State fair beer contest draws 325 entries
You might call Bill McGeeney a professional beer drinker.
“This,” he said, raising a plastic cup to his nose, taking a drink, letting the amber liquid swish around in his mouth, “is a good beer.”
Sometimes on Saturday, it was a fine line between the best of the best and second and third place in the Delaware State Fair’s second annual Battle of the Home Brews Brew Contest Judging.
A team of certified judges – McGeeney is a judge from Philadelphia – were brought in to rate the 325 entries submitted – a far cry from Grandma’s bread and butter pickles that have long been state fair staples.
Beer may seem an odd fit for a state fair, where pies, afgans, jams and jellies are the gold standard of competition. But Delaware’s fair has been expanding and updating its offerings over the last decade to include culinary contests, demonstrations and a variety of specialty competitions. And some of the giants of the state fair world like California, New York and Ohio already offer home brewing competitions.
Judging beer is complicated because there are a variety of traditional styles, each with specific attributes. Then, there are the fruity brews – unique varieties of beer that are only limited by the imagination and skills of the brewer.
There, judges look to see how well the brewer acheived the base beer. The second factor, said judge Greg Christmas, of Milton, is to taste whether the brewer acheived the fruit flavor and other ingredients they were going for.
All this is far from easy. It takes the right yeast, the right ingredients, and even the perfect water to make a really great beer.
Even with the challenges, home brewing is a growing hobby in Delaware and throughout the region.
Danny Ranger, for instance, took a class at the Xtreme Home Brewing Store in Millsboro and was hooked. He joined Delaware United Home Brewers and has been making his own craft beers at home. He helped out Saturday and learned the ropes of how a beer is rated and judged.
Dan Woodall, who by day is a chemist at the state Department of Agriculture, came up with the idea of the contest because “there wasn’t an outlet for me to get my beer judged.
Rows of white tables were lined up on the stage and dozens of brown glass bottles of beers were set for testing.
The tools of the trade are pretty basic: a bottle opener, cups, a waste bucket for surplus beer and water and saltine crackers to cleanse the palate.
Judge Riccardo Giannone, of Milford, said he is passionate about the beer he brews and judges.
“I just love everything about the beer,” he said. “They all taste different.”