Lions’ homebrew contest brings out the best of area brewers
by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers
Raspberries aren’t the only highlight of Hopkins’ most popular summer festival; at the annual Hopkins’ Lions Homebrew Competition, brewers from across the state and nation put their best beers to the test. In spite of the fierce and frothy competition, with entries from as far way as Utah and California, area brew enthusiasts came out on top, with some of the highest accolades awarded to ale smiths in Hopkins and the surrounding area.
Robert Cone, of St. Louis Park, was awarded second place overall and first in his category for an American porter, a dark, malty beer.
Cone began home brewing in 2012 after receiving a starter kit as gift.
“I just kept up with it after that,” Cone said.
The first beer he brewed was a brown ale, he recalls, made using the extract method, which uses a malt extract instead of requiring the brewer to create a grain mash from scratch.
“It’s sort of like making juice from concentrate,” he said, making the process easier for beginning brewers by saving time and equipment.
Cone decided to take his hobby to the next level after attending a small business seminar. Knowing he someday wanted to open his own brewery, Cone began entering his beers in competitions to establish his reputation as a brewer.
His entry into the Hopkins Homebrew Competition smashed his previous best scores on the beer-ranking scale.
“It felt awesome,” he said.
His porter incorporates a British ale yeast and has flavors of chocolate and roasted malt, Cone said.
Or so he’s been told — Cone hasn’t actually tasted the beer, having been sober for 10 months.
Ironically, his decision to give up drinking was for the love of the craft. Cone said he wanted to prove to himself he could take the business seriously enough to keep from sipping his own supply for a full year.
“I was really excited about experimenting and trying new recipes and I got to the point where I was brewing a lot and drinking a lot,” Cone said. “I decided that if I wanted to seriously pursue a career, I wanted to know I could handle not drinking, if I needed to, and still be in the industry.”
He said it’s not unusual for diehard home brewers to have to reconsider their alcohol consumption or at least be more careful about how much they drink.
“A lot of home brewers go through that because beer and brewing becomes such an important part of who you are,” Cone said.
Other than that he doesn’t get to fully enjoy the end results, sobriety hasn’t really changed Cone’s brewing process; he still regularly tries new recipes and perfects previous ones.
In addition to his fermentation endeavors, Cone currently works part-time as a brand ambassador for InBound Brewco, who also helped sponsor the Lions’ competition. He said it can be a challenge when hosting tasting events without sipping any suds himself, but added that his knowledge and experience in beer styles is enough to talk about beer for hours without even a single pint to fortify him.
The next steps in Cone’s beer journey involve taking an upcoming class in brewing and beer steward technology from Dakota County Technical College.
From there, the future holds even more batches of beer, more competition and, maybe someday, a brand-new taproom to call home.
“As long as I can to keep making beer, I’ll be happy,” Cone said. “I love it. It’s one of my favorite things to do. I just want to make the best beer that I can.”
David Eustice, of Hopkins, has been brewing beer for nearly 10 years. His cream ale won best in show at the Lions’ competition as well as first place in the category.
His passion began after he one day decided to stop by for a look in a brewer supply store and ended up leaving with a starter kit. Like Cone, Eustice started with a extract batch, of a pale ale similar to local brewery Summit’s flagship beer.
“Back then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just making it on my stove. It didn’t turn out great, but I still drank it,” Eustice said with a laugh.
Later, a friend taught Eustice the technique of all-grain brewing, starting every step of the beer-making process from scratch. “That changed everything for me,” he said. “It taught me to pay attention to the details of water chemistry, temperature, all kinds of things. … It’s really a blend of art and science.”
This particularly appeals to Eustice, since he had previously considered attended culinary school.
It was, he admitted, a bit of a learning curve, however. Eustice said his first competition, the Winter Beer Carnival in 2012, was less than perfect.
“I bombed it,” he said with a laugh. “The score sheet was humbling.”
Far from discouraged, however, Eustice set to work learning more and perfecting his craft.
Eustice’s favorite style is imperial ales, particularly IPAs, for their distinctive, intense flavor profiles. In designing recipes, he said, he aims for what he’d like to drink. About a year after his ill-fated first contest attempt, Eustice’s Imperial red IPA snagged an award at the Summer Beer Dabbler competition.
He said his submission to the Lions’ contest was similarly rooted in his own personal taste.
“I love lagers and light beers in the summer, and I heard about the competition late, so I entered what I had,” he said, adding that he had made and perfected the recipe several times before he submitted the award-winning batch. “It’s one of my favorites and I thought it was finally ready.”
The Lions’ contest was Eustice’s fourth foray into competitive brewing, but he hopes to submit many more entrants in the future, including a few of his beloved imperial brews.
Eustice’s day job involving working on 3-D design for video games, he said, is enough of a dream job that he’s unlikely to start his own brewery, although he said he would love to work for one.
“If it was a job, I’d worry that it wouldn’t be fun anymore,” he said. “It’s something I do to relax. On Sunday mornings, I hang out with my wife, my kids and my dogs and brew some beer.”
Taking home the Lions’ prize in best specialty cider was Kevin Meintsma, of Wayzata, for his barrel-aged offering, the product of several decades of home brewing experience. Meintsma started brewing well before the craft beer boom and said things have changed dramatically since he made his first batch of ale at home.
“When I started, you didn’t have all the things available today,” Meintsma said. “You didn’t have the grains, you didn’t have the yeasts and you certainly didn’t have the hops.”
Meintsma was driven to craft beer before it was cool mostly out of necessity, he said.
“It my case, it was the fact that the beer available was so crappy, I couldn’t drink it. Then I tasted ales and discovered I enjoyed them,” he said.
Since nothing on the market was appealing, he decided he could do a better job himself, and did so for several years. He then took a long hiatus from brewing to focus on this family and children, returning to the hobby about seven years ago.
“I had a little extra time on my hands, and my wife suggested I try it again. I think that was a huge mistake for her,” Meintsma joked. “She puts up with it quite well.”
In addition to beer, Meintsma also makes wine and cider at home.
Far from being bitter about the new wave of homebrew enthusiasts taking up his longtime hobby, Meintsma said beer making just keeps getting better with age.
“I think its awesome. Why not? It’s done nothing but generate positive results for the industry,” he said.
He added that the story of the craft beer movement, particularly for home brewers, is far from finished.
“Beer that’s homemade has gotten so much better than it used to be. We have far better equipment, science is far better understood and we have access to ingredients we didn’t before,” Meintsma said. “It’ll be interesting to see where the whole thing ends up in the next 10 years.”
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]