Interactive Map

Saturday, September 23, 2017

German Homebrew: Trial by Jury

Cases of Homebrew

Approximately 100 km east of Stuttgart is the town of Gundelfingen, home of the Camba Old Factory brewery. I first visited Camba in August( where I learned of their mid-September Hobbybrauer festival. Feeling confident I quickly secured brewing ingredients for my award winning double IPA which took a silver medal at the D.C. Cherry Blossom Homebrew competition. Award winning is a relative term; basically my beer sucked less than the other entries. In any event I dusted off my score sheets and tweaked my recipe based on the judges’ feedback. The result, a 9.2%ABV double IPA. GAME ON!

The Camba Bierfestival & Hobbybrauerwettbewer is a three day weekend event, attracting more than 80 homebrewers from around Europe. The winning homebrewers beer is produced at the brewery, with the winner receiving 200 liters, roughly 400 cans of their beer! Additionally the winning beer is served in the Camba taproom for a year. Friday is homebrew drop off day, with the actual competition on Saturday, culminating with a standard festival on Sunday. I arrived at the Camba Old Factory on Friday afternoon with eight bottles of my double IPA under my arm. This American was prepared to show the Germans how a true American IPA should taste! At the check-in table I was asked if I would be serving my beer. Unsure of the implications of such a question I quickly replied “Ummm No”. I was told that the “Jury” begins sampling the beer at noon on Saturday, with results no later than 2:00 pm.                                          
 At 1130 on Saturday morning the navigator and I arrive at the brewery. Tents and campers were scattered near the playground area where long distance competitors had spent the night. There were only a handful of people in the brewery where a series of tables were arranged in a horseshoe formation for the competitors to in fact serve their beer. For 1 euro a piece customers purchase tokens which are good for both beer and food. Each homebrewer had a basket at their table where customers pay to sample their beer. Not your typical American homebrew competition.           
Within 2 hours most of the homebrew tables were filled with homebrewers. Cases of their best offerings under the table, and in commercial coolers strategically place behind them. As we wandered along the tables it became very apparent to me that some of the competitors were far from traditional “Homebrewers”, with business cards, banners, and even stickers! Not wanting to sample commercial-like “homebrew” I stopped in front of two young men frantically making signs with a sharpie. These are my people! The two men were from Austria and had been homebrewing for about a year. They offered me a very dark honey wheat beer, warning that its “A Very Strong Beer 8% Alcohol”. As I sipped their beer it was obvious that the beer was much stronger than 8%. It was then that they explained initially it didn’t taste very good so they added a kilo of honey. The honey hadn’t helped. No Token For YOU!

Near the far end of the horseshoe of tables I came across a Wintergreen Pale Ale. Intrigued I asked for a sample. At first sip it was quite refreshing, with a hint of wintergreen after taste which unfortunately kept building to peppermint patty status. When I asked the homebrewer how he managed to get that flavor he replied “I have no idea, I was just trying to brew a Pale Ale”. I gave him a token for being honest. Of the 60 or so homebrewers actually offering their beer I encountered only one American. This was his second time entering the competition but his first time actually serving his beer because like me he was initially confused by the process.

Beer Samples for the Jury
At 3:00 pm the “Jury” reached its verdict, proclaiming a Russian Imperial Stout as the winner. Unfortunately I had not sampled the winning beer as it was produced by one of the commercial-like homebrewers.  While I didn’t receive any awards I did interact with some amazingly interesting homebrewers. Some of those interactions were omitted from this post for the sake of brevity, and the PG-13 rating. Most all of the German homebrewers I spoke with had nothing but praise and amazement for the American Craft Beer movement, criticizing the traditional German beer scene. That being said, all were optimistic that Craft beer could, and would become as prevalent in Germany as it is in the U.S. Based on my experience at the hobbybrauer event I can only share their optimism.  I am already making plans for next year’s competition!

Until next time,