Homebrewers featured at Howard County Fair
WEST FRIENDSHIP, Md. — Continuing an effort begun five years ago at the Howard County Fair, this year’s Inaugural Homebrewers’ Competition and Directors’ Cup expands attention paid to the role of agriculture in the production of craft beverages, in this instance homebrewed beers. Initiated at the end of May, the competition quickly gained traction and supporters, including Randolph Marriner, president of Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City, Md., and one of the primary vendors for the fair’s Beer and Wine Garden.
Well, that is, clarified Marriner, “Once I called Annapolis — since it’s my liquor license — and checked if we could do it.”
“It was a bit of short notice though,” said Chris Anderson, of Maryland HomeBrew in Columbia, Md. “It takes a few weeks to brew,” she explained, “and if you bottle, it takes a few weeks to carbonate.”
Nonetheless, during the last week before the fair, the entry count went from 27 at the beginning of the week, to the final total of 36 on the fair’s opening day, and the day before judging. Blind judging by 6 certified judges on Sunday afternoon culled those three dozen entries down to a top 10 to be judged for Best of Show by three “celebrity” judges in the Directors’ Cup Sunday evening. Those judges included Zack Brendel, Vice president of the Howard County Farm Bureau, Jay Rhine, Vice President of the Howard County Fairgrounds Board of Directors and the representative for Howard, Montgomery and Carroll Counties for the Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and Kathy Johnson, Director of Agricultural Business Development for the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Mike Kulnich, who coordinated the competition’s tastings on behalf of Maryland HomeBrew and the fair, gave the celebrity judges talking points on the style characteristics for each of the top 10 beers as he poured their samples. In the end the competition came down to a one point difference with “Father’s Wit,” a wheat beer, by Steve Leonard of Columbia winning first, and “St. Pugnacious,” a Belgian Tripel, by John Bugert from Ellicott City coming in second.
During the judging process, a couple of the other beers emerged as favorites with the judges, including “My Little French Tart,” a hibiscus saison, by Matthew Gonzalez of Montgomery Village. Everyone present immediately appreciated its light, refreshing and fruity flavor.
“I couldn’t drink six of these,” said Rhine, “but a couple on a hot night would be good.”
The success of the Homebrewers’ Competition was reflected in other areas at the fair.
“Food Preservation was up for the first time in a few years,” said Betsey Gould, co-chairperson of Food Preservation in the Home Arts Department. “We even had entries come in that were hot off the stove,” she continued, “because the jars were still warm.”
Rhine and Mary Streaker, longtime superintendent of the fair’s Home Arts Department, credit some of that success to the fact that word has been getting around that Howard County is an open fair. “Because you don’t have to live in Howard County to enter,” said Streaker, “this is a very friendly Fair and you get people in from all over.”