Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This chocolate's hot

Iron Hill writes another chapter in its ongoing sponsorship of competitive homebrewing, tapping a chipotle pepper-cocoa-cinnamon porter Monday night created by Camden County homebrewer Michael Bittner, who claimed the 2011 Iron Brewer title.

It's the second year for the contest at IH's Maple Shade location, continuing a tradition that started at the brewpub's West Chester, Pa., site a half dozen or so years ago and takes its name partly from the Iron Chef television show.

Claiming his top prize of making beer on a commercial scale, Michael, an Audubon resident and member of the Barley Legal Homebrewers club of South Jersey, brewed the 9-barrel batch of Aztec Ale Nov. 5th under the supervision of head brewer Chris LaPierre, who scaled up Michael's 5-gallon recipe.

(Last year's Iron Brewer beer was a coffee stout called Luca Brasi, brewed by Barley Legal members Jim Carruthers and Scott Davi, winners of the inaugural Maple Shade competition.)

Aztec Ale has a chocolaty aroma and taste, with a finish of gentle pepper heat; there's a bounce of vanilla in there, too. The cinnamon was prominent on the palates for some folks, but less so for others.

Both pro brewer and homebrewer were happy with the outcome.

"It's just what I remember it being, reminds me of the original recipe ... the smell, the taste is very similar," Michael said after the tapping.

Aztec Ale, Chris says, stands as one of the more exotic brews to be entered in the Iron Brewer contest.

"This would be one of them. It definitely had a lot of ingredients that I don't often use in the brewery," he says. "There was also a beet beer last time that came pretty close to winning. That was really interesting."

Aztec Ale also marks the third fusion of chocolate, cinnamon and hot peppers by a Jersey brewpub this year. Basil T's in Red Bank and the Tun Tavern in Atlantic City both brewed with those ingredients back in January as a collaboration called Chocolate Fire, done under the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild's Jersey's Finest banner.

Like the other 10 or so contestants who vied for the Iron Brewer title this year, Michael made his beer with wort collected from the second runnings of IH's The Situation, a robust ABV beer (almost 10%) that weaves in and out of a few styles (think barleywine meets double IPA).

The contest, in fact, started as a way to make use of the healthy amount of malt sugar that would otherwise go down the drain after the needed volume of wort for The Situation is collected in the kettle.

Chris says The Situation likely will be scheduled for brewing again in February. "So that's probably when we'll do the next Iron Brewer wort pickup," he says.

Right now Michael is basking in the limelight of Aztec Ale, and planning to clone Dogfish Head's Indian Brown Ale, not to mention looking forward to defending his Iron Brewer title after the next wort give away.

"I'm not going to say what I'm going to brew, and it may change before then, but I've got some ideas," he says.

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