Home-brew beer fest draws local talent

Beer is the glue that binds.

That’s the wisdom professional brewer Todd Isbell shared while he judged the second World Home Brew Festival in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

He was one of more than 200 people who gathered to celebrate the art of home-brewed beer.

The festival, held at Nightlight, was the largest yet. The idea arose last year at a house party with just four home brewers.

“The first time it was just me and my friend challenging each other to a brew-off,” said Caleb Rudow, a UNC graduate who organized the event with friend Mark Cares.

This year’s festival attracted 40 home brewers, who judged each other’s products in the first round. For most attendees, brewing complements their daily jobs, which range from graduate student to gardener.

The top five beers were judged by “brew masters” chosen by Triangle Brewing Co. of Durham.

Don Caswell of Garner, a first-time participant, won first prize for his red India Pale Ale and was awarded 55 pounds of grain.

The brewing process takes about a month but depends on the alcohol content of the beer and the type of equipment used, said UNC junior Eric Boren. Better equipment can accelerate the carbonation process.

Boren, the founder of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Home Brewing Club, said he began home brewing as soon as he turned 21. The club holds monthly meetings and group brew days.

“I just really nerd out on it,” Boren said. “I’m constantly thinking about the next best thing.”

Janel Beckham, a graduate student majoring in communication studies, was one of the few female brewers at the event.

She said she has been brewing for more than six years and is writing her dissertation on home-brewed beer. She was primarily attracted by the creative side.

“The beer you make is almost always better than anything you can buy,” Beckham said.

Tasters rotated from table to table sampling from each brewer’s keg. Various local bands took the stage throughout the night.

David Brannigan has been brewing in his Chatham County home for a year. Inspired by his Irish roots, he brought his brand, Paddy’s Pale Ale, to the festival.

“Home brewing events like these reflect the renaissance in American brewery,” Brannigan said.

Tickets to the festival were free, but attendees were encouraged to donate $10. All funds went to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“This is outstanding,” said taster Bruce Ramirez. “The beer is good, and the cause is good.”

Brew master Isbell said that events like these are successful because the craft of brewing beer brings happiness to a lot of people.

“Most people think we stay home and drink all the time, and sometimes it’s true,” he said. “But it’s much more than that.”

Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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