New competition puts home brews to the test

The newest addition to the McHenry Rotary’s Blues, Brews & BBQ event just seemed to fit naturally into the festivities.

Organizers added a Home Brew Competition to the festival, which runs Aug. 1-3 at Petersen Park in McHenry. Judges will begin judging at about 5 p.m. and name the winners at about 8:30 p.m. Aug. 2

“There’s nothing like a good home brew to wash down a BBQ while you’re listening to the blues,” said Roy Stoppenbach of Cary, the judge coordinator for the event. “It all goes together.”

Organizers asked Stoppenbach, a member of Midnight Carboys Home Brew Club based at Duke’s Alehouse in Crystal Lake, to help with the contest, a first for the event. About eight or nine members of the club, including Stoppenbach, are certified home brew judges. The group meets monthly to bascially talk home brews and test each other’s creations.

The club, along with several local breweries, will judge the home brews.

About 16 contestants have signed up for the contest, which judges brews in the categories of light lager, pilsners, dark lager, light hybrid, amber hybrid, American ale, flavored and wood aged brews.

“Since it’s BBQ and blues we tried to keep with the American theme,” Stoppenbach said of the categories.

Contestants were required to submit two labeled bottles of beer, a process that takes at least three to four weeks, said Stoppenbach, who has been brewing since 1991, when he saw a newspaper article on home brewing and looked into it.

“I’ve been doing it ever since as a hobby,” he said. “It’s a lot like BBQ or cooking. You can be creative and make your own recipes.”

The key is the yeast, he said, and home brewers have more options these days as more home brewing ingredients and supplies have become available.

“If you make the yeast happy, they give you a good beer,” he said.

With more people brewing at home and more awareness, he predicted next year’s contest would be even bigger.

“We decided to start small,” he said. “It’ll grow by word of mouth.”

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