Friday, September 12, 2008

Best in show

Four years ago, a pale ale put Mike Wenzel and Steve Moen in the winner’s circle of the New Jersey State Fair homebrew competition.

Last month, they proved you can mess with success and walk away champs again, winning best in show in the fair competition with another American pale ale.

The 38-year-olds, buddies since grade school and homebrewers for about a dozen years, will again brew at Krogh’s Restaurant & Brewpub under the supervision of the Sparta establishment’s brewer and chef, David Cooper.

Look for the duo’s Turnpike Pale Ale (5.8% ABV) to go on tap sometime in early 2009. Yeah, that’s quite awhile from now, but it’s probably the earliest David can work Mike and Steve’s brew into the pub’s rotation of seasonal beers.

(FYI: That's Mike at left and Steve below. Download a pdf list of winners here.)

Krogh’s is a longtime sponsor of the state fair homebrew contest, but the grand prize of brewing a beer with the pub’s 5-barrel system to be served to Krogh’s patrons is a recent feature of the competition (more precisely, it’s in its fifth year).

Mike, a Pequannock resident, and Steve, who lives in Jefferson, were the first winners of the grand prize, in 2004, claiming the guest tap handle with their Hay Bale Pale Ale. (Krogh’s, by the way, is their watering hole, when they’re not partaking of their own brews.)

Their 2008 winner – hoppier than its predecessor – was originally brewed for a Fourth of July party. What was left over became a contest entry, Steve says. (The guys, who memorialize their brewing efforts with a Web site, also took first runner-up with an IPA; friend of the blog Dave Pobutkiewicz, an accomplished homebrewer in his own right and one-time Samuel Adams homebrew finalist, was second runner-up with his weizen.)

David says the homebrew contest is good for both the hobby brewers and the bar. When the victory brew goes on tap, it becomes a big draw, as family and friends of the winners pour into the bar to get a taste. Plus, there's a huge pride moment for the homebrewers when they see others enjoying a beer they created. "I'm still amazed to see people drink my beer," David says.

About the Turnpike Pale Ale

  • Grain bill, hop profile and yeast: Mike and Steve created a base of pale and pilsner malts, and nuanced those malt flavors and color with some 20-degree Lovibond crystal malt and some munich malt. Amarillo was used as the bittering hop, with Cascade and Centennial in the nose. Another round of Cascade was used for dry hopping. The duo fermented with Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast.
  • The name: In a place like New Jersey, you might think it’s nod to our nationally known toll road ("Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all gone to look for America," sang Simon & Garfunkel). Guess again. Mike and Steve use the name in a more general or historic sense, sort of like Hamburg Turnpike, the moniker of a local road in Wayne. Steve says the two mused that if they opened a brewery it would be called Turnpike Brewery; hence Turnpike Pale Ale.
  • Recent notable brews: They did a bourbon barrel porter, aging it on top of some oak cubes, with two Madagascar vanilla beans (split) tossed in for some extra flavor.
What’s happening at Krogh’s
David says the pub’s wildly popular Oktoberfest beer will go on tap Sept. 26, a little late this year compared to past years, although David tries to time it to Munich’s Oktoberfest (which starts Sept. 20).

Beware: It goes quickly. The pub sped through 27 kegs of the fest beer in 27 days last year. And when it’s gone, it’s gone until next year. By the by, the fest beer will be followed by a cider ale made with cider from Windy Brow Farms, located in Fredon in Sussex County.

Meanwhile, Krogh’s is helping support veterans with promotions that run through Nov. 11, Veterans Day. (More details here.)

Also, look for the pub to mark its 10th anniversary next February with a doppelbock and some commemorative mugs. The bock has become the pub’s milestone beer, says David. It was brewed to salute Krogh’s fifth anniversary, and to mark the pub's 500th brew about three years ago.

In case you're wondering, Krogh's is now at about 750 brews. And counting.

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