One of the best things about this site is how easy it is to find kindred spirits and make great new friends.
Last year, John and I had the privilege to meet beer writer Chris Morris and his best bud Caitlin (Caitlin, I hope I spelled your name right,lol), and we instantly hit it off over a joyful conversation about craft beer. (You can check out Chris’s regular column on NJ.com here). I also found out he is an avid homebrewer; so much so that he and his brother Tim have begun their own little company, Black Dog Brewing. Though they’ve only gotten as far as registering as an LLC this year (it’s a tough biz, with the need for investors and licenses and all), they are serious. And I found out just how serious at last month’s “Brew Off.”
Chris and Tim have a little sibling rivalry going and often like to pit each other’s creations against each other amongst their friends. Last year, they decided to make it an official event, to see which brother’s brew reigns supreme. I had the honor of being invited to the latest competition at Chris’s house in Metuchen.
What I came to understand is that the Morris brothers don’t do anything half-assed. When I arrived, there was a large crowd of family and friends, and tables set with tasting glasses, water for cleansing the glass, and pretzels for cleansing the palate. I was also handed a judge’s sheet that had official categories of discernment such as aroma, flavor, astringency, etc. What can I say? The beer geek in me ate it up.
First, we got to feast on a few tidbits of choice: Chris’s dad”s smoked brisket (OMG, so good), and a few of his friend’s brew-inspired creations, such as homemade pretzels with beer cheese and chicken bites crusted with spent brewing grains. Then it was time to get down and serious as the brews were poured.
The only style to be tasted was “American Pale Ale”, to match the agreed-upon style of the homebrews, and create a uniform basis on which to judge.There would be commercial brews mixed in with the brother’s brews, so we wouldn’t know which was which. The first glass had a bit of haziness to it: thinking I was just too-smart, I judged it to be a homebrew off the bat (it’s hard to remove all the excess, spent yeast at home), and figured I’d easily be able to tell which two were homebrewed…but not so fast. The second, then ALL of them had a haze to them. Hmmm, these guys are clever. What’s really funny is when it came to distinguishing which were the homebrews and which were the commercial brands, well…I honestly couldn’t tell. Which says a lot about their brewing ability.
In the end, my friend Chris lost to Tim, though he was gracious about it. However, my sheet reflected that I prefered his brew best, so I was able to remain loyal to my friend. What’s really interesting, however, were the comments on the commercial brews, once all the sheets were tallied. It seems that everyone preferred what was revealed as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a good old-fashioned staple. Even funnier was that the brew that everyone was certain was a “Bud Light” or “Coors” (and panned mercilessly) was, in fact, Rogue Juniper Pale Ale. Ouch. There was, in fact, no major commercial brewery represented.
In the end, what we all got out of it was good beer, and good times with new friends. And, aside from watching the possible birth of a new microbrewery, what’s better than that?