The Delaware State Fair's Battle of the Brews will bring together more than 70 homebrewers and a handful of local craft breweries for beer tastings and competition this Saturday.
Beer used to help Eric Williams relax after long days at his corporate job.
Not drinking it, but making it.
And with every batch he brewed, his passion grew until he found himself dreaming of leaving the corporate world to open his own brewery.
“We still have the same passion as we did when home brewing, if not more,” the Milford resident said as he stood in Mispillion River Brewing, a 5,000-square-foot brewery that he and five other beer aficionados opened in his hometown last year. “Whether you do it at home or professionally, you have to have fun with it.”
Mispillion River Brewing is one of nine craft breweries from the Delmarva Peninsula that will be participating in the Delaware State Fair’s Battle of the Brews Craft Beer Sampling event this Saturday.
But a passion for homebrewing and craft beers isn’t limited to downstate.
A new distillery and brewery, Warlock Brewing, is slated to settle down in Smyrna after the town council approved a conditional use application earlier this month.
But for those who don’t have a professional setting to get brewing, the final product of a homemade beer is just as satisfying.
Kevin Schatz, of Middletown, said he loves partaking in a craft that’s been practice for centuries throughout every culture.
“The possibilities are limitless and we’ve seen the hobby explode in the last five years,” said the home brewer, who’s been at his craft for about four years.
While Schatz hasn’t participated in Battle of the Brews, which will feature more than 70 home brewers from across the state with 241 different beers to be judged by certified home brew judges at this year’s competition, he said it’s a great way to showcase Delaware talent.
“Many craft brewers got their start homebrewing and events like this help generate interest in the hobby, but also highlight the local businesses providing ingredients and supplies,” he said.
Delaware’s Department of Agriculture has sponsored the three-year-old Battle of the Brews as a way to support those local products, whether they’re coming from industrial-sized brewing equipment or a home-brew system set up in someone’s garage, said event organizer Jimmy Kroon.
Kroon said the home-brewing hobby has become increasingly popular, and the Department of Agriculture thought it could benefit the Delaware State Fair by tapping into a new market.
“There’s a lot of emphasis now on local products and creating things with your hands, so this kind of ties in with it,” he said. “It’s part of the craft-beer boom that’s going on right now.”
For many home brewers, the most exciting part of the process is experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. And whether the work is done in a garage or a full-scale brewery, it requires a touch of science, engineering and plumbing in addition to a taste for beer.
But for Newark resident Pete Krause, the testing and tasting doesn’t stop when the brew is ready.
Krause has been working on “Brewed Jerky,” craft-beer infused beef jerky that he hopes will take off with the new trend of locally-made craft beers.
“I melded my love for cooking with my love for drinking and making beer,” he said. Krause, like many home brewers in Delaware, does his best to find locally grown and sourced products, which he also applies when he’s making his jerky.
“As I make my own beer and make my own jerky, it can grow into something that’s all locally sourced and sold,” he said.
“It started as a hobby and I will probably end up doing it for the rest of my life.”
As home brewers come together to share their passion at the Delaware State Fair this weekend, the competition also will give them a chance to get some input on their concoctions.
“Brewers like to get the unbiased feedback from somebody who’s done some training and can taste beer and recognize good beer and beer flaws,” Kroon said. “It’s a much different kind of feedback than when you’re standing in front of somebody.”
With more than 200 entries in the home-brewing competition, judges will test everything from pale ales to stouts, American ales to hybrids and pilsners, all ending with a final competition to name the best in show.
But no matter the style or the method, it’s all about having fun while creating something locally, Kroon said.
“To us, in a way, it’s not that much different from somebody who’s baking bread or any other food product,” he said. “People have been doing it for centuries, but I think people like it because they get to create something with their hands, and it’s something they enjoy consuming afterwards, of course.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT Battle of the Brews at the Delaware State Fair
WHEN Saturday, July 19: Home brew judging from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., local craft beer sampling from 5 to 8 p.m. and awards ceremony at 7 p.m.
WHERE Co-op Entertainment Tent at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington
TICKETS Delaware State Fair gate admission is $8.50 for adults, $3.50 for children ages six to 12, or $15.50 for a three-day adult pass.
MORE INFO Call (302) 398-3269, visit delawarestatefair.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
2014 BATTLE OF THE BREWS PARTICIPANTS
241 entries from 76 brewers
3rd Wave Brewing Company
Argilla Brewing Company
Coastal Brewing (Fordham and Old Dominion)
Mispillion River Brewing
Tall Tales Brewing
Twin Lakes Brewing
Dover Homebrew Supply
Xtreme Brewing Homebrew Supply
BATTLE OF THE BREWS 2013 WINNERS
HOMEBREWING BEST IN SHOW Clint Lang’s Biere de Miel
PEOPLE’S CHOICE CRAFT BREW 3rd Wave Brewing’s Sunset Peach Wheat Brew