On the last Saturday in March, more than 130 people gathered to drink homebrew in Ditmas Park. I ducked into the crowded tent late in the day, squeezing between people to the closest brewers pouring their wares, “It’s an IPA brewed with homegrown hops.”
Brewing your own beer and growing hops. Clearly, Jenny Blackwell and Maeve Turner meant business when they brought their American IPA. As I continued, offering my sample cup and asking, “What exactly is this?” I was astounded by the variety of answers, including a mango chipotle gose, a ginger IPA, a red raspberry wheat ale (named Frilly Stuff to in honor of Dolly Parton), an oaked coconut milk stout.
When I came to Sheri Jewhurst’s table to try her “Nailed it!” cream ale, I even clarified, “So it’s just a cream ale?” Of course, it’s a reductive question because a perfectly clean, refreshing cream ale is no easy feat when brewing in a Brooklyn kitchen.
Amid all the creative ingredients and brewing prowess, it was easy to forget the one factor that truly made the competition stand out: All the entrants were women.
The Brooklyn Women Homebrew Competition was organized by Sycamore Bar & Flower Shop owner Kathie Lee, “It’s a really great opportunity for each of these 15 ladies to tell ‘her story’ about what beer means to them and Women’s History Month.”
The creativity in the field was not lost on the competition judges, three leaders in the New York City brewing community, Mary Izett, co-owner and brewer at Fifth Hammer Brewing; Katarina Martinez, owner and head brewer at Lineup Brewing; and Erica Shea, co-owner and founder of Brooklyn Brew Shop.
Read more: This Sunset Park Brewer Wants a More Gender-Neutral Beer Culture
“We were introduced to a new pepper!” said Martinez owner when asked about the most unique entries in the competition. “Pepper beers are hard because you don’t want to drink a whole bunch if they are super spicy. This one is not super spicy but the flavor’s nice, and none of us have ever used [this pepper], which is cool.”
The pepper in question was the Japones pepper, which brewer Barbara Klauke came across at Kalustyan’s and used to spice up her chocolate stout.
Entries were also inventive in the style they chose. “When a homebrewer can get a really good sour beer, it’s impressive. It’s not an easy thing to do,” said Izett. Shea noted that even harder than a sour is extracting recognizable fruit flavor in a beer, especially with tricky fruits like peaches.
It’s clear these factors were on the judge’s mind when they picked a winner. Carrie Soom’s Sour Saison with Lactose and Cherries won judges’ choice.
She got positive feedback about her ruby-red beer throughout the day, “People said they enjoyed it, and that’s enough to make me happy … but it’s always hard to tell if that will translate into judges liking it,” she said. Soom is the president of the Brewminaries, a Prospect Heights–based homebrew club, which had many members in the competition as contestants.
After the packed tent and excitement of the day, Kathie Lee said there are already plans to make the competition an annual event for Sycamore.
Here’s a full lineup of the winners:
JUDGES’ CHOICE AWARD:
Winner: Cherry Gergich (sour saison with lactose and cherries) by Carrie Soom
Honorable Mentions: Purrrrfect Porter (porter) by Alanna Iacono, and Peach to the Beat (Belgian blond ale with peaches) by Pia Sen
PEOPLES’ CHOICE AWARD:
Winner: Coco No Nuts Stout (oaked coconut milk stout) by Mary Kimball and April Schneider
BREWER’S CHOICE AWARD:
Winners: Nailed It! (cream ale) by Sheri Jewhurst and Rhinestone Fruitbat (chocolate stout with Japones peppers) by Barbara Klauke
HOMEBREWERS’ PEER CHOICE AWARD:
Winner: Bad Mother Pucker (B.M.P.) (vanilla coffee sour with kveik) by Becca Zammito