Iron Mash 2020 (Covid-Style)

This year, of all years, Silvia and I decided to grimace, stretch, and enter to compete in the Cap & Hare Homebrew Club “Iron Mash” competition. Traditionally this is a one-day gather together on site ar Rahr & Sons Brewing Co, with your hobo brewing rig, and participate in an “Iron Chef” style ingredient challenge, except for beer.

The thought of loading up the truck with all of our stuff and hauling it to Ft Worth for a brew day was never very appealing. This year was obviously going to be very different. Nigel Curtis, the Iron Mash version of “The Chairman” revealed that brew day for 2020 was going to be virtual. I was more than happy to pick up ingredients in Ft Worth and brew them on my rig, at home, where all of my stuff is handy – and if forgotten, not 40 minutes away.

Friday, October 16th was the big kick-off Zoom meeting. All of the teams met virtually to review the rules and dates and got ready for the recipe challenge. At the conclusion of the rules review, Nigel sent out the recipe “trick”. I don’t know what the challenges were in years past, but this years was sort of a “Takeout Menu” with 6 groups and we had to build a recipe with one thing from each group. And we only had 90 minutes to come up with a recipe plan. I don’t recall hearing a rule like ‘first rule of Iron Mash is not revealing the challenge so here’s the ingredient sheet from which we need to develop a recipe.

Ingredient Choice Matrix

After a frantic 85 minutes of sorting through recipe options and becoming exasperated as we ran into road-blocks that kept us from brewing our familiar recipes. In desperation, minutes before we ran out of time, we settled on a Black IPA, filled in our recipe sheet and sent it of to the contest HQ.

Saturday was ingredient pickup day. We met Nigel and Mikey Brown at Texas Brewing Inc to pick up our recipe kit (and our event T-shirts). We were told that a smallish box held our “secret ingredient” and we were under no circumstances to open that box before the start of brew day on Sunday morning.

Message and ingredients received. But the curiosity was building. What was in this box, making that chunky rattle around noise? Sunday would indeed be interesting.

Brew day Sunday! Prior to the kickoff meeting, I filled up the hot liquor tank and started heating things up. Silvia ground the grain so that we’d be ready to mash in and get the show on the road.

At 9am we logged into the Zoom meeting and were allowed to open our boxes. To our shock and surprise the box held a single green crayon!? What the hell were we going to do with this?

Mikey and Nigel waited a bit for the furor to die down before they explained the crayons that each team had received. We were to pick our mystery ingredient from within our house. It could be anything other than malt, hops, yeast, or water. And we had 30 minutes to sort it out and email the HQ with what secret ingredient we were going to include in our recipe.

Since we home brew, we had plenty of specialty malts in the house, but they’d been placed off limits. We have orange peel for doing Wit beers, but that wouldn’t work well with a Black IPA. Coriander didn’t sound proper either. So we spent a few minutes imitating Pooh Bear going “think, think, think” and eventually settled on ginger as our secret weapon. We thought the spiciness would be a good kick to stand out as a noticeable specialty ingredient and would compliment the hops that we had chosen.

Sitting here a month after brew day, the beer is starting to taste very good indeed. We’ve also gotten word from the HQ that we can use the same ingredient one more time in our beer. Right about the time that we dry hop the beer for packaging it will get another dose of ginger. Hopefully enough that the judges notice and don’t question what ingredient we incorporated into our beer and not so much that the only thing they can taste is ginger and they feel like they are sipping on a Caribbean Ginger Beer.

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