Reflections on the first Santa Fe Open Brewing Competition

Posted: November 13, 2014 by Luke in Brewology, Events, Homebrewing Competition, News
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All await anxiously as awards are announced.

This past weekend, the inaugural Santa Fe Open Brewing Competition took place in, you’ve guessed it, Santa Fe. From Friday morning to the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon, the Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewers homebrew club (and friends and family) came together in a huge concerted effort to put on an event that proved an even bigger success than anyone could have hoped for.

A first for the club, this homebrew competition was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and hard work, and it went off with hardly a glitch in the program. Despite some small issues with the software used for registering, everything went smoothly according to director of stewards Phil Rickert. And it was no small feat as with 330 entries, they dealt with an influx in excess of 900 bottles. Thankfully, people really showed up to work. Judge director Jim Steinbach coordinated with 36 judges, 17 of them BJCP certified. Rickert said that all 14 stewards that registered for the event, showed up for duty, meaning there was, at minimum, one steward per table. Both directors made sure that the judging process went smoothly so that all the judges had to do was judge, ensuring quality and fairness for each entry. I saw a bit of that as I sat down at a table and faux judged a category. Let me tell you, it’s not easy work.

From the overall impression I got, everybody really stepped up in a big way. The list of people to thank — sponsors, other clubs like the Atom Mashers and Dukes of Ale, family and friends — is too large to print, and I’ll let the Sangres do that personally. But it should be pointed out that Santa Fe’s local businesses really support the homebrew community. Among so many, Cowgirl was very generous for providing the room, food, and service free of charge for Friday night’s judge’s orientation. And Santa Fe Brewing Company played a big part Sunday, pouring brews and lending the space, indoor and out, for a complete awards ceremony take over. Sangre’s Nate Burk really helped out by providing lunch and securing the community room at Whole Foods, which was complete with ample space for judging, and more importantly, a walk-in cold room to keep those beers at temperature.

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Kevin Fleming of the Dukes of Ale should seriously consider opening up a hardware store. Congratulations on so, so many wins!

The whole thing didn’t just happen that weekend, however. From first meeting to fruition, the Sangres have been hard at work to build a brewing competition that would stand out from the others. For months, the Sangres gathered new sponsors for the competition, calling, emailing, even hitting up a certain Ambassador of Beer for some sweet brew swag from a certain Challenge of an India Pale Ale event. From the more glamorous jobs like judging to the less glamorous, like actually putting all of those prize sacks together for the medalists, the Sangres really came out en force. At one point, meeting one Sunday to check-in all 900-plus bottles, labeling each entry, and organizing them into the categories and finally boxing them for storage, was just another thing to check off the list.

In the end, it turned out to be a fun event. Almost everyone went home with prizes, some more than others ::cough:: Kevin Fleming ::cough:: The judges all talked about how much they enjoyed Friday night’s get-together at Cowgirl, and the potluck at the awards ceremony was a huge success as well, with the samples of random homebrews and servings of Miggs’ delectable pygmy goat. And my guacamole! Just kidding. The food was all delicious, a true example of people going above and beyond for the things they’re most passionate about. It certainly was an event to remember, one everybody’s excited to repeat next year.

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John Rowley wielding the Grand Champion Staff for Best Of Show. That beautiful work of art is his for a year, just like the Stanley Cup.

One such individual was Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewer’s club president, event organizer, and Best of Show winner, John Rowley. I spoke with him about the event.

DSBC: The inaugural Santa Fe Open Brewing Competition has come to a close, how do you feel about how it went?

Rowley: I think everything went smoothly, and we had a great turnout. And everyone was really happy with how everything went. I’m sure not everyone’s score was perfect, but that’s how competitions are. I think the judging was well done and was pretty smooth. We had an epic turnout of judges. I haven’t seen a competition in New Mexico with that many judges. And I’ve been judging for a while, and I was amazed by how many people came out.

DSBC: Any major hiccups?

Rowley: No, not really. We had a few, little, minor blips with administrative things, but no. I don’t think we lost any bottles. There was one beer (out of 330 entries), that beer we never confirmed if we even got it. So the week before the competition, I basically went through all the entries with everyone at check-in. You were there.

DSBC: Yes, I was.

Rowley: We basically figured out all the beers that didn’t show up or weren’t paid, and I contacted all those people and a lot of people either hadn’t entered, didn’t pay, or didn’t have time to send the beer, whatever, but we got it squared away. But there was one person in Carlsbad; I never got a hold of him. He paid, but he never gave us the beer, or we never found the beer. I don’t think we ever received the beer, because we never checked it in. I emailed him. I texted him. I called him. I did everything I could to try to smooth that out. So I apologize for that one beer, but I think, all things considered, that’s pretty good.

DSBC: A huge success. So is there anything you would do differently next year?

Rowley: So, I think there are probably a couple little things, so what we’re going to do is have a ‘lessons learned’ kind of meeting and we’re going to talk about anything that we think could be done better. Really the main thing with us is the software. But I think for 95 percent of it, it was pretty solid.

DSBC: What were some of the highlights of this year?

Rowley: Highlights, uh, for me, winning best of show! (laughs) I can’t really complain about that, because that’s pretty cool. I’m really excited about that. You know, but I don’t want to be the one that wins his own competition …

The Pro Brewers Trophy goes to Santa Fe Brewing Co. for their 20th Anniversary State Pen Imperial Porter!

The Pro Brewers Trophy goes to Santa Fe Brewing Co. for their 20th Anniversary State Pen Imperial Porter!

DSBC: Well, if you brew a good beer … and the judges did their job, and there were judges from all over.

Rowley: Yeah, we had a great turn out of judges. A lot of certified judges came out. And everything was done by the book.

DSBC: It was a good win.

Rowley: Yeah, it was a solid win. It wasn’t an engineered win. I’m real happy with that. A lot of the beers I thought I would have done pretty well with, didn’t do as good as I wanted them to, but that’s the competition.

DSBC: And it was stiff competition. So my plan was to interview Best of Show winner as well. It just happened to be you. So can you tell us a little about the beers you entered and the categories?

Rowley: So I entered a number of beers in Belgian Specialty, category 16E. That’s kinda my wheelhouse. Those are the beers I really like to brew.

DSBC: Thanks for your advice, by the way, on my Saison!

Rowley: Oh, no problem. I like Saisons. I like Farmhouse Ales. Those are beers I have a passion to brew. You know, nine times out of 10, I’d rather brew a Saison over, you know, an English Mild. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I like Milds, but I celebrate diversity in beer. There’s not a beer out there that I wouldn’t like to beat up. I mean, I love beer.

DSBC: It’s interesting what you did with the BOS grand prize, which was the Ss Brewing Technologies Stainless Steel Conical Fermenter. Can you tell us a little about that?

Rowley: Yeah, so I thought it would be kind of a douchebag move for me, as the organizer to win the competition, and then walk around with this thing on my head, like, ‘Oh yeah I won.’ Nah, that’s not how I am, so I think the best move was to donate it, but I can’t really donate the device itself, exactly (to the charity). So what we were thinking was, since we’re doing a canned food drive for 12 Beers of Christmas, and our Christmas party is going to fall smack dab in the middle of that, and I think your beer is on tap that day.

DSBC: Yeah. I think it is.

Rowley: So we thought, why not, do a charity kind of thing with the prize. It just makes sense. It’s a really nice thing. I’m really appreciative of Mitch Thomson (President and Co-founder of) Ss Brewing Technologies. I really appreciate his support as the title sponsor for our event, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing, man, that guy is awesome. And so we will be auctioning off the equipment to benefit the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. So on the third Wednesday of December, we’ll have our annual Christmas party potluck, we’ll have a good time, and why not put that prize to good use. And so I encourage people to bid on it!

DSBC: And the bidding starts at?

Rowley: So it’s a $400 device, and we’ll start the bidding at $250, and hope that we can get over 400 bucks and donate it to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

* * * * *

It’s all over for now, and highlights for me, well, thinking back on the whole thing, my highlights include: eating the ‘tenderest’ goat that had ever walked the planet (and happened to be marinated in SFBC’s State Pen Porter), getting to sit in and listen as real judges really pull apart a beer, having my entries do pretty well for my first competition, and just being around so many folks enthusiastic about beer and brewing. It’s a great community, homebrewers, I always say. Where, if you want to talk about what you have in the fermenter, someone’s always glad to listen. It was a first for me. It was a first event put on by the Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewers. Hopefully, it is the first of many.

Cheers!

— Luke

A complete list of results for the Inaugural Santa Fe Open Brewing Competition is posted [HERE].

And for information on how to join the Sangre De Cristo Craft Brewers click [RIGHT HERE].

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