Learning to Homebrew: A Q&A with John Marra, 2014 Employee LongShot Winner

2014 Samuel Adams Longshot American Home Brew ContestIn early November, homebrewers across the country celebrated National Learn to Homebrew Day. We thought this was a great excuse to catch up with our colleague John Marra, a member of the Samuel Adams team in Brooklyn, NY, who was recently named the employee winner of our LongShot American Homebrew Competition!

The contest began in 1996 as a way for us to recognize and honor American homebrewers who continue to push the boundaries of what beer can be, just as Jim Koch did 30 years ago in his kitchen as he homebrewed the first batches of Boston Lager. We recently announced this year’s winners at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO.

Here’s what John had to say about being named the employee winner and the challenges he’s faced as someone who is fairly new to homebrewing:

Q: How long have you been a homebrewer? How did you get into it?

A: I have only just begun to homebrew.  In fact, it wasn’t until April of last year that I got started when I began my career at Samuel Adams.   The Longshot Competition was definitely an eye opening experience as to how intricate and detail-oriented you need to be during the brewing and bottling process.

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Congratulations to our 2014 National LongShot American Homebrew Contest Winners

2014 Samuel Adams Longshot American Home Brew ContestLast Friday, we gathered in Denver to add to the excitement of craft beer’s most celebrated gathering, The Great American Beer Festival (GABF), by announcing three beers crowned winners of the 2014 Samuel Adams Longshot American Homebrew Contest.

Jim toasted three homebrewers who will join the ranks of creative and talented Longshot American Homebrew Contest Winners of the past. The contest began in 1996 as a way for Jim to recognize and honor American homebrewers who continue to push the boundaries of what beer can be, just as he did 30 years ago in his kitchen as he homebrewed the first batches of Boston Lager.

Over the past 30 years, craft beer has been on the rise and we don’t see any signs of slowing down anytime soon. We can attribute this in large part to homebrewers like those who enter our LongShot contest each year and craft brewers who are resilient and always looking to push the boundaries of brewing and introduce new styles of craft beer.

This year’s winning beers are:

Greg Rasmussen’s Robust Porter: A traditional robust porter, California resident Greg Rasmussen’s Robust Porter is sweet and roasted with cocoa, coffee, toffee and slight vanilla notes from the varieties of malt used. Rich with malt flavor, the beer is complemented by slight citrus and earthy notes from US and UK hops.

Matthew Knott’s Classic Rauchbier: Recognized for its traditional smoky, slightly savory malt sweetness and roastiness is Smithtown, New York resident Matthew Knott’s Classic Rauchbier. The smoky flavors are balanced by a light toffee malt character and slight citrus from the hops. The brew finishes with a lingering smokiness, sweetness and subtle hop flavor.

John Marra’s Dunkelweiss: Representing the Samuel Adams employees with a winning homebrew is Brooklyn, New York Brewery Representative John Marra’s Dunkelweiss. This beer is brewed with traditional Bavarian yeast that contributes to the complex aromas and flavors. The aroma is characterized with notes of tropical fruits and clove. Malted wheat contributes to a bright and clean cereal note, which complements the spicy flavors of clove, nutmeg, banana and a slight sweetness.

This year’s winners present three unique and distinct brews that will be made available nationwide next spring as part of the 2015 Samuel Adams LongShot variety six-pack. We can’t wait for you to try their special brews and look forward to sharing more of their homebrewing stories in the upcoming months.

Congratulations to our three winners and thank you to everyone who entered their homebrews! It is because of their innovative spirits that craft beer is growing and more alive than ever.

LongShot American Homebrew Contest: Introducing Cesar Marron’s Grätzer

Cesar Maron_DeanIn the last post of the 2013 LongShot series, we catch up with our final winner Cesar Marron who tells us about how a wedding favor changed the course of his life and his current mission of starting a successful nano brewery in his town of Evanston, IL.

Q: How long have you been a homebrewer? How did you get into it?

A: A little over four years now. I went to a wedding and the favor was a homebrewed IPA. I had never heard of homebrewing and was inspired to find out that you could make beer at home.  I  wanted to prove to myself that I could brew a great beer. My wife soon bought me a brew kit and since then there has almost never been a two week period that’s gone by when I don’t brew a beer.

Q: A Grätzer is a very unique style – what inspired you to brew it for your LongShot submission?

A: I was inspired by the history of Grätzers. They have been brewed in Poland for 500 years or so, and there is an active community of homebrewers in Poland who to this day brew with the recipe that originated in the 1800s.

Q: What does it taste like?

A: It’s a wheat beer made with smoked wheat. It’s made with smoked wheat because the process to kiln the malt 150 years ago was always over a fire. The locals used whatever wood sources were available to them and in Poland, it was oak. Oak provides a high heat and clean smoke – it’s a dryer smoked flavor that has a sort of sweet flavor to it as well.

I also used Saaz hops, which provides herbal notes and a spicy flavor.

Q: What was your reaction to being one of the winners of the LongShot competition?

A: I submitted my beer to Sam Adams to get feedback – I didn’t really think the beer would get selected! Not because it isn’t good, but because I was up against top competition and the beer style is really unique.

Q: How do you see this impacting your future brewing plans?

A: It has already!  I started looking into going pro last year – right around the time I had submitted to the LongShot competition. Winning LongShot gave me a boost of confidence to do it, and gave me credibility in the community.

I’m in the process of opening a nano brewery in Evanston, IL called Sketchbook Brewing Company. Right now we are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to purchase two jacketed stainless steel fermenters. We actually met our $15,000 goal within the first week of the campaign, and have upped our goal to $25,000 to help support our sustainability initiatives.

Q: Do you have any advice for homebrewers who are just starting out?

A: One piece of advice I would give is to not view the purpose of homebrewing as only to win competitions – homebrewing is experimental, it is to help people understand where ingredients come from.

That being said, don’t be afraid to submit your beers to competitions. The feedback that you’ll get from judges can be invaluable. You can get great feedback that will cement what you did right or learn how to improve the style that you’re brewing.

Do you have a homebrew that you’re proud of? Interested in having it made available nationally in next year’s LongShot pack? Submit your homebrew here.

LongShot American Homebrew Contest: Introducing Russ Brunner’s American Stout

Russ Brunner_DeanWe recently released our 2013 LongShot 6-pack and wanted to take the opportunity to share the stories of the homebrewers that brewed the winning beers. Russ Brunner, brewer of this year’s American Stout, tells us how a little friendly competition and a desire to create a stout his wife would enjoy led him to brew a winning beer.

Q: How long have you been a homebrewer? How did you get into it?

A: I’ve been homebrewing for just over three years now. Belgian style beers are actually what got me interested in brewing. I couldn’t believe the flavors that could come from such basic ingredients and I wanted to try it out for myself.

Q: Do you have a particular style that is your go-to homebrew?

A: I don’t have a particular style – I’m all over the board. Right now, I have a few different styles in my kegerator: an IPA, an English Mild, a Robust Porter, and a Belgian quad.

Q: Tell us about your brew, Russ Brunner’s American Stout.

A: Gary Fuller, the president my homebrew club, is always killing it with stouts – I wanted to take an opportunity to see if I could brew as well as him. I initially brewed it for a local competition, where I placed second (Gary placed first).

I also wanted to brew a stout that my wife would enjoy – a stout that was more approachable and that had more chocolate flavors and less astringent flavors. It has enough hops to offset the sweetness, but not enough to make it really bitter.

Q: This was the first recipe you created on your own. What were the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of creating your own recipe?

A: It was nice to step away and not use any pre-conceived grain bill or hop additions and just try different techniques that I had read about.

I almost never re-brew the same recipe – this beer I brewed one time and one time only. There are a lot of homebrewers who will brew the same recipe over and over and change one tiny variable – I can’t do that. I get tired of drinking the same beer over and over.

Q: You recently had the opportunity to visit us at the Boston Brewery.  What did you take away from that experience?

A: I thought I knew a lot about brewing – but this experience showed me that there’s still more to learn. I do a lot of research, but seeing a larger brewing system made me feel like a newbie again.

I love everything about beer. I love the ingredients, the process, and the people involved, which was reinforced for me at the brewery. I’m hoping to pursue it professionally and be fully involved in brewing within the next 3-5 years.  I know Bob Gordash of Gordash Brewing Co. is a former LongShot winner who has gone on to brew professionally – he’s a great local guy!

Q: Do you have any advice for homebrewers who are just starting out?

A: Educate yourself as much as possible and don’t take someone’s advice at face value.  Put your knowledge into practice and figure out what works best for you.

Q: What’s your favorite Samuel Adams beer?

A: Double Bock – I like the complexity and the malitness, and you get a bit of sweetness from the higher alcohol level.

Are you ready to take your shot at becoming a homebrew legend? Our 2014 LongShot American Homebrew Contest has launched! Learn more.

LongShot American Homebrew Contest: Introducing Teresa’s Pineapple IPA

teresa longshot IPAWe received nearly a thousand entries for our 2013 LongShot American Homebrew Contest, and this month, we’re excited to release the LongShot Variety 6-pack with the winning brews!

Each year, one of the three winning Longshot beers comes from a Samuel Adams employee. We had a chance to chat with this year’s winning Samuel Adams employeee homebrewer, Teresa Bury, to learn more about her Pineapple India Pale Ale.

Q: What do you do at Samuel Adams?

A:  I work on our Brewery Operations team and help make sure the brewery runs smoothly  and to make sure we brew  the right amount of beer so we have enough for all our drinkers!

I left my previous job at the age of 42 to pursue my passion for beer and it has been one my best choices I’ve made! It is very feasible to pursue your passion and to find a job that encompasses that passion.

Q: How long have you been a homebrewer? Do you have a particular style that is your go-to homebrew?

A: I have been homebrewing for about four years. I love to drink beer, but I really wanted to get into the process of making beer to help gain a deeper understanding of the brewing process – how it works, the ingredients, etc.

In terms of favorite beer styles, I’m a hop head and I love IPAs, especially when they’re brewed with west coast hops. For one of my most recent batches, I brewed a coconut IPA.  One of my favorite Samuel Adams IPAs is Latitude 48.

Q: What inspired you to brew a Pineapple IPA?

A: I had just recently started adding fruit into my beers. I don’t like sweet things, but I like tropical flavors and wanted to play off of those flavor characteristics. When a brew comes out the way you meant it to taste, you know you’ve made something that is worth sharing. I was proud of the beer and  knew that I had a great recipe.

The pineapple was a challenging ingredient because of the acidity from the fruit – I couldn’t put it in the boil because it would kill the yeast.  I had to add it in the secondary fermentation. I thought I nailed it on the first and second batches, but definitely had some failed batches in there because of the added challenge of using pineapple.

Q: What does it taste like?

A: It is brewed with four different American hops including Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, and Chinook, which gives it a burst of grapefruit character that’s mellowed and complemented by the tropical fruit notes from the pineapple.

Q: Do you have any advice for homebrewers who are just starting out?

A: I have three tips for people who are just starting out:

1)      Cleanliness is of utmost importance. I have been lucky enough to never have spoiled a batch of beer!

2)      Use quality, fresh, and reliable ingredients.

3)      Be passionate about what you’re brewing. Let your creative side take over and don’t be afraid to screw it up.

Congratulations to Teresa and our other winning brews  – Russ Brunner’s American Stout and Cesar Marron’s Grätzer (we’ll have more with them later). You can find these beers for a limited time in our LongShot Variety 6-Pack!

Do you want to have the opportunity to have your homebrew featured in next year’s LongShot Variety 6-Pack? Learn more here as our 2014 LongShot American Homebrew Contest is under way now through May 24, 2014!

2013 LongShot Winners Announced!

Amidst the excitement of the Great American Beer Festival, earlier today we gathered at Marlowe’s in Denver to announce the three beers that were crowned the 2013 Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest winners.

Jim was on hand for the announcement and recognized the winners as a few of the most talented homebrewers in the country. The level of enthusiasm for homebrewing and brewing craft beer is at an all time high in America.  One indicator is that the craft beer landscape has exploded into more than 2,500 craft breweries across the country, compared to the 83 that existed during the 1980s when Jim first got his start. The morning was filled with great discussion around regional homebrew clubs, what beers are  on-tap for future homebrews, and we even heard a few attendees talking about a future collaboration beer in the future!  That kind of creativity and collaboration is what craft beer is all about.

So without further hesitation, the 2013 LongShot winners are:

longshot 1

A big, malty Stout with notes of chocolate and coffee, Russ Brunner’s American Stout carries a velvety finish with notes of roasted cocoa. The LongShot judges were drawn to the richness of this stout and balanced taste, with hints of citrus and pine from the American hops adding a subtle bitterness. Russ shared that while he had been homebrewing for three years, this Stout was the first recipe he created on his own.

Perhaps the most unique style, Cesar Marron’s Grätzer (Grätzer was added to the 2013 Beer Style Guidelines earlier this year), is a light, Polish smoked wheat beer.  This brew packs a punch of smoky sweet flavor from the heirloom smoked malt, and spicy and herbal notes from Saaz hops.  Cesar says he drew inspiration for this unique recipe from a strong interest in the unusual, yet traditional, style.

Representing the Samuel Adams employees with a winning homebrew is Teresa Bury’s Pineapple India Pale Ale. This IPA is brewed with four different American hops that pack a punch of grapefruit character we’ve come to expect from these types of hops. However Teresa’s version provides mellow and complementary tropical fruit notes from the addition of real pineapples. We were interested to learn that Theresa had made it a personal challenge to brew a beer that carried a strong hop flavor but that was also balanced with her favorite fruit, pineapple. As she said, “I’ve been brewing beers to fit friends and family’s tastes for years, and I decided one day to brew one that fit my style.”

longshot 2

While we wait for these three brews to hit shelves next spring in the special LongShot variety 6-pack, we’ll be watching to see what these homebrewers brew next. Perhaps one of them could join the ranks of Bob Gordash (winner of the 1996 LongShot Homebrew Contest) and Don Oliver (winner of the 2006 Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest) who have gone on to become professional brewers.

Congratulations to our three winners and to the more than 1,000 homebrewers who sent in entries! The passion for craft beer is stronger than ever because of the  community of homebrewers who put so much time and effort into their craft, pushing the boundaries of better tasting beer.

Cheers!

LongShot Winners Announced!

Earlier today we gathered at Marlowe’s in Denver for brunch to do some final sampling and vote tallying to determine the three beers that would be crowned the 2012 Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest winners. While all of the finalists were hoping to be victorious, there was a common “it’s just great to be here” shared by all the competitors. As one of the finalist said on Thursday night at the Great American Beer Festival, “…to be surrounded by this many talented brewers and have my beer among theirs, well, I didn’t think that’d be happening when I started my first mash a few years ago.”

Jim toasts with our three LongShot Winners

While last year’s winners featured three extremely malt-forward offerings, this year’s winners will bring a very different flavors to drinkers.  Starting with Samuel Adams employee winner, Dave Anderson won with a Strawberry Lager. Prior to announcing Dave as the employee winner Jim jokingly said, “the Cincinnati brewery is hoping that Dave doesn’t win because they’re not sure how they’re going to get 1,800 pounds of strawberry’s into the brew house.” This bright and refreshing wheat beer doesn’t skimp on the strawberry taste as Dave used three pounds of strawberry in every batch.  We loved the lingering, almost creamy, sweetness that this brew leaves on the palate. Sam drinkers who reach for our Cherry Wheat or Blackberry Witbier will enjoy this style.

Our next winner, James Schirmer of California, brewed an American wheat beer that we could envision drinking on a remote West Coast beach. Named Beerflower Wheat, we found this brew to be an awesome balance of smooth, sweet malt flavors with an interesting twist of citrus and herbal notes. While Jim introduced this beer he complimented James on his use of hibiscus which really gave the beer a delicate flavor while offering a slight floral and almost sweet aroma. A slightly darker beer then Dave’s Strawberry Lager, this brew will give you a nice medium body that finishes crisp on the palate.

A true coast to coast competition, our final winner Zach Adams (must be something in the last name) hails from Connecticut where he brewed an Imperial American IPA dubbed Magnificent Seven. For our Sam drinkers who enjoy a nice hoppy offering, this will be your favorite. Poured with a beautiful bronze coloring, we enjoyed the hop bitterness with hints of grapefruit, pine and earthy notes that are traditional in American hops. Depending on who you ask, this medium-bodied brew will also offer a wide variety of aroma ranging from caramel to citrus/lemon to piney. We caught Zach’s buddy Pat who traveled with him to Denver who was sharing the good news with family back home in Conneticut. A humorous ’I wish I had payed more attention while Zach was brewing in the garage’ was shared by Pat.We’re excited to get started on production of these three brews (well, except maybe for Dave’s) with an eye on releasing in February of 2013. We look forward to sharing more of these three talented homebrewers stories in the coming months leading up.

Congratulations to our three winners and to the over 1,000 entries we received! Cheers to the growth of craft beer… one homebrew at a time.

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