In the early morning, on Saturday, May 2nd, 2015, on a grassy lot in downtown Rock Island, home brewers joined together in celebration of their national holiday. A total of 10 home brew kits were assembled under a big circus tent (though some did opt to be in the sunshine, as it was a beautiful day outside) and a wide range of beers were brewed and sampled.
According to the American Homebrewers Association’s website, the day was established in 1988 to celebrate National Homebrew Day – which now always falls on the first Saturday in May. Homebrewers all across the county gather together to brew in the morning and share a toast at noon, joining the smaller communities together in one moment of national celebration.
The local MUGZ home brew club has been recognizing the event for many years now at varying locations. They’ve been at Bent River Brewing Co., Great River Brewery, and have found a nice spot behind Blue Cat Brew Pub, a perfect size for everyone to have enough room and for the event to grow some over time. People trickle in between 8 and 9:30am, hauling their home brew kits, bringing up buckets and propane tanks, and hops and beakers fermenting yeast – it’s like grown up biology lab day!
And the beer! The talking…the tasting…the home brewers were making wild concoctions like a barleywine, a double IPA, a sour Amber, as well as the traditional fares of golden and pale ales. One home brewer, Adam Ross, was brewing a wit beer that he hopes, will be ready to taste at the event on May 9th at Bent River….that will also be a fun time. Look at the event page here.
The beers I tasted were also amazing. Home brewers have this freedom about them – unlike commercial brewers, they aren’t brewing for money, they’re brewing for themselves, for the love of the craft. They are able to experiment and explore without the pressure of needing to make something successful or profitable.
I had a wonderful IPA made with Comet hops, a varietal developed in 1974 to produce a more-efficient hop with higher alpha acids. However, back then brewers and drinkers preferred the clean, light lager style and the dank, citrus hop varietals were not well-received at first. This particular hop fell out of fashion and almost out of the growing scene but has slowly made a resurgence back into home brew shops. I imagine, as it becomes more readily available in the commercial market, that we will see it pop up more often. The hop’s aromatics and flavors were fantastic; this was one of the best smelling beers I’ve had in my life, pretty darn tastey too.
I also enjoyed a fantastic Belgian IPA, only a few sips of that one because it came in at 11.2% ABV! I had to watch everything that I drank there that day – part of the freedom of homebrewing is you don’t really have to test everything if you don’t want to, so a lot of the beers I tried, the guys didn’t know the exact stats on. I like to manage my intake as much as possible and homebrewers make it difficult at times (that is not a complaint, merely an observation…;)
And there were others too….endless samples it seemed like. I had two delicious pale ales that were the true embodiment of what I want in a sessionable brew. A couple of really interesting stouts with spices and fruits, a ginger mead that could knock you out if you didn’t think about what you were drinking, and a new style I’d never heard of….its called a Patersbier, the quintessential lawnmower beer. ‘Patersbier’ is Dutch for Father’s Ale, a light brew monks would make for sustenance, or for sessioning. Also known as an “enkel” or “single”, it’s made with Trappist yeast, light on the malt and hop presence so you can really enjoy those esters the yeast imparts. I read up on this beer style here.
As the morning crept closer to noon, the crowd grew. It began with just brewers and myself and eventually people starting visiting to check out what was going on. Just before noon everyone made sure to have a beer to toast. Local home brewer, Brice Swanson, led us all in recognition of the greatness of homebrewing and the community that we all get to experience together; he discussed the history of craft beer in the Quad Cities and how awesome it is, how far we’ve come.
I left shortly after that, in need of food and rest before my evening shift behind the bar. The gentlemen finished off their brews, packed up and took the tent down. I was proud to be a part of this year’s Big Brew Day, I learned a lot and got to spend time with some really great, talented brewers. I’m already looking forward to next year. And then I’ll make sure to take the day off of work.
If you’d like to see more pictures from the day, check them out here.