Arts & Life, Food & Drink

Manitoba’s First Pro/Am Brew Challenge

Mark Borowski is a home brewer, and a father, and looking for a job as a bartender.  Follow him on twitter @oldblackbrew

I love good craft beer. I love to drink it, talk about it, judge it, and make it. If I were rich and eccentric, I would probably bathe in it. I speak with many more Winnipeggers these days that almost think like I do. It’s not just that I’m a member of the home brew club, The Winnipeg Brew Bombers (WBB), it’s because there is a craft beer renaissance brewing.

Winnipeg is behind the times but with the relaxation of the Manitoba Liquor laws, the scene is about to get heady. Brewpubs and craft beer bars are in the works and Half Pints has proudly introduced live cask ale to those aching for a new, old beer experience. In November, WBB will be hosting Manitoba’s first Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) sanctioned brew competition: “Half Pints Pro/Am Brew Challenge,” where amateur brewers will challenge professional brewers. The amateur who wins best of show will be able to brew a thousand liter batch of their award winning beer.

There is a very good chance that the pros will mop the floor with the amateurs, but it gives the garage brewers the chance to up their game and see where they stand in relation to the professional brewers. Imagine the glee of a person who ferments their brew in a plastic bucket, beating out a multi-million dollar setup.

Mark Heise, this year’s head judge, is making the trek from Regina at the end of November to oversee the judging of the Half Pints Brew Challenge. When asked what he thought of the amateurs challenging the professionals, he said, “It was a bit of a revelation for me when I went to Beer Camp at Sierra Nevada; I had never been to a brewery that monstrous, but at the end of the day, they weren’t doing anything much different from what I was doing at home in my kitchen, and they were just as passionate as I was. It drove home the point that we are all trying to make the best beer we can, just on a different scale. Over the years, I have tasted my fair share of outstanding beers and drain-pour beers, both commercial and amateur.”

The competition organizer, David Phillips, was thrilled when Heise agreed to be the head judge, “…Mark is one of the best home brewers in Canada. He has entered and won numerous competitions across Canada and is the only Canadian home brewer that I’m aware of who has placed in the National Homebrew Competition (NHC) held annually in the US.” Heise received a gold medal for his IPA, which is a spectacular accomplishment since, as he says, “not only is it the biggest competition in the world, but the IPA category is the biggest category, and I was competing against US brewers who are certainly known for brewing outstanding IPAs.”

Heise has also been a BJCP judge for many years and has gained the rank of National Judge. He was the ninth National Judge in Canada; there are currently seventeen. Unfortunately, Manitoba is not home to a national judge, yet.

Over the past year, there has been a group of Winnipeg beer lovers that have gathered once a month to study to become beer judges. It is a tough grind, but these beer geeks are willing to drink and analyze a lot of beer in order to pass the online test to become provisional judges. This will give them the opportunity to judge at the Half Pints Pro/Am Brew Challenge.

Heise sees the benefits of novice judges working with more seasoned people, “My entire approach to life is that you share your knowledge with others; not to prove how much smarter you are, but to truly share and see others also improve.”

Nathan Koop, one of the beer judges in training, has been to a couple competitions and he really enjoys the camaraderie of talking to like-minded individuals but also enjoys, and finds the judging “challenging, intense and rewarding.” Koop freely offers up his time at the WBB’s monthly meetings to judge other members’ homebrews. “I am trying to use the skills that I have acquired throughout my time in the BJCP class to help improve other’s brewing.”

There will be more happening from November 28 to the 30 than just a bunch of beer aficionados judging brews sent from across Canada:

Thursday: Meet The Judges’ night at The Yellow Dog Tavern where there will be a Half Pints special cask tapped.

Friday: Mise will be hosting a special five course Brewer’s Dinner paired with Half Pint’s special brews with tickets at $65 each.

Saturday: The Awards Evening will be held at a still to be determined location.

When asked what kind of tone should be expected with the amateurs challenging the professionals, Heise said, ”…the homebrew and commercial brewing communities have a lot of synergies. We can all learn and benefit from each other. And competing is meant to be fun, it makes us all better.”

Registration for the Half Pints Pro/Am Brew Challenge will open on October 15th. Visit for details.

Mark Borowski is a home brewer, and a father, and looking for a job as a bartender.  Follow him on twitter @oldblackbrew