March 3, 2000
By Dan Bedell
Each year since 1986, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex has played host to the annual Bluebonnet Brew-Off, and the year 2000 will mark the 14th time that determined brewers from all over the state (and elsewhere) will compete to see who's homebrew will reign supreme. This event is no garage-gathering of brewers either. Last year's Bluebonnet attracted 800 entries, and this year's total should easily eclipse that mark. Not bad for a state known more for oil-spewing than beer-brewing.
As a self-proclaimed Objective Beer-Prover (of the Texas variety), I was intrigued when I found out that one of the largest home-brewing competitions in the world was right here in my back yard. So like any good Texan, I finagled an invitation to the party. That meant that last Saturday I found myself at the Winemaker shop in Ft. Worth, taking in the early check-in. It wasn't long before I had my shirtsleeves rolled up and my hands busy with the folks from the North Texas Homebrew Association, The Knights of the Brown Bottle, The Cowtown Cappers and the Net Hoppers homebrew clubs, helping get the multitude of entries registered.
For those of you who have never witnessed the check-in process for a Bluebonnet Brew-Off (don't get out much, huh?), it goes something like this: Brewers are required to provide three bottles of every beer they wish to enter (one for each potential round of the competition). The bottles must be unmarked, 10-14 ounces each, fitted with crown caps and must be made of brown or green glass. Grolsch-like swing tops are a no-no… Each entrant fills out an Entry Information Form, and a Brewer Information Form. The entry form consists of the beer's name, American Homebrewers Association style, brewer's name, and a couple of other tidbits of information, and is affixed to each bottle via rubber band.
During check-in, this label is removed, and is replaced with a sticker printed with a random number. This number is now that particular beer's anonymous identity for as long as it remains in the competition. The number is cross-referenced on the Brewer Information Form, which gets filed away or future reference. After the label is removed and a number is assigned, each bottle is given a colored sticker that denotes the AHA style that the beer inside portends to be. Each beer will be judged against other beers of that style. All in all, I helped from about 9:30 in the morning until about 2:30 in the afternoon and when I left, we'd registered 300 or so entries. Before the day was out, the dedicated volunteers from the area clubs had registered 696 entries, and still the boxes come. (Funny how the process seems to have gained efficiency after my departure…)
The Bluebonnet isn't just about the homebrewing competition either. In fact, the weekend of the big event, March 24-26, is really a massive beer extravaganza. After all, a small event might wound that stereotype that Texans work so hard to maintain. On the afternoon of the 25, the festivities get under way with a reception and banquet. The evening's keynote speaker is none other than Roger Protz. (I told you these guys were serious.)
A commercial beer guided tasting follows the banquet, with beers and brewery representatives from such redoubtable industry mainstays as New Belgium Brewing Company, Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Merchant Du Vin, Rogue and St. Arnold Brewing Company to name a few. Just in case any of the attendees might have room for more beer, the evening ends with a room-crawl that will feature the beers of many of the participating homebrew clubs. For those who manage to emerge from their rooms at the Wilson World Hotel, Irving, Texas, before noon the next morning, Saturday holds the second round judging and the (in)famous pubcrawl, touring three separate routes this year. The liver-weakened group re-assembles that night for the actual awards ceremony where the coronations will take place. (Check out the event schedule at the official website.)
On Sunday morning a BJCP exam will be given at 10:30 a.m. (mercifully) for prospective judges. The exam will serve as the final official event of the weekend and will allow the brew-off to end a more scholarly note than one might expect.
Part 2: The wait is over.