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Beer-brewing pals craft a winner!

October 22nd, 2007 |

Hobbyist and pro concoct a winning India Pale Ale
Tim Blangger | The Netizen’s Guide

October 17, 2007

On the face of it, it’s an odd combination. Imagine a professional chef collaborating with a barbecue enthusiast. Or a NASCAR pit crew member joining forces with a shade-tree mechanic.
That was the idea behind a professional-amateur collaboration organized last weekend by the biggest beer contest in the country, the Great American Beer Festival.
A Lehigh Valley duo took gold in the Pro-Am category. Chris Bowen, a Bethlehem home brewer, and Beau Baden, brewmaster for the Allentown and Bethlehem branches of the Brew Works, collaborated on an English-style India Pale Ale. They beat out 47 others in the category.

The idea for the team started at a beer dinner this summer at the Bethlehem Brew Works restaurant and brew pub.Bowen, 40, a financial planner whose hobbies include jazz guitar, woodworking and electronics, started chatting about beers with Baden, 36.

“Chris mentioned that he had a few award-winning beers,” recalls Baden. “I asked to look over what he had. He brought in a few beers to taste, but he didn’t have the [IPA] we eventually brewed. I just felt the recipe was what we were looking for, for both the competition and for the restaurant. “Sometimes, home brewers get a little over the top and while what they make is interesting, it doesn’t work well in a brew pub setting. We didn’t want something dumbed down. We wanted something with a lot of flavor.

“Bowen was planning to attend the Great American Beer Festival in Denver anyway, so the idea of entering one of his beers appealed.The two began collaborating on the entry, eventually using the brewing facilities at the Allentown Brew Works, which opened this summer.

Adjusting the home-brewing recipe for a much larger batch was the critical problem, says Baden. “Chris kept really good records, so we were able to tell how he brewed it. But you just can’t multiply some numbers and make 500 gallons.” It is a process brewers call “scaling out,” or translating the critical ingredient amounts from a small to a large batch.

The ingredients were also slightly different from the ones Baden normally uses. “We normally use North American barley, but Chris wanted us to use a British malted barley.” The result was quite close to the small-batch brews Bowen made at home.

“I’m a British beer fan,” says Bowen. “That’s my forte. Most people in this country like American-style pale ales, but in England, they’re more refined and reserved, much like British culture itself.” They offered the brew, with the slightly mundane name of Pro-Am IPA, for sale at the Allentown and Bethlehem brew pubs.

The brewers then took several bottles and a small keg of the IPA to Denver for the contest. This was the second year the festival has offered the pro-am category. While most categories in the event are style specific — American-style lagers are pitted against other American-style lagers — any style of brew can be entered into the pro-am category.

The contest had very specific requirements. The home brewer must be a member of the American Homebrewing Association, and the team must use his or her recipe, which must have won an award at an AHA event in the previous year. The brewing must be done at a professional facility, assisted by a professional.

Bowen attended the awards ceremonies in Colorado with Baden and members of the Fegley family, which owns the brew pubs. When the gold medal was announced, “I was in complete shock,” says Bowen.

Bowen ended up accepting the award for both himself and Baden, who could not work his way quickly enough through the large crowd early Saturday afternoon. “I waited as long as I could,” Bowen said. The pro-am award was given first, before any of the other 75 categories at the festival.

The festival is considered the premiere competition among beer professionals, one that draws entries from both major beer producers and smaller craft breweries. Pabst Brewing Company, based in Woodbridge, Ill, won the large brewing company of the year award. Bob Newman, who lives in Lower Macungie Township and runs Pabst’s brewery mostly from his home office, was also named large brewer of the year.

Eleven other breweries in Pennsylvania received gold, silver or bronze medals in this year’s competition. Regional winners include Stoudt’s Brewing Co., based in Lancaster County, which won a silver for its Wiezen and a bronze for its Ofest, a Vienna-Style lager.

Harrisburg’s Troegs Brewing Co. won a gold for its TroegenatorPA, a Bock beer, and Downingtown’s Victory Brewing Co. won a gold for its Festbier, a Marzen or Octoberfest style, and a silver for its Prima Pils, a German-style Pilsner.

Bowen and Baden are now back in the Lehigh Valley, where it’s still possible to buy a glass of their winning beer. Bethlehem Brew Works sold out but the Allentown pub has about a keg left, says Jeff Fegley, who helps run the restaurants with other members of his family.

Another batch of the Pro-Am IPA is being brewed at the Allentown facility and should be done in about four weeks. The ale involves a dry hopping step, where hops are placed in the final fermentation of the ale, a process that requires some added brewing time. Most ales are brewed in about 10 days.

“It was a good recipe and Beau really helped out with it,” Bowen said. “I got a chance, for a guy who makes five gallons at a time, to make 500. That was the biggest thrill for me.”

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