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Homebrewer Goes Pro For A Day

Fri, 08/19/2011 - 11:44am

By his fourth batch, homebrew guru Tom Bastian had a hunch his Russian Imperial Stout was something special.

1: Homebrew challenge winner Tom Bastian checks on the wort of his Russian Imperial Stout with Dogfish brewpub manager Jason Weissberg.

Homebrew challenge winner Tom Bastian checks on the wort of his Russian Imperial Stout with Dogfish brewpub manager Jason Weissberg.

He'd loaded each version with more and more cold-pressed coffee and Columbus, Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Just how much?

"Like, a lot," the 35-year-old safety engineer says.

The beer's in-your-face punch earned it the name Death Metal, and Tom had high hopes going into Philly Beer Week's Extreme Homebrew Challenge in June. Maybe, just maybe, he'd take the top prize and get to brew a batch with Sam at our experimental brewhouse in Rehoboth.

"I knew it was a well-made beer," Tom says, "but it's a Russian Imperial Stout. A lot of people make them. The only specialty ingredients were coffee, molasses, vanilla beans and honey. I didn't know if it was enough to impress Sam."

There was another hitch, too: Tom had only one case left, and the bottles hadn't carbonated. With no time to brew another batch, he poured the flat beer into a keg and force carbonated it.

"I drove it down to Philly thinking, 'I don't even know what this is gonna taste like.' But it worked."

Tom's brew -- coming in at 9% abv -- was up against two dozen others, many with more exotic ingredients and steeper doses of alcohol, but Death Metal's bold and balanced coffee profile was a jolt to the judges.

"There weren't any bad beers," Sam says. "But Tom's Death Metal stood out to me because you could taste or smell each of the special ingredients that he mentioned in the description, but none of them was overwhelming. Extreme for me is extremely flavorful, extremely memorable, not just extremely strong. And he had all of that."

Tom recently made the three-hour trek south from his home in Skippack, Pa., and the 5-barrel batch of Death Metal he brewed with Sam is now fermenting in Rehoboth. Itll hit the taps there in a few weeks and will also be going for the gold next month in the Great American Beer Festival's Pro-Am Competition in Denver.

"Just being able to share the beer with people, I couldn't think of a better opportunity," Tom says. And who knows? It'd be pretty cool to walk away with a GABF medal."

2: These boots were made for brewin'.

These boots were made for brewin'

3: Sam shovels, Tom rests.

Sam shovels, Tom rests.

4: Caution: Coffee bomb ahead.

Caution: Coffee bomb ahead.

5: First hops (besides the ones on his elbow).

First hops (besides the ones on his elbow).

6: A gold medal winner?

A gold medal winner?

posted 8/19/2011