When long-time homebrew shop Niagara Tradition began stocking locally grown and malted Cambria Vines & Bines Niagara Malt, they were asked to get some feedback by maltster Bob Johnson of CVB. From there, the idea was born for a homebrew competition, in which the entries were to be made mostly from that very malt.
In its first year, the competition required 80 percent of the grist be one of two Niagara Malt products: the pale ale and pilsner malts. The competition was registered with the national beer judge certification program, and kicked off around Memorial Day with an entry deadline of Sept. 10 to give brewers the whole summer to get beers made.
With the strict requirement the beers entered be made with Niagara Malt, the competition was limited to brewers making beer at the most advanced level: "all-grain." With that in mind, organizer Bert Dyster hoped to get at least 12 entries and was pleasantly surprised when 18 beers were submitted.
The first round of judging took place about two weeks after the entry deadline. Beers were scored by panels consisting of certified and national level BJCP judges, and judges "in training" (i.e., those preparing to take the BJCP exam). From that session, six entries advanced to the final, best-of-show round.
In a different twist on homebrew competitions, Dyster took the final six entries into the radio studio for the determination of the winners to be made in an on-air tasting during his radio show "Just Brew It." He was joined by radio personality and homebrewer Jeremy White, professional brewer and BJCP-certified beer judge Tim Herzog of Flying Bison Brewery, and BJCP master beer judge and award-winning homebrewer Tim Collins to sample and evaluate the top beers and determine the best of the competition.
The final round will be broadcast on two episodes of "Just Brew It" at 9-9:30 a.m. the next Saturday mornings, Oct. 1 and 8, on 1520 AM. The winners will be announced on air on the second show.
While no entry fee was charged in the first year, Niagara Tradition did ask for three bottles of each entry. Those extra bottles will be opened up starting at noon on Oct. 8 during a homebrew tasting at Niagara Tradition. Johnson will join homebrewers. The tasting event is open to the public (age 21 and older), and homebrewers are welcome to bring samples of their own brews to share.The focus this year was exclusively on Cambria Vines & Bines Niagara Malt. Organizers hope to open it up in subsequent years to other local maltsters and hop producers as their crops come on line.