That day, Ruddich redeemed himself with another Tripel, a stellar one aged in bourbon barrels that fit more along the lines of what he usually brings.
His mistake underscores a central tenant of brewing; “we’re basically just janitors,” he says. “Most of your problems stem from contamination. Once you’ve got your process down, you can start getting creative.”
As with most homebrew clubs, the Stoney Creek guys build on a shared general starting point: cloning one’s favorite beer. From there they go after a style in the broader sense, as they try to match literal definitions with what their taste-buds are telling them.
On this point, Belkowski puts it best: “If you’re not experienced enough it’s easy for you to have the clear cut example before you in the description and taste,” he says, referring to the reading of target attributes that precedes each beer. Of course, “the same goes for palate fatigue,” he adds, speaking of a potential affliction for beer judges.
Kölsches, because of their hybrid nature, Ruddich says, make for a good beer for novice homebrewers, as the yeast that defines them ferments in the middle ground between that of lagers and ales. “You can go right either way—if you miss, you still have a good beer.”
Among other contests, the rigors of The National Homebrewers Competition and the year-long vying to be named The Eastern Pennsylvania Homebrewer of The Year help since it pushes homebrewers to brew to specific standards. Also, having to describe their beer to competition judges forces them to dive deeper into analysis than any barroom session. The major benefit though, comes from the judge’s feedback—a conversational retracing of the process from step one.
“I enter my beer thinking what is wrong with it and I want someone to tell me why,” Belkowski says.
The convenient thing for Stoney Creek is that they don’t have to wait for the next competition—Josh, Stan, Scott, and Bill are BJCP (Brewing Judge Certification Program) certified by The American Homebrewers Association. While it’s a demanding learning curve, it’s a ramped up extension of the knowledge gained during and in between meetings.
And the learning by teaching motif doesn’t stop there.