Beer Town: Sam Adams contest won by exotic brews

My dad was a home brewer. He made beer in the basement long before Jimmy Carter signed the 1978 bill to make it legal.

I was too young to taste a sample, though I operated the bottle capper from time to time. By all accounts, his recipe was a British-style mild or brown ale, probably inherited from my grandfather’s family, which came from Northern England.

I thought about my dad a few weeks ago while I was in Boston to help judge the final round of the annual Samuel Adams Longshot American Homebrew Contest.

This year, home brewers from around the country were invited to brew an experimental “specialty beer,” defined in the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines under category 23: “One that is a harmonious marriage of ingredients, processes and beer. The key attributes of the underlying style [if declared] will be atypical due to the addition of special ingredients or techniques.”

The winners were exotic beers my dad would scarcely recognize: a Black IPA brewed with dark roasted malts and loads of citrus hop, a tart fruit beer flavored with goji berries and a hoppy ale concocted by Atlanta home brewer, Rich Roper, who put together attributes of American IPA and Belgian tripel to produce a very tasty hybrid.

The beer journalist judging panel included Julie Johnson, All About Beer magazine editor; Tom Dalldorf, Celebrator Beer News publisher; Tony Forder, Ale Street News founder, and Jason and Todd Alstrom, Beer Advocate brothers. Jim Koch, Boston Beer Co. founder, led the discussions, which were spirited, often humorous, but very serious about promoting the best beers.

In the end, we chose recipes from four fine home brewers, including Roper, who will travel to Denver in September, when the top two winners will be announced at the Great American Beer Festival. What’s more exciting, the winning beers will be brewed by Boston Beer Co. and included in the 2011 Sam Adams Longshot variety pack.

The Longshot competition is a great reminder of the symbiotic relationship that’s always existed between home brewing and craft brewing. Many of the best craft beers are made at companies founded by former home brewers, including the likes of Bell’s, Dogfish Head and Stone.

For the past eight years, Zymurgy Magazine, a premier home-brewing publication, has asked readers to send in a list of their 20 favorite commercial beers. In 2010, votes were cast for 1,192 different beers from 450 breweries.

After the final tally, the winner was the same as in 2009: Pliny the Elder from California’s Russian River Brewing Co. The heady Imperial IPA has a huge cult following, though, sadly, it isn’t available in Atlanta. Pliny only beat out Bell’s Two Hearted Ale by a mere two votes, and it is widely available here.

The final list included several tie votes, but here’s the Zymurgy survey’s top 10 beers:

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder

2. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

3. Stone Arrogant Bastard

4. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA

5. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

6. Stone IPA

T7. Bear Republic Racer 5

T7. Guinness Stout

T7. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine

T7. Sierra Nevada Celebration

Are you a home brewer? What are some of your favorite beers? Join the discussion online at the AJC Drink blog: