BEER CLINIC :: Beer Doc Takes 3rd in Homebrew Competition

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on February 18, 2013

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.”

Turnagin Arm, Alaska c/o www.akphotograph.com

Turnagin Arm, Alaska (courtesy www.akphotograph.com)

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.

The Winning Brew

The Winning Brew

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.)

The Winning Brewer... and Carl!

The Winning Brewer… and Carl!

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!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura February 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

Congratulations!

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Carol, the beer doctor March 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Thanks Laura. Till I see you next time, I’ll raise a glass to you!

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fred tasker February 26, 2013 at 10:49 am

Congrats!!! I had no idea making beer could be so complicated. That’s probably why the zinfandel I made 20 years ago lost all of its color after a year and looked like weak tea. You should give classes!
Fred T

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Carol, the beer doctor March 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Ah, beer is so much easier than wine! I would never attempt anything that complicated. You were courageous. It’s hard enough to learn the wine styles and pick out a good one.

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Susan Garstki McManus February 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

Congrats, cousin!

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Carol, the beer doctor March 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Thank you! I’ve drunk it all up, but I will remember to bring some good beer to the next family reunion, as we are all a bunch of beer-swilling Chicagoans deep down inside.

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Lynn and Gene February 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Congrats Carol,
love the name
proud of your 2nd try spirit
you owe a big debt of gratitude to Alaska and Michigan, from the sounds of this reported success

Chow

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Carol, the beer doctor March 2, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thanks for the congrats! Yes, have to thank Alaska and Michigan. And my parents for being Polish and giving me a love of beer, and Katharine & Fred for sending the hops and … oops this isn’t the Oscars and my time is up.

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