A few weeks ago I entered one of my homebrews, Turnagain Arms English Ale, in a regional homebrewing contest, and won third place!
Every homebrew has a story, of course. My first beer love was the English bitter, which I drank in pubs while living in London. It’s difficult to find a true English bitter on draft in the states, since they don’t keep well, so I decided to make my own. My first attempt about two years ago used a similar recipe, but it was a failure. The yeast, Wyeast 1098 British Ale Yeast, fermented very slowly, clumped, and produced an off taste. It was possibly contaminated, but definitely unpalatable. I discarded the entire batch and promised myself I would try it again some day. Last year I was given a gift of Fuggles hops from friends at Empire Hop Farms, in Leelanau County, a hop-growing region of Michigan. As the only use for Fuggles is English bitters, I had no excuses. I had to “Try Again.”
In the summer of 2012 we vacationed in Alaska (!!) and I was struck by the beauty of the inlet, “Turnagin Arm,” and the good Alaska beers. Inspired to homebrew, I planned to “Try Again,” with an English ale, and merged the two names for the triple pun, Turnagain Arms. The inlet, the brewing mandate, and a typical English pub name. I started the brew in September, and bottled it in early October, shortly before Sandy ravaged the East coast. It was delicious straight out of the fermenter, and kept well for several months in bottles. Like the English, I learned that a bitter doesn’t keep well due to its low alcohol and low hop content, thus giving rise to the IPA style. But I digress.
When the homebrew contest was announced in January, I provided only two unlabeled bottles and the beer style; the three judges used the American Homebrewers Association scoring system. At 111 points out of 150, I placed 3rd, after a Baltic Porter (Dan Scheffler), and Bluemar Pale Ale (Ed Elliot)! It received high marks in all categories, with “True to style and well balanced.”
The secret was in the yeast–WPL 002 English Ale Yeast–the best-behaved brewing yeast I have ever used. I worked with traditional English ingredients, including two bland malts (British Crystal and Munton’s Extra Light) with a small amount of English Black Patent, for color. The beer is flavored with traditional English-style hops: Fuggles (60 min and 45 min), East Kent Goldings, and Whitebread Golding Variety (WGV) hops. The Michigan-grown Fuggles were a good substitute for the typical earthy-tasting English Fuggles, but a bit milder, so I added some Brewer’s Gold hops to give a little more depth. The end result was beautifully light-gold with a typical English taste and mouthfeel. I don’t have a kegging system, so I put it up in bottles with extra sugar to bottle-condition…and it’s almost all gone. (Contact me if you want the homebrew recipe.)
This contest was sponsored by Bart & Urby’s bar in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Carl’s Beer Tours, and Sam Adam’s Brewery. I won an orange t-shirt, gift certificates to Bart & Urbys, to Carl’s Beer Tours, and some nifty Sam Adams beer glasses which are perfectly sized for English ales. I am looking forward to using all of these.
Thanks to everyone!