The Delaware State Fair's Battle of the Brews will bring together more than 70 homebrewers and a handful of local craft breweries for beer tastings and competition this Saturday.
Beer used to help Eric Williams relax after long days at his corporate job.
Not drinking it, but making it.
And with every batch he brewed, his passion grew until he found himself dreaming of leaving the corporate world to open his own brewery.
“We still have the same passion as we did when home brewing, if not more,” the Milford resident said as he stood in Mispillion River Brewing, a 5,000-square-foot brewery that he and five other beer aficionados opened in his hometown last year. “Whether you do it at home or professionally, you have to have fun with it.”
Mispillion River Brewing is one of nine craft breweries from the Delmarva Peninsula that will be participating n the Delaware State Fair’s Battle of the Brews Craft Beer Sampling event this Saturday.
Last year, one of the brewery’s co-owners, Scott Perlot, took home second-place Best In Show for the first portion of Battle of the Brews, which challenges home brewers to bring their best beers to the competition.
At this year’s competition, more than 70 home brewers from across the state will present 241 different beers to be judged by certified home brew judges, including Mispillion’s head brewer Jared Barnes.
Barnes said there’s a clear difference between home brewing and professional craft beers. But he added that both have benefitted from a widespread popular movement away from commercially-produced beers to more specialized and flavorful quaffs, which has resulted in greater support for locally-produced drinks
“The whole ‘drink local’ mentality in the past two years has absolutely exploded,” he said. “It’s that hometown-type of feel … that’s booming in the craft beer business.”
Delaware’s Department of Agriculture has sponsored the three-year-old Battle of the Brews as a way to support those local products, whether they’re coming from industrial-sized brewing equipment or a home-brew system set up in someone’s garage, said Jimmy Kroon, the event organizer and president of Delmarva United Homebrewers, which is based in Sussex County.
Kroon said the home-brewing hobby has become increasingly popular, and the Department of Agriculture thought it could benefit the Delaware State Fair by tapping into a new market.
“There’s a lot of emphasis now on local products and creating things with your hands, so this kind of ties in with it,” he said. “It’s part of the craft-beer boom that’s going on right now.”
Christopher Vinciguerra, a medic in the Delaware National Guard who just started brewing the fall, said he enjoys creating homemade beers and makes an effort to use as many local ingredients as possible.
“It’s hard to get grain locally, but I know at least five other people in the Delaware National Guard that brew, so we have a little community,” the Dover resident. “It’s a fun hobby and it’s relatively cheap.”
Vinciguerra said he enjoys making fruit beers with ingredients he buys from local places like Fifer Orchards, as well as hops he grows on his own.
But he said he wouldn’t have been able to get started without help from a local home brew store in Dover.
For many home brewers, the most exciting part of the process is experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. And whether the work is done in a garage or a full-scale brewery, it requires a touch of science, engineering and plumbing in addition to a taste for beer, said brewer Ryan Maloney of Milford.
Maloney, who focused on home brewing for about three years before joining the team at Mispillion River Brewing, said it didn’t take him long for him to realize he had found a hobby he wanted to turn into a career.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said as he poured 100 pounds of grain needed to make a batch of beer especially for National IPA Day next month. “I like the physicality of it, the science behind it.”
Kroon said there’s a dedicated community of Sussex County brewers in his club, which includes nearly 200 members who vary in their levels of participation, but don’t seem to waver when it comes to their love for a good brew.
Home brewing also provides a way to make new friends and form a community around a shared passion.
“The process of boiling all your ingredients, it takes hours, but a lot is just time you’re waiting for the next step,” Kroon said. “It’s a long process that leaves a lot of time for hanging out and sampling a few beers and having fun with your friends.”
As home brewers come together to share their passion at the Delaware State Fair this weekend, the competition also will give them a chance to get some input on their concoctions.
“Brewers like to get the unbiased feedback from somebody who’s done some training and can taste beer and recognize good beer and beer flaws,” he said. “It’s a much different kind of feedback than when you’re standing in front of somebody.”
With more than 200 entries in the home-brewing competition, judges will test everything from pale ales to stouts, American ales to hybrids and pilsners, all ending with a final competition to name the best in show.
But no matter the style or the method, it’s all about having fun while creating something locally, Kroon said.
“To us, in a way, it’s not that much different from somebody who’s baking bread or any other food product,” he said. “People have been doing it for centuries, but I think people like it because they get to create something with their hands, and it’s something they enjoy consuming afterwards, of course.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT Battle of the Brews at the Delaware State Fair
WHEN Saturday, July 19: Home brew judging from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., local craft beer sampling from 5 to 8 p.m. and awards ceremony at 7 p.m.
WHERE Co-op Entertainment Tent at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington
TICKETS Delaware State Fair gate admission is $8.50 for adults, $3.50 for children ages six to 12, or $15.50 for a three-day adult pass.
MORE INFO Call (302) 398-3269, visit delawarestatefair.com or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
2014 BATTLE OF THE BREWS PARTICIPANTS
241 entries from 76 brewers
3rd Wave Brewing Company
Argilla Brewing Company
Coastal Brewing (Fordham and Old Dominion)
Mispillion River Brewing
Tall Tales Brewing
Twin Lakes Brewing
Dover Homebrew Supply
Xtreme Brewing Homebrew Supply
BATTLE OF THE BREWS 2013 WINNERS
HOMEBREWING BEST IN SHOW Clint Lang’s Biere de Miel
PEOPLE’S CHOICE CRAFT BREW 3rd Wave Brewing’s Sunset Peach Wheat Brew