Thick, rich and chocolately? Light, dry and roasty? Spicy, sweet...or just plain eccentric?
Stout Month returns to the Mountain Sun, Southern Sun and the Vine Street Pub in February, and the company that owns all three is gearing up with its annual Stout Month homebrewing competition, in which the winner gets to brew his or her recipe on the Mountain Sun's system and have it served on tap.
This year, eight brewhouse employees and one guest judge are expecting to taste a whopping 75 or more beers. Previous winners have included a coconut cream stout, a chai spiced stout and the ever-popular Girl Scout Stout, made with peppermint.
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"Like the Great American Beer Festival, you have to toe the line between making a beer well and making it stand out," says Mountain Sun head brewer John Fiorilli.
"Over the years, we have been known to pick some beers with unusual ingredients. Last year," he continues, "the winner was a chai spiced stout that was pretty eccentric. It stood out for that reason, but it was also really well made. But two years ago, the winner was a foreign style stout called Shark Bite, brewed by two CU students. It was about as traditional a foreign style stout as you can get. They just used the four main ingredients, but it was made well. Ultimately, it's all about the best beer."
Finding the best beer can sometimes be tricky, though.
"We try to sort them out by category and taste the more mellow beers first and the more aggressive ones toward the end. That way our palate is not shot twenty beers in," Fiorilli says. "But it is always a guessing game: Just because a beer is labeled as a chocolate chile stout doesn't mean it is aggressive. It might be kind of mellow."
Last year, the team took about four hours to taste them all -- taking small sips -- and narrowed it down to about ten beers. Then the judges tried those ten beers again. "By the end, none of us were buzzed, but we were a little sick to our stomach," Fiorilli says.
All of the sampling and judging is done blind, since many of the contestants would be familiar to Mountain Sun employees.
And there is still time to whip up a stout.
Submissions should be 8 percent ABV or less (it's too hard for the brewery to replicate high-alcohol recipes in a timely fashion, Fiorilli says) and turned in to either Vine Street or the Southern Sun (NOT Mountain Sun) on December 16 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Homebrewers should submit the equivalent of three twelve-ounce bottles, clearly marked and including a Stout Month entry form (available online); the beer must be in a six-pack holder rather than a bag or tied together with rubber bands (a common tactic, Fiorilli says).
Contestants can't have professional brewing experience -- and they aren't allowed to use Mountain Sun's house yeast. The brewery will own the rights to the winning recipe. The winner gets a $50 gift card and the opportunity to brew on the Pub's system.
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