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Homebrewing Belgians

Last week, we had our fourth company-wide homebrewing competition. These competitions are a great chance for the homebrewers in our Crew — and as you might imagine, there are many — to let their recipes shine and get valuable feedback from everyone else at the brewery.

In addition, it gives us a wealth of recipes to choose from for future brews. Each previous winner has had their beer scaled up and released, and this time will be no different.

“It was hands-down the best homebrew competition yet,” said Innovation Director Brian Hink. “No one had any packaging issues, no one had any oxidation issues. Everyone brewed really good beer. I’d be happy to brew any of them here at CMBC.”

This time around, the guidelines were to brew something Belgian-inspired, and, as you’ll read below, some of our contestants took those guidelines very loosely.


Mark Graves, Packaging Manager and JP Thomas, Head Chef and Soda Ops (Collaboration brew!)

Tell us about your beer.

JP: I’ve never got to try the beer before I left for vacation. It was a mushroom herbal saison. It had dried chanterelles and porcini mushrooms in the boil with a late addition of fresh thyme and dill. I wanted to do something different and savory. Mushrooms have that earthy funk which I felt would pair well in a Saison, then I brought in some herbs for freshness and to liven up the beer.

Mark: JP and I wanted to do something different than the usual dry hop or fruit Saison that we figured would be in contention. So, using JP’s expertise in cooking and my brewing expertise we devised a savory concoction. To match the thyme and dill I selected some lesser loved hops that complemented with herbal qualities and subtle fruit and spice. With a supporting grain bill that would provide some nuance, but leave the other ingredients to do their thing. It was an 8% Saison, presumably to help stand up to some of the bold flavors we wanted.

What do you love about it?

It didn’t turn out the way we had wanted: the yeast overpowered anything we wanted to come through in the flavor or aroma. I really enjoyed the process of designing this beer with a coworker and collaborating ideas.


Brian Hink, Innovation Director

Tell us about your beer.

My beer is a really hoppy Saison. It’s actually a Brut Saison, because Saison’s a bone-dry brew, anyway, so I added the enzymes to get it a little dryer. I forget the exact ABV — I think it’s like 5.2%. Real classic: I used the Belgian Saison yeast. A combination of pilsner, rye, wheat, oats, and it’s hopped with Saaz and Citra in the kettle and dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic.

What do you love about it?

It’s super crisp and refreshing. Low alcohol, so I can drink a ton of it.

Kevin Kately, Production Brewer

Tell us about your beer.

It’s a simple Saison with a Galaxy dry hop. Oats, rye, wheat. A little hoppier than a usual Saison.

What do you love about it?

It’s a well-balanced Saison. I like how it came out.


Sean McGuirl, Packaging Operator

Tell us about your beer.

It’s a Belgian Saison brewed with blueberries and jalapeños and grains of paradise.

What do you love about it?

I liked it a lot. It didn’t turn out how I expected. I did a lot of hemming and hawing during the process, but eventually, I came around to it. I like that it’s got a little sweetness up front, but it’s still very dry, as a Saison should be. I like that it doesn’t have a lot of heat. I got a lot of sweetness from the jalapeños.

Rich Schmidt, Beertender

Tell us about your beer.

It’s a dark Saison. It was brewed on the brand-new machine that I just got three weeks ago. It was easy to brew on this new machine. It’s got a lot of stuff in it. It’s really got a lot. Some chocolate malts, darker malts to make it darker, but it also makes it a little fluffier, a little fuller on the palate. I tasted it, I really enjoyed it. It tasted a little different now than it did at home.

What do you love about it?

I love that it stood up to the rest of them.


Jenna Tesauro, Events

Tell us about your beer.

This was a fun chance to build on a Saison recipe my friends and I worked out last spring that had a lemony profile because of how we fermented it. After bouncing around some ideas, I got excited to see how turmeric might work both for flavor and color. Turmeric is mild to work on its own but it reminded me of those healthy, start-your-morning-right, detox/tonic drinks with lemon, turmeric, ginger, and cayenne. Some of the spices were added in the boil, some in fermentation, with a touch of honey at the end. I like to think it’s just what the doctor ordered when you need a pick-me-up beer.

What do you love about it?

Thinking about the contest, my goal was to do something a little different than the releases we’ve had but one that might have a wide appeal.  For a beer that might come out in the spring, I think a can or glass of this would fit well with the start of outdoor relaxing with friends over a beverage or few. I like that it’s light and bright. It’s got spice, but it’s not the too-hot spicy. It’s a flavor profile that might feel familiar but not in a beer. It’s pretty crushable at 4.6%.

Justin Vitti, Distribution Manager

Tell us about your beer.

It’s a Saison. I went really traditional with it: I used all the leftover ingredients I had from previous homebrew contests. I brewed a Kolsch for the Crushin’ It contest; I used some of those leftover ingredients. The only thing I purchased for this beer was the yeast. I tried to pick a yeast wasn’t super estery or phenolic. I went with a yeast called “Wallonian Farmhouse III”. It’s totally not made up.

What do you love about it?

All of it. <burrrp> I got a lot of bubble gum with banana undertones, which is better than the peppery phenolics.

IMG_0668Chris Volpe, Packaging Operator

Tell us about your beer.

I did a biere de garde. Farmhouse style. It was a base of Munich and crystal 120. The ABV came out to about 7%.

What do you love about it?

It was different. Everyone seemed to be doing Saisons, so I wanted to do something a little different.

Brad Young, Cellarman

Tell us about your beer.

I brewed a Belgian Pale Ale with Laurel hops. Raw wheat, pilsner, Laurel hops.

What do you love about it?

It was alright. It wasn’t what I wanted to brew. I wanted to brew a table beer — I was shooting for 3.5% — totally overshot my calculations. It came out at 6%, which is why I called it a Belgian Pale Ale. I hopped it at a rate for a 3% beer and ended up with a 6% beer. You live and learn. 

IMG_0690In the end, the winner was… drum roll, please… Jenna!

“I’m just excited to get to answer another question!” she joked. “Actually, I’m glad for the opportunity to participate. I’ve learned a lot about beer since joining the Brew Crew, and I think this was a chance to test that. Everyone at CMBC knows their beer. There are always good ideas bouncing around the brewery, and I’m glad folks enjoyed mine most this time. I’ll enjoy it as well. I’ll be drinking what’s left from the tasting in celebration.”

We were all thrilled to see Jenna come through with a win. She’d entered the last contest and, unfortunately, had some issues with oxidation, but Jenna really knows her stuff. Everyone was raving about her brew during the tasting.

“I was really excited to see Jenna win,” Brian said. “The past three were all Production or Tasting Room guys, so I really loved seeing someone from Events come through with a win. She brewed a killer beer.”

We’ll be scaling up Jenna’s recipe and brewing it as we head into spring. We’ll tell you more as we get closer, but, when you run into Jenna working one of our events, be sure to offer up your congratulations!