There may have been homebrewing in the US prior to 1978 —although a homebrewer might have received a not-too-gentle visit from the Feds.
But there was no microbrewing.
That changed after President Jimmy Carter's legalization of homebrewing on 14 October 1978; microbreweries and brewpubs began to appear soon thereafter.
It's a symbiosis sometimes unacknowledged. The Pro-Am Competition of the Great American Beer Festival is an attempt to recognize and rectify that.
In that spirit, I stopped yesterday at Sweetwater Tavern in Centreville, Va.
Homebrewer Wendell Ose was hard at work —but smiling— with Brewmaster Nick Funnell. He was brewing a full-sized batch of his Outlaw Ale, to be entered in this year's Pro-Am competition.
Craft breweries can select award-winning homebrew recipes from American Homebrewers Association (AHA)/Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) sanctioned homebrew competitions <...> The professional brewers then scale up the winning homebrew recipes to be brewed in their brewery and entered in this special competition <...> The brewery will then submit that beer into the GABF [Great American Beer Festival] Pro-Am Competition to be judged against all the other GABF Pro-Am entries. Both the winning breweries and homebrewers will be awarded gold, silver and bronze GABF Pro-Am medals to be presented during the GABF awards ceremony
Third Annual GABF Pro-Am Competition of the Great American Beer Festival
Ose (pronounced OH see) designed his Outlaw Ale as a Mild Ale, as defined by the American Homebrew Association and the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).
[Mild ale is] Copper to dark brown or mahogany color. A few paler examples (medium amber to light brown) exist. <...>
Generally a malty beer, although may have a very wide range of malt- and yeast-based flavors (e.g., malty, sweet, caramel, toffee, toast, nutty, chocolate, coffee, roast, vinous, fruit, licorice, molasses, plum, raisin). Can finish sweet or dry. Versions with darker malts may have a dry, roasted finish. Low to moderate bitterness, enough to provide some balance but not enough to overpower the malt.
<...> readily suited to drinking in quantity, <...> most are low-gravity session beers in the range 3.1-3.8%, although some versions may be made in the stronger (4%+) range for export, festivals, seasonal and/or special occasions.
<...> [Mild] may have evolved as one of the elements of early porters. In modern terms, the name “mild” refers to the relative lack of hop bitterness (i.e., less hoppy than a pale ale, and not so strong). Originally, the “mildness” may have referred to the fact that this beer was young and did not yet have the moderate sourness that aged batches had. Somewhat rare in England, good versions may still be found in the Midlands around Birmingham.
UK beer blogger Martyn Cornell recently 'e-published' a marvelous book on British beer styles: Amber Gold & Black. He has a somewhat different take on mild:
Mild was a style that came into its ascendancy from the 1830s onwards, pushing out the previously dominant English beer style, porter, until itself being replaced after 1960 as the best-selling style by bitter. You’d assume, I think, that dark mild, easily the leading variety, nationally, in the lifetime of any drinker alive today, must be the ancient, original version. <...> [But] dark mild is actually a 20th-century phenomenon.
The critical point is that a mild today is a relatively dark session ale, that is, not a highly alcoholic hop bomb, but a beer suitable for several pints without bringing on inebriation or tannic saturation. Modern US interpretations tend toward a subtle complexity of roast and dark malt. As film director Billy Wilder said, "Make the subtleties obvious."
(Despite the current vogue for high alcohol and extreme beers, Funnell remains wistfully sanguine that mild ales in general might resurge in popularity. Read more on Mild Ale here.)
Ose had originally brewed his Outlaw Ale at home as a clone of Funnell's mild ale at Sweetwater Tavern. Yesterday, his recipe was scaled back up to brewpub dimensions. Ose was chuckling at the circularity.
Not divulging too many recipe details, Ose and Funnell told me that Outlaw Ale had been brewed to an OG (original gravity) of 9°P and 17 BUs (bittering units).
°P refers to degrees Plato; it is a measure of the amount of sugar (usually derived from barley malt) available to the yeast for fermentation. Standard beers are brewed to 12.5 °P; many so-called 'extreme beers' are higher yet.
BUs —bittering units— refer to the bittering aspect of hop tannins. North American Industrial Ales (N.A.I.L.) have much lower BU levels than craft brews, which in turn have lower levels than extreme beers which approach 100 BUs.
Outlaw Ale should finish at about 3.5% abv (alcohol by volume). [Actually finished at 3.7% abv.]
Its 17 BUs should lend it a pleasing, well-balanced structure. It's a question of balance. A smaller beer, that is a beer with a lower original gravity (°P), will require fewer hops than a bigger beer for a similar 'hoppy' effect.
Expect Outlaw Ale on tap at Sweetwater Tavern in mid-September. [UPDATE 2008.09.23: On tap now.]
The results at the Great American Beer Festival will be announced 11 October in Denver.
I wish them good luck, but they might not need that. Wendell has received several awards as a homebrewer (which is indeed why his beer is being entered) and Nick's beers for Sweetwater Tavern have repeatedly won at the Great American Beer Festival.
[UPDATE 2008.10.11. Wendell and Nick didn't win for their efforts. But another local homebrewer and brewery did. National Beer Judge Lyle Brown and Starr Hill Brewing of Crozet, Virginia won the silver medal for their Bamberg Hellerbock —a pale bock lager brewed with smoked malt. Congratulations.]