The Fall 2012 edition of the bi-annual The Brooklyn Wort was held this past Saturday, October 27th at Public Assembly, a venue in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Wort is an attempt to combine two of my favorite things: a homebrew competition and a beer festival. Local homebrewers sign up and pay an entry fee to serve 5-gallons of their beer to the public and have it judged by both professional brewers and industry insiders. There is a $1000 purse at stake, with a portion awarded by a professional judging panel and a portion awarded based on the popular vote of festival attendees.
From the general public’s perspective, this event looks like a lot of other beer festivals. You choose one of two sessions to attend and pay a $35 entry fee to sample twenty-five different homebrews and eat a light meal (two tacos from Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches and Tacos). You are given a tear sheet of tickets to give to each brewer in exchange for a sample as well as an empty slip to register your personal vote for the best beer.
First impressions are important. Unfortunately, upon arriving at the venue there was a large slow moving line that took nearly 20 minutes to get through. Within the venue, homebrewers were set up in two different rooms, both of which were way too small to accommodate the crowds on hand. Getting to the actual tables in order to receive a sample required quite a bit of maneuvering through the oversold crowd. Do not attend this event if you are claustrophobic or short on patience. When I showed up for the second tasting of the day, there was still a considerable number of people lingering from the first session, which significantly exasperated the problem.
Overcrowding and comfort aside, the most important part of a beer festival is the quality of the beer. In many ways I think the quality of the homebrew being served very much echoes the quality of homebrew in general. Homebrewing is still very much in its nascent stages with the quality improving every year, which means events like this are often a mixed bag. Of course, in a lot of ways you could say the same thing about a commercial craft beer festival. I managed to taste 22 of the 25 beers being served. Of these 22 I rated:
- 5 Great – Would drink well next to solid commercial beers.
- 5 Good – Comparable to an average commercial beer.
- 7 Below average. Some technical flaws or balance problems. Comparable to a handful of bad commercial beers.
- 5 had serious infections or off-flavors. I ran into some seriously phenolic beers, beers tasting like DMS (rotten cabbage), unintentionally sour beers, and beers with big diacetyl problems.
I had a great time chatting with the actual brewers and hearing their reasoning behind recipe formulation. I loved that many brewers were looking for genuine, unabashed feedback on their beers, and that many brought in their recipe sheets. When people ask my opinion (we all have one), it is difficult to tell whether they really want to hear what you are perceiving or simply want a pat on the back. I try to read people, but tend to give my opinion when asked (good or bad). Carefully articulated, honest feedback is the only way to become a better brewer. If you ask for my opinion, you should be willing to take it–good or bad. I expect the same treatment for every beer I make.
My top five brewers and beers:
- Rye Rye My Darling (Rye IPA) – Steve Hanson
- Trois PA (Pale Ale, 100% Brett) – Jonathan Moxey
- Judie Tuzke (Best Bitter) – M. Messenie & T. Lee
- Prunus Maximus (Porter w/ Plum & Chili) – Marco Trauzzi
- The Blushing Goddess (Saison w/ Hibiscus) – Peter Durning