Beers from 10 different states captured the 12 awards handed out in the first Radical Beer Open, a contest born to highlight the fact that some of the most innovative beers in the world are brewed in America.
Only California had multiple winners, as Russian River in Santa Rosa took first and second in medium-strength beers and Le Woody from Pizza Port in Solana Beach won the gold in the wild category.
“We hope that ‘radical’ doesn’t scare away beer drinkers, because compared to the mainstream/international lagers that still dominate beer sales even a full flavored 4.6% witbier will seem radical to most,” said Stan Hieronymus of the Dukes of Ale, an Albuquerque homebrew club that organized the competition.
Certified beer judges and professional brewers judged 60 beers blind before picking three winners in each of four categories. The book “Radical Brewing,” by Randy Mosher, provided the inspiration. In it, Mosher writes: “The only requirement for being a radical brewer is to pursue the art with passion,” and “. . . beer is an art form, a gastronomic treasure, a political act, a mystical ritual, a food, and a fundamental human craft.”
Armed with those somewhat vague guidelines, the judges picked from beers that are sometimes called “extreme” and other times “to style.” The winning beers in the 5.1-7.5% abv category nicely illustrate the radical nature of the contest.
First was Temptation from Russian River Brewing.
“Is it beer, or is it wine?” the brewery asks on the back of the bottle. “‘Aged in French oak wine barrels for twelve months with distinct characteristics of fruit and subtle oak’ sounds more like a description of wine than beer. But, of course, Temptation is indeed beer. Actually, Temptation is a Blonde Ale Fermented with a special strain of yeast, then aged in French oak chardonnay barrels. Flavors of wine and oak absorb into the brew throughout twelve months of aging. During this aging process, a secondary fermentation occurs using a yeast strain disliked by most brewers and winemakers called Brettanomyces. The ‘Bret’ gives Temptation intriguing characteristics and a pleasant sourness. Temptation is re-fermented in the bottle to create its carbonation – a process commonly used to make fine champagne and sparkling wine.”
Second was Supplication, another of the “14 stages of ‘tion'” beers from Russian River. The brown ale is aged in Pinot Noir wine barrels for one year with sour cherries and three “wild” yeast strains.
Bronze winner Cerise Cassée (“Broken Cherry’) from Cambridge Brewing Co. in Cambridge, Mass., begins with a 100% sour mash for three days. After primary fermentation, brewer Will Meyers adds 300 pounds of sour cherries and ignites a second fermentation with a Belgian abbey ale yeast. A third fermentation with several strains of Brettanomyces lasts nine months in French oak Pinot Noir barrels.
What’s important, of course, is what the beer tastes like. Cerise Cassée certainly challenged one of the judges, who said “this one you would have to drink through but it would be worth the effort.”
CATEGORY 1 – 5% ABV & LESS
Gold – Witbier, Chama River Brewing Co., Albuquerque, New Mexico
Silver – Orange Blossom Wheat, Papago Brewing, Scottsdale, Arizona
Bronze – Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, Nodding Head brewery & Restaurant, Philadelphia
CATEGORY 2 – 5.1-7.5%
Gold – Temptation, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California
Silver – Supplication, Russian River Brewing, Santa Rosa, California
Bronze – Cerise Cassée, Cambridge Brewing, Cambridge, Massachusetts
CATEGORY 3 – 7.6% ABV & MORE
Gold – Three Philosophers, Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Silver – World Wide Stout, Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, Delaware
Bronze – Samuel Adams Double Bock, Boston Beer Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, brewery
CATEGORY 4 – WILD
Gold – Le Woody, Port Brewing, Solana Beach, California
Silver – La Folie, New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado
Bronze – De Wilde Zuidentrein, Flossmoor Station Brewing Co., Flossmoor, Illinois
The contest was sponsored by Brewers Supply Group and Realbeer.com. Breweries were permitted only two entries.