first session. This year they had about 1,600 entries. At most competitions they ask for two bottles of each entry in case, but I was told they ask for three. That means about 5,000 bottles. I had the exact number, but this post reverted to a former version, for some reason… (again!) and I lost the stats. Time to call the exterminator, better known as our net tech, here.
Then we went to the hotel’s hospitality room where several brewers had provided taps.
We missed the dinner that night because we registered too late. In the morning our first speaker was Matt Brynildson: Firestone Walker Brewmaster, Great American Beer Festival Brewmaster of the Year and World Beer Cup Champion Brewmaster. He spoke of mashing and enzymes; also sheer which is what happens when stirring grist meet objects in the mash tun and how that effects the grain in the mash. He also showed pictures of German, Belgian and English breweries. One of the German breweries looked like it came straight out of some 50s Sci Fi movie, like “Forbidden Planet.”
Here’s one of the mash mixers…
And one of his enzyme charts, then a mashing schedule.
Here’s a better picture of Matt, and then our second speaker, Shaun O’Sullivan.
Matt did a really good job, yet I must admit I was even more interested in what Shaun had to tell us. I had never seen how beer was canned and, despite technical malfunctions, he did a good job explaining the process. I’m going to see if the Professor can get permission to use some of his talk. One of the advantages of canning is that, while the initial cost is high, cans are 100% recyclable so it’s a savings in the long run. It took a while to figure out how to do it because there needed to be a lining to maintain flavor. They started with cone tops that mimic bottles in opening. That’s no accident: they wanted the consumer to be comfortable with the transition. Then those infamous pop tops that more than a few of us cut ourselves on, then the familiar tabs we have now that keep can and opening device together for recycling. So many pops in the previous version ended up floating around the house it was annoying. I remember.
Some of these pictures didn’t come out as well as I wished they had…
This is a can sealer. The can is filled and then this device literally spins it sealed then it is washed to sanitize the exterior due to beer spillage.
Then on to the second day of judging. I’m sure it was just the beer that made it so blurry. (Yeah, right.)
As sheets were gathered results tallied, we went on a pub crawl where I got to meet Louis Pasteur personally. I know: he’s dead. One of our practical jokers decided he’d bring over a statuette and have me personally meet Louis. He approached me from the back and I spun around, then leaned forward. Ouch.
Nothing to do with alcohol. Nothing at all. These were mostly multi-tap bars. We couldn’t get on the tour with the one independent brewpub listed, and we already knew the beer at Gordon Biersch. (BJ’s doesn’t qualify. They brew way off premises.)
Here’s the award ceremony. Look at all the steins!
This was our judge guru: Dave Girard, at the award ceremony, president of the Knights of the Brown Bottle: homebrew club. He did his damnedest to make sure we were all experts in the categories we judged.
A few notes: this is not inexpensive by any means. Do be aware that the Westin charges extra for WiFi and if you open the water bottles they provide in the room. Judges are not comp’d for their efforts, but it’s still well worth the trip. As one member of Music City Homebrewers said; “Everyone should go at least once.”
Long day, we woke up the next morning to snow on our cars… in Texas? In late March? As we weaved our way back to I-30 between flipped cars and the smashed remains of vehicles we wonder, “Should we come back?”
Sure would be fun.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”
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