Amateurs are making some darn good beer in this town. Amateurs, dude.
Anyone who had the opportunity to attend the Homebrew for Hunger event at Fifth Season Gardening last fall knows about the quality of ale-shine C’ville has to offer. The only problem, assuming you’re able to get past your hang-ups about drinking unregulated beer from someone’s funky kitchen, is you rarely get to taste the stuff.
UVA Ph.D. candidate and librarian Loren Moulds has been brewing out of his own hopefully-E.coli-free kitchen for more than 10 years, ever since he was 22 and his dad bought him a brewing kit. Finally, all of Moulds’ smelly boils, dirty pots, and abrasive sterilizing materials—not to mention years of inconveniencing his wife—have paid off in the form of a chance to make one of his concoctions for distribution.
Moulds’ mosaic-hopped imperial red ale was awarded the title of best beer at Homebrew for Hunger, beating out the creations of more than 80 other amateur brewers who put their skills on display at the festival. The prize, awarded based on total votes from both fellow brewers and event attendees, was the chance to brew the winning beer to scale in the Three Notch’d brewhouse, keg it, and release it at some of the coolest beer bars in Charlottesville.
“This beer was kind of a throw-off for me. I just wanted to brew a single hop beer,” Moulds said. “I got the mosaic and put it in there to taste what the hop was like, and it was pretty yummy. I would use it again.”
On February 27, Three Notch’d will tap the first keg of Moulds’ imperial red, which he is now calling the Mosaic IRA. Shortly after the tapping event, kegs of the high alcohol throw-off will go out to the likes of Beer Run, Sedona Taphouse, Brixx, and a few other spots nearby.
According to Moulds and Three Notch’d brewmaster Dave Warwick, the Homebrew for Hunger title winner is an excellent example of what the relatively rare mosaic hops variety can bring to a beer. Expect the Mosaic IRA to be similar in hop intensity to an India pale ale (IPA) but with more malt character and a darker color.
“Mosaic is like citra [hops] on steroids,” Warwick said, comparing the varietal to the highly citrusy, recognizable hop that’s also one of Moulds’ favorites. “It has an array of flavors. You would think that it would be over the top and sharp, but it’s not at all. It’s so soft, round, and complex.”
The main sticking point in scaling up Moulds’ recipe for production turned out to be procuring enough mosaic, according to Warwick. He said the recipe required very little in the way of pro-tip tweaks other than to account for the higher sugar yields he gets in his commercial brewery, but finding the requisite 44 pounds of mosaic was another story. It was by luck that he found himself talking to his supplier at a brewers’ conference when he heard the homebrew he’d be helping make would require mosaic, and that his supplier happened to have just enough of the hops laying around to give him what he needed.
Actually producing the beer was a breeze, at least for Warwick.
“I made him do most of the work,” he said. “That’s my day off.”
While Moulds’ experience with mosaic over the years has been limited, he thinks working extensively with citra prepared him for the task. He’s been brewing variations on citra IPAs a few times a year for the past half decade.
“Basically every other beer I brew is an IPA, and I have completely fallen in love with citra,” Moulds said. “It’s hard to deviate from it.”
Straying from the comfort zone is what makes homebrewers great, though, according to Anna Haupt, Fifth Season’s general manager. Moulds, a member of homebrew club Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, is just one of many local brewers who think outside the six-pack, according to Haupt.
“There are hundreds of different types of grain and hops, and homebrewers are often the most inventive because they get to make everything in small batches,” she said. “There is a symbiotic relationship between homebrewers and craft brewers.”
Haupt said homebrewers are often ahead of the curve when it comes to using new varieties of hops. And while there are no doubt craft brewers out there who think they’re pretty inventive in their own right, the stovetop beer barons will have another chance to show off their skills this November, when FIfth Season expects to host another Homebrew for Hunger event. Get your immunizations in order now.