Summer is the season of beer festivals. You hear that over and over again when you start to chat with people involved in the world of craft beer and homebrewing. By volume, so many craft beer festivals take place during the summer months that a person really wouldn’t have to travel very far and could easily attend a different event every weekend for three months, and on most of those weekends you could probably attend multiple festivals. It makes sense, I suppose. The weather is warm, people are going to be outside, people are taking vacations. By most people’s account it seems that Summer is best season for a beer festival.
But I’m afraid I must disagree, because to me there’s nothing like beer in Fall.
Everything is right about this season for the beer lover. It’s still warm enough to be outside (my favorite place to drink) but not so hot that you are seeking shade and chugging your libation to try to cool down. Every style of beer works well on a cool, crisp, fall day; from your heaviest imperial stouts to your lightest wheat beers. The timing allows for the season’s local wet hopped beers to be available, and of course there is the pumpkin beer phenomenon that has swept the craft beer world in the last decade or so.
The Homebrew Harvest event at The Brewery at Hershey took full advantage of this wonderful time of the year, gathering homebrewers from across the area together to set forth their best creations at the best time of year for them to be enjoyed. The collaboration event between The Brewery at Hershey and Pierce Brewing Company attracted forty-seven homebrewed entries out to the Hershey area on an absolutely beautiful Sunday in October. Proceeds from the event benefited the Four Diamonds Fund, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital and the fight against pediatric cancer.
The beers were entered into a twofold competition to determine which amateur (by the strictest definition) brewer had created the most worthy offering in the minds of a panel of six judges – including Dean of Pierce Brewing Company, Ryan of The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey, Scott of Halligan Homebrew, Tony from Black Gryphon Dining & Spirits, Steph from Beer Busters Podcast, and Steve from Heavy Soul Brewing Company – and separately in the minds of the event’s attendees. The winners are listed below:
- FIRST PLACE
Kristen Richards (Sons of Alchemy Brewing)
Identity Crisis – Pumpkin Brown Ale
- SECOND PLACE
Tainted Cherry- A True Shocker – Oaked Sour Cherry Berliner Weiss
- THIRD PLACE
Jalapeno Lime Kolsh – Kolsch/Vegetable Beer
- FIRST PLACE
Honey Badger IPA – IPA
- SECOND PLACE
South of the Border – Mexican Chocolate Porter
- THIRD PLACE
Brandon Moore & Doug Kensey
Black EyePA – Black IPA
Even without the competition, however, this event was a terrific success. It was the kind of beer festival you could easily just lose yourself in. More than two dozen homebrewers, including several whose beers did not get entered into the competition itself, stood and poured the fruits of their labor of love to a large crowd more than eager to experience them. Add to that food from The Chicken Truck, live music by Two Pints Shy, a few vendors and a whole lot of passion and fun.
Homebrew events are always a little different than those featuring professional brewers, and not in a necessarily good or bad way. It seems that people just feel more at ease with homebrewers, more likely to engage them in conversation and talk about the beers they are drinking. Of course you also get the entertainment of seeing many different types of serving devices, rather than the pretty standard jockey box set ups that most breweries have prepared for events. Literally every conceivable system of beer-delivery that exists was present, with my personal favorite being a kegerator made out of a trash can. The bottom line being: when Homebrewers are involved, anything goes, and that makes for a whole lot of wonderful sights, sounds, and tastes.
Of course you can’t write a review of such an event without talking about the beers. My personal pick (I was not a judge) was the BlackEYE IPA which did indeed win third in the Taster’s Choice award. While it wasn’t quite “black” it was most definitely one of the best homebrewed IPAs I’ve ever had and stood right up there with many of the best professional India Pale Ales. The Jalapeño-Lime Kolsch that took third in the Judge’s vote also put a big smile on my face.
I loved seeing the range of beer styles and types that were made, disproving the one unfortunate myth that I’ve encountered about homebrewers that all they ever want to brew are the wackiest or most extreme styles of beer. There were some really fantastic offerings in the classic beer styles, a number of people dosing their beers with hot peppers (I’m starting to become a convert), and others who showed fantastic balance in knowing how to produce a “wow” effect without going over the top.
Knowing how much hard work and dedication goes in to making even a five-gallon batch of really good beer just helped me appreciate how much enthusiasm there is for homebrewing, craft beer, and the art in general. More than that, it made me extremely glad that I got a chance to reap what they had sowed.