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.

Happy Brew Year

I don’t really do “New Year’s Resolutions”, but I have come to understand the value of setting goals. One of my brewing goals for 2016 was to be recognized for brewing beers to the classic styles. Silvia and I are members of two homebrew clubs, Dallas Homebrew Collective and The Cap and Hare Homebrew Club, both of which have style competitions.

Another brewing goal for 2016 was to enter at least half of the Collective’s style competitions. My hope is that I will score enough points with the to finish the year in the top 5. I am not 100 percent certain how the Collective scores their brewer of the year, but since Matt won seven months, it wasn’t really in doubt to any of the other members.

Cap and Hare runs a “Master Brewer” competition each year which has a different format. You can brew whatever style you wish and it will be judged accordingly. Each month entries are collected, samples are had and judgements rendered. The beer that scores the most points against its style standard wins. A brewer gets one crack at a style and six entries for the year. A winner earns four  points, second place gets three, third scores two points and an entry garners you a participation point. Most points at the end of the year is crowned Master Brewer. Bonus points are awarded for medals at the annual Bluebonnet Brew-Off .

January has started well and we entered two porters for the Collective’s monthly competition, a pale ale for Cap and Hare, and have four entries bottled up to submit for the Bluebonnet Brew-Off this March.

In the Beginning

I got a gentle nudge into home brewing. On several occasions, my loving wife, Silvia, said to me “Honey, you should start home brewing”. After about the fifth suggestion, I started trolling Craigslist for used home brewing equipment.


Our all grain brewing rig.
After about two months of looking, I found what I thought was a reasonably priced all grain setup. It consists of a pair of ten gallon coolers, one acting as a hot liquor tank and the other equipped with a false bottom for a mash tun. There is also a ten gallon kettle with a propane rig for heating water and boiling the wort. The deal also included a pair of plastic carboys and a lovely copper wort chiller.

On December 13th, 2014 Silvia and I brewed our very first beer. Since we are both fans of oatmeal stouts, that was the first recipe that we tried and our first go turned out quite well, but the flavors weren’t as complex as we would have liked.

Our second attempt was with an award winning recipe from the American Homebrewers Association. This attempt got better reviews from friends, family, and unsuspecting homebrew club members.

In the year  since firing up the kettle for the first time, we’ve put out quite a few beers. Austin Home Supply was the source of our first two kit beers, a Fat Tire clone and a Pliney the Elder clone. Both of these kits were awesome and the beer turned out great and further fueled my brewing ambition.