Hannah Stoffs is the winner of One Barrel's homebrew contest for Madison Craft Beer Week 2015.
You usually wouldn’t find Hannah Stoffs ordering a pint of Belgian Pale Ale, even if she brewed it herself. “I’m not a huge Belgian fan,” she tells me. Yet I find her in the crowd at One Barrel Brewing Company (OBBC) with a pint of Belgian Pale Ale in-hand that she brewed, first at home and then right here at OBBC’s brewery.
And it’s quite good, featuring the herbal, earthy Fuggle hop balanced by subtle Belgian ester (fruity/banana/bubble gum-y) and phenolic (clove) yeast characteristics and luring the drinker with caramel sweetness, biscuity maltiness, and a satisfying, dry finish. I happily sip the copper-hued pale ale this Wednesday evening, as do many of the seventy or so others here who have come out to one of four events during Madison Craft Beer Week 2015 that champions homebrewing.
You might think that the typical Homebrewer-Goes-Pro-For-a-Day story would go something like this: 1) Homebrewer works to perfect a favorite recipe for years; 2) Homebrewer enters every contest in the Midwest; 3) Homebrewer finally wins a contest; 4) Homebrewer makes winning beer on a scale almost ten-times larger than at home; 5) Homebrewer, either a) opens own brewery in nine months or b) returns to the kitchen, basement, or garage to perfect the next recipe.
The story of the Craft Beer Week release of Stoffs' Belgian Pale Ale, “Belgo Fuggle Yourself,” at OBBC breaks that narrative. After getting into homebrewing almost four years ago because she wanted to experiment with making beers she couldn’t find on the shelf (like a rhubarb wheat beer), Stoffs joined the Sun Prairie Wort Hogs homebrew club, where she now competes against her fellow homebrew club members in their annual contest. She was assigned to brew a Belgian Pale Ale as a finalist in last year’s contest, and that's the beer that won her this award. Despite her lukewarm feelings toward Belgian Pale Ales, Stoffs proudly toasts her pint with family, friends, fellow Wort Hogs members, and other beer enthusiasts who jam-pack OBBC’s bar.
Shining a spotlight on homebrewers has become something of a calling card for OBBC and Peter Gentry, the brewery’s founder and former homebrewer. To date, OBBC has brought nine homebrewer’s beers to market through contests like the Wort Hogs’.
Dan Sherman, who also was an avid and accomplished homebrewer before taking over brewing operations as headbrewer at OBBC, put it best. “One of the main driving forces behind Peter's business model has always been to make brewing more accessible to the public," says Sherman. "These collaborations help us do that by giving more and more folks, both the brewers and their friends and family, an up close and personal view of how we make beer.”
Stoffs might not be the biggest fan of the beer style that won her this opportunity, but she's already worked it to her advantage, using the recipe as a stepping stone to develop a clone of Ale Asylum's popular Bedlam IPA at home. “It’s one of my favorite beers I’ve ever made,” she says, “and I wouldn’t have ever made it if not for the Wort Hogs.” A sincere moment of gratitude the other members of the club will appreciate, surely, but they better look out for Hannah Stoffs -- because she’s currently tied for first place for this year’s Wort Hogs contest.