Sierra Tap House Homebrew Contest

Home brewers Bob Durr, Joe Dvorsky and Tye Morgan at the Sierra Tap House Homebrew Contest.

Home brewers Bob Durr, Joe Dvorsky and Tye Morgan at the Sierra Tap House Homebrew Contest.

Photo By Brad Bynum

For beer lovers interested in learning more about the fine art of home brewing, a good place to start is Reno Homebrewer, 2335 Dickerson Road, 329-2537.

Let me start this off with two important disclosures: First, I host a weekly pub quiz, Tuesday Night Trivia, at Sierra Tap House, the bar that hosted this event. Second, I went to the Sierra Tap House Homebrew Contest at the Truckee River Music Fest with the primary intention of blazing a skyrocketing path toward complete and total obliterated inebriation.

Now, the mature reader might scoff at the latter admission—and it does veer far to the left of the middle path of moderation. But I wasn’t drinking simply to get face-flat drunk—there are quicker, more efficient methods than a homebrew contest. I was drinking to really appreciate and enjoy getting face-flat drunk, to savor the subtle nuances of a potent, carefully crafted and finely calibrated alcohol buzz.

For practitioners and admirers of the art of home brewing, beer means a lot more than tasteless, light American lager meant to be shotgunned as fast possible. It’s an ancient alchemical artform with infinite potential for exploring the human palate. The 18 amateur brewers who participated in the contest are clearly people who love beer and are interested in crafting something to enjoy with friends as well as exploring interesting and unusual tastes.

Home brewers are willing to experiment with wacky styles that will probably never catch on commercially. Take, for example, Matt Shaw’s milk stout or Justin Snow’s chocolate raspberry ale, two beers that stimulate such unlikely places in the mouth that it forces the drinker to pause in pleasant confusion. Another intriguing oddity was Jeff Young’s root beer stout, a beer that smelled like sarsaparilla root beer but tasted like a dark, malty stout.

Many home brewers also explore the rich, wild history of the great beverage, seeking and finding unusual styles in the annals of beer lore. One of my favorite beers of the day was Tye Morgan and Joe Dvorsky’s pre-prohibition ale, a real old-school brew.

“It’s a simple, back-to-basics beer,” said Morgan.

Dvorsky teaches classes at the Reno Homebrewer, the best local resource for aspiring home brewers.

But some of the beers were so experimental with unusual fruit flavors and whatever else that they lost track of their essential beer quality.

“Those flavors shouldn’t be the overwhelming aspect,” said Terence Sullivan, assistant brewmaster at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and one of the contest’s judges. “You don’t want to go too overboard and lose the beer quality.”

The judges evaluated the beer with an eye toward the style being produced.

“The best in show … is the truest to the style being attempted,” said Sullivan.

For that top prize, the judges selected “Ruthless Reid’s Organic IPA,” a brew by Renoite Matt Johnson with a label that featured an image of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid apparently flipping the bird. The spicy rye flavor balanced with the hoppiness typical of IPA brews for a beer with a full flavor but a clean finish.

I missed my goal of trying each of the 18 beers—though I had multiple glasses of some of them. And I took copious and increasingly indecipherable notes. After the afternoon-long contest, I fell asleep at 7 p.m. and woke with a confused jolt four hours later with a hangover—the lingering, burning afterglow of my skyrocketing path. I was then reminded of an important life lesson about any artform, oft learned, rarely retained: Pace yourself.