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This was our second year brewing Beer for and pouring beer at the Ales Over ALS Homebrew Competition in Essex. There are two awards given: The Judge’s Choice determined by a judging panel of professional brewers, and The People’s Choice determined by the event attendees. The event raises funds for Compassionate Care ALS.
When we were setting up the weather was not ideal. I drove up to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum where the event was held, unloaded, and then had to park behind a tennis court probably three blocks away. As I parked the car what was a steady rain became a driving rain. After I walked back to the museum I realized two things: Jennie had an umbrella in the back seat, and I left two keg disconnects in the car. I had to walk all the way back to the car in the rain, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to serve beer. I was now completely soaked. The only silver lining was that on the way back I was able to move to a closer parking spot.
I brought two beers I designed and brewed just for this event: Larrupin Lou’s XXX Ale and Pugnacious Pete’s Porter, and entered the porter in the competition. I made two signs for each beer with brief tasting notes, as well as pictures of Lou Gehrig and Pete Frates so people would know the meaning behind the names. Not only had I never brewed these before, I didn’t taste them until I set up at the event. Both batches were so small, I didn’t want to draw any samples out when we were kegging the beers.
Larrupin’ Lou’s XXX Ale was a beautiful showcase for the HBC-438 hop. The nose on the beer was as strong and inviting as anything I’ve brewed to date. The hop flavor oozed mango. The hops dominated, but there was just enough body and malt flavor to balance. If the beer was more lightly hopped, the grainy 6-row malt flavor would have been more obvious. As it was, the beer tasted like a modern American Pale Ale. If I had entered Larrupin’ Lou I think it would have done very well.
Since I could only enter one beer in the competition, I chose Pugnacious Pete’s because I thought that adhered to a particular style more closely than Larrupin’ Lou’s and would play better with the judges. I reviewed the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) description of Pre-Prohibition Porter as I tasted the beer. The beer ticked most of if not all of the boxes. There was a really nice grainy malt aroma, and as the beer warmed there was a very low roasted malt aroma. The beer was medium to dark brown, with a mousy white head that persisted nicely for a light-bodied beer brewed with adjuncts. The clarity was disappointing and is something I need to improve upon with my kegged beers. The flavor and mouthfeel were right on the money. There was a grainy base malt flavor, and more roasted flavor than the aroma suggested. Hop bitterness and flavor were sufficient to provide balance.
As the judges worked their way around the museum and made it to where I was set up, I made it a point to reiterate that Pugnacious Pete’s was a Pre-Prohibition Porter, not an English or modern American porter. At the time I felt confident that two of the judges understood that distinction. The third judge asked me what made the beer “Pre-Prohibition”, asked what grains I used, and quizzed me a bit on the style.
It was also an important distinction to a lot of the attendees at the event. The event attracts people who want to support the cause more than it attracts craft beer geeks. I encouraged people who didn’t think they liked dark beer to try it. Unlike many stouts and porters, the beer wasn’t heavy or full-bodied. It also didn’t have an assertive roasted character that might be outputting to a wine or light beer drinker. The response from the attendees was almost universally positive.
One of the first attendees to take notice of Pugnacious Pete’s was Pete Frates’ uncle Art Cronin. I met him last year, reintroduced myself, and showed him the beer. I couldn’t believe how genuinely touched he was that I named the beer after his nephew. He had arrived from an ALS walk in Boston and informed me that other members of the Frates family were also on their way.
The picture I used for the Pugnacious Pete’s sign was Pete’s Twitter profile picure; a photo of him and his daughter Lucy. Shortly after speaking with Pete’s uncle, Pete’s wife Julie arrived with Lucy in tow and wanted to try Pete’s beer. Right away Julie pointed to the picture and pointed out to Lucy that it was her and daddy in the picture.
Pete’s dad John Frates walked up shortly there after wanting to try his son’s beer. His lit up when he saw I was wearing one of their “Strikeout ALS” shirts, and saw the sign for Pugnacious Pete’s Porter with the photo of his son and granddaughter. We spoke for a few minutes about our families’ roots in the city of Beverly, about the event, the beer, and Lou Gehrig. John came back a couple of times to have his glass refilled. Pete’s brother and care-giver Andrew asked for a couple of cups, one for himself, and one he poured into Pete’s feeding bag.
There had been murmurs that Pete himself would be appearing. Several other members of the family stopped by, introduced themselves, and tried the beer. An attendee told me Pete had arrived at the event. Pete slowly worked his way to the back corner where I was set up. The computer he uses to communicate was retracted; I imagine it is impossible for him to communicate in a crowd with several people at once. When Pete made it back to my table, I raised my cup to him and told him this was his beer. We made eye contact and it looked like the corner of his mouth started to smile. I took a picture with Pete, Pete’s beer, Julie, Lucy, and the sign for the beer.
The support of the Frates family certainly helped my vote total for the People’s Choice award. As happy as I was with both beers I brought, the other entrants’ beers I had a chance to try excellent. I didn’t get to try all of the beers entered, but I did take some quick notes for the ones I did:
Jason and Max Garzado brought an excellent Vienna Lager. It had a really nice toasty Vienna Malt flavor, with just the right amount of Munich Malt sweetness.
Bill Torrey brought a Smoked Red Rye Ale. I found the beer to be very drinkable. The smoke, rye, and red malts were light, but present.
Jake Rogers, co-owner of the future True North Ale Company along with his father Gary, brought a Mexican Lager that if it had come in a clear, stubby bottle, I would have been convinced was Modelo Especial. Gary brewed a Grapefruit IPA. Gary’s beer wasn’t quite as dry and hoppy as some of the more prominent commercial examples, but the citrus worked well with the malt flavor.
Julian Miller brewed a New England IPA that came as close to anything I’ve drank to matching the mouthfeel of Tree House. I picked his brain on the water chemistry he employed to make his beer beer that soft.
When it was time to announce the winners, I was told I had a really good chance to win People’s Choice. Everyone still in attendance gathered around outside to hear the winners announced. Julian’s New England IPA ended up winning both the People’s and Judge’s Choice. I was announced as the runner up for People’s Choice and a virtual tie for second in the Judge’s Choice. When I saw the actual tallies I had lost the People’s Choice by one vote.
As touched as I was by the support I received from the Frates family, how happy I was with the beer, how I thought it was a very good to great representation of its style, and the wonders winning would have done for my ego, on its own merits Julian’s beer was probably better. The three judges gave his New England IPA an aggregate score of 119, three or four of us were clustered together with scores around 113-110. The aggregate score of 110 that I received works out to an average of 36.66, which according to the BJCP is “Very Good”. That is as high as any beer I’ve entered into a competition.
What will stay with me more than anything was how much that beer meant to those people who have been affected by ALS as much as anybody. Even if I brewed and named the beer knowing Pete Frates and his family would show up, I couldn’t have imagined that it would mean what it did. It is easy to give money, make the world’s worst Ice Bucket Challenge video, or go to a charity event, it’s not always easy to think about how things like ALS affect real people.
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