TBBW 2016: Brew Bus wins Ultimate Brewer face-off

Using random ingredients, 13 breweries offered special suds at a Chopped-style battle Friday.

click to enlarge An onion-inflected Indian brown ale was among The Ultimate Brewer entries. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
An onion-inflected Indian brown ale was among The Ultimate Brewer entries.

Oysters, toffee, jalapeños, pistachios and pears weren't the latest items featured inside one of Chopped's mystery baskets. But they were some of the ingredients used by participants in Friday night's Ultimate Brewer competition at Rapp Brewing Company.

Organized by St. Pete Brewing Company director of sales and brewery general manager Casey Cothran, who's also a Tampa Bay Beer Week board member, the beer battle pitted 13 special offerings from area craft breweries against each other during a blind tasting.

The purpose? To see if a Chopped-style brewing competition was even, well, possible and to keep the craft's creativity alive.

The breweries, invited to face off at Rapp's Seminole headquarters as part of Beer Week, met at St. Pete Brewing back in January to randomly draw their beer recipe's ingredient(s). From a list of 16, the ingredients ranged from combos such as bacon and habanero to single items like horseradish or beets.

"It makes all these professionals homebrewers again," Cothran said during the event, adding that the response from brewers has been, "This is fun."

Growing in size throughout the evening, the crowd judged entries on originality, difficulty of ingredient and taste. To weed out favoritism, the "blind" aspect of the tasting was key; volunteers poured samples of each creation to ensure the breweries' identities remained concealed.

It wasn't until the end that attendees learned who brewed what: Stilt House Brewery (dark chocolate and mango), Crooked Thumb Brewery (maple syrup and pears), Green Bench Brewing Co. (bacon and habanero), Pinellas Ale Works (thyme and peaches), Mastry's Brewing Co. (coffee and curry), 7venth Sun Brewery (toffee and bananas), Rapp (orange and Old Bay), Southern Brewing & Winemaking (onions), St. Pete Brewing (oysters and hot sauce), 3 Daughters Brewing (white chocolate and pistachios), Brew Bus Brewing (vanilla bean and jalapeños), Cigar City Brewing (horseradish) and House of Beer Brewing (cinnamon and lemon peel).

The crowd awarded Brew Bus first place, while 3 Daughters scored second and Southern came in third. Rounding out the top five, Rapp took home fourth and Mastry's placed fifth.

According to Cothran, who said he wanted The Ultimate Brewer to be affordable (a $20 ticket ain't bad), he'd like to increase the event's scope in following years, expanding it to all of Florida, then places like Georgia and North Carolina, then outside the country.

The inaugural competition was also held in conjunction with a small beer festival out front, where homebrew clubs and breweries (local and national), including Tampa Beer Works, Terrapin Beer Co., Beer Can Island Brewers, Lost Coast Brewery and St. Pete Brew Club, showcased their suds.

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