Monday, June 18, 2007

A shot – not so long now – at beer fame

They call him ESB Dave.

Dave Pobutkiewicz (pronounced POE' • but • KEV • ich) picked up that nom de bière thanks to his two-year quest to clone Fuller’s marquee brew.

It helps, too, that the initials for extra special bitter distinguish him from several other Daves in his homebrewer club, the Defiant Homebrewers, who meet at Defiant Brewing Company just across the state line in Pearl River, N.Y.

But if you ask what his favorite beer style is, ESB Dave will tell you maibock, or helles bock, as beer aficionados also know it.

“There’s so much challenge to making a light-colored, full bodied beer,” says the 39-year-old from Pompton Lakes in Passaic County who has homebrewed for 11 years.

Now, Dave has another reason to enjoy a helles bock. His interpretation of the style scored him a berth in the finals of the 2007 Samuel Adams American Homebrew contest.

With that honor, Dave – who’s one of two finalist from the competition’s Boston regional judging – and finalists from the San Francisco and Chicago regionals get an invitation to the Great American Beer Festival (Oct. 11-13) in Denver.

That’s where Boston Beer Company will announce two winning homebrewers, whose beers will be brewed by Boston Beer for the next Samuel Adams LongShot variety pack.

A third homebrew, from the Samuel Adams employees contest, will be chosen to round out the nationally distributed sixpack through voting by attendees at the GABF.

(The variety pack is made up of two bottles of each beer. The current variety pack, featuring brews from the 2006 winners, includes an old ale, a Dortmunder style export and a boysenberry wheat ale.)

Boston Beer’s brewmasters, beer judges from the Beer Judge Certification Program, and other qualified judges put their palates and noses to good use to select the finalists. The company announced the final four from the more than 1,700 entries last Friday.

Dave found out a little earlier in the week in a phone call from his homebrewing compadre, Chris Baas of Midland Park in Bergen County, who entered an alt and kölsch in the contest. (Chris' alt finished in the top 10 of the Boston regional judging, by the way.)

“He said are you sitting down, Sam Adams just called me,” Dave says, describing what he thought was the introduction to a bittersweet moment: his losing and Chris setting his sights on Denver.

But it was the other way around. Chris was calling to inform and congratulate his friend.

Chris, a finalist in a separate Samuel Adams’ homebrew competition last year, shipped both of their entries to the Boston judging – just a day before the mid-May deadline. But he didn’t have Dave’s phone number handy, so he listed his own as the contact. When the Boston Beer folks called Chris, they were actually looking for Dave.

Chris describes his friend as a "meticulous brewer" whose toughest critic is perhaps himself. "He’s so critical of his own beers. He doesn’t make flawed beers. We all keep telling him his beer is good," says Chris.

Dave, a service technician who helped install the coolant lines at Defiant Brewing ("I'll work for beer," he jokes), says he almost didn’t have enough of the bock to enter. The 5-gallon batch – tweaked and refined from a previous take on the bock – was so good, he came close to finishing it in the month or so before the contest deadline. The Sam Adams folks would need seven bottles; Dave got down to eight, cutting it that close.

Dave and Chris, who’s also a beer judge, are no strangers to beer competition.

Chris has been in the winner’s circle in Best of Brooklyn and other contests. Dave has watched his own brews, such as an imperial stout and Belgian strong ale, finish in the top three. He also took a first place in New Jersey State Fair competition with a hefeweizen, just getting edged out of the best-in-show award.

But right now, Dave’s looking forward, busy compiling the details of his bock recipe and biographical information that Boston Beer has requested.

Not to mention setting his sights on 2008.

About Dave’s maibock

Grain bill: Pilsner malt, light munich malt and a half pound of wheat.
Hops: Spalt and Saaz with IBU in the mid-20s.
Original gravity: 1.070 (17.2° Plato)
ABV: Just under 6.5%
Water: Dave used bottled water in the brew. “My (tap) water is ridiculously hard; I didn’t want to harsh the bitterness with that,” he says.

About Defiant Homebrewers

The club has about 20 participating members and meets the first and third Wednesdays at Defiant Brewing Company (brewmaster Neill Acer) in Pearl River, N.Y., in Rockland County.

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