When Kevin Stafford of 18th Street started homebrewing five and a half years ago, he was inspired to do so by his friends as an outlet for their passion for beer.
Now, as members of the , his friends still inspire him, but they are also competing in a year-long war to see whose brew is best.
“My signature beer is the 'Narwhal IPA,'" said Stafford, who won second place in the competition last year with an IPA, an intensely hop-y brew.
Knights? Narwhals? What now?
The Knights of Bruklyn, a social club and secret society of sorts, meets monthly at to don Fez hats, share homebrewed creations and wax poetic about beer-making techniques.
“It's like a good dart league with no darts and better beer," said Knights’ founder and Union Hall manager Kevin Avanzato. Avanzato, a beer enthusiast who doesn’t homebrew himself, suspected that there was sizable homebrew community to tap when he first dreamed up the club in June 2010.
So how does it work? A call for entries goes out to an E-mail list of approximately 100 people. Avanzato accepts the first 15 to 18 brewers to respond. They must then bring a minimum of 72 ounces of beer (essentially a six pack) to Union Hall for the competition.
Three judges—typically beer professionals such as brewers, brewery owners or the like—judge submissions based on aroma, appearance, taste, and finish, determining who should receive first, second and third place. The judges also include notes for all entrants that may be helpful for future brewing efforts.
In the meantime, non-competing patrons may attend the event to mingle with brewers, snack on Stinky Bklyn cheeses, sample the beers and vote for the "wild card" fourth place category: the people's choice.
In addition to prizes and placing honors, winners proceed to the finals in December, where 16 homebrewers will compete and one will walk away as the 2011 Knights of Bruklyn champion. The grand prize: a chance to brew a keg of beer at Sixpoint Craft Ales in Red Hook, and drink it at a private party at Union Hall.
“KoB events are both humbling and empowering,” said St. Johns Place resident and club member Mike Pomranz. “You realize there are people out there who know more about homebrewing than you may ever know, but at the same time it's a community atmosphere and everyone is willing to give you advice. “
The competitions also offer the chance to taste inspired flavor combinations.
“Many modern homebrewers see it as our job to push the envelope,” added Pomranz. “Now that you can go to a Whole Foods (or even many Key Foods!) and get pretty much every style you've ever heard of, it's up to homebrewers to forge new ground by taking the risks that even small breweries don't want to or can't afford to take. So you’ll see crazy things like a 'Szechuan-style' beer.”
Five-year homebrewer and Cobble Hill resident Fritz Fernow concurs.
“People are all over the place, especially with experimental beers, adding fruit, herbs, oak, spices etc.,” he said. “You always need to keep your ears open to learn new ideas. The KoB competitions keep you on your toes.
Fernow’s signature brew, Horney RYEnocerous (an IPA with Rye malt) took first in the Knights of Bruklyn Brew Off .
The next event in the series will take place next week on Tuesday, August 2 at 7 p.m. and entry is free.
“In the end, it's all about hand crafted cookery in tiny apartment kitchens by self-taught artisans dreaming of a world where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a good beer,” said Avanzato. “I actually have no idea where the cat comes in or why it's dead, but you get my drift.”
Entry submissions for August 2 are closed, but the October 4 call for entries will be the week of 8/8-8/14. Those interested in competing should email email@example.com