Pales in Comparison

By Brandon Hernández
Photos by Brevin Blach

When Widmer Brothers Brewing was looking for innovative India Pale Ale (IPA) recipes, they headed straight for America’s Finest. Let’s hear it for our homeboys.

“One of our brewers, Andy Schwartz, cut his teeth in the San Diego brewing scene-at Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company-and was familiar with the national success of QUAFF,” says Widmer brewmaster Joe Casey.

QUAFF (Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity) is a hundreds-strong group of San Diego County homebrewers that has racked up tons of awards, including being named the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrew Club of the Year from 2001 through 2006.

To find its new IPA, Widmer tapped the expertise of QUAFF’s members, working with the group’s president to set up a clandestine competition. Even without knowing who was behind the contest, dozens of brewers submitted their entries. The competition was friendly but fierce-in the end, beer buds Paul Sangster and Chris Stawney took top honors with their chai tea-infused Spiced IPA.

“I was walking through Vons, carrying all my stuff while trying to talk to Chris on my cell phone,” says Sangster, the nation’s top homebrewer thanks to his winning the most medals at the 2011 National Homebrewers Conference. “At one point, I was like, ‘Hold on, dude. I gotta put my stuff down.’ Right then, I looked up and saw I was in the tea aisle and thought, Chai-P-A! Sometimes these things just work.”

The base recipe is a super-hoppy IPA called Lupulin Lust, which Sangster has been making at home for years. Stawney’s big contribution was masterfully blending in the tea without letting it detract from the beer’s bitterness and floral nuances.

“We were really interested in this recipe, because it was the most different from anything else we had going on. And it tasted so good and exotic,” says Casey, who oversaw the brewing of 9,000 barrels of the Sangster/Stawney suds.

“I never thought we were going to win, because it was pretty out there,” says Sangster. “It’s really cool to have a beer with my signature on the six-pack that my friends all over the country can get. Mostly, I’m excited to get to represent QUAFF.”

Happy Home Makers

Other local homebrewers who’ve dabbled in the commercial arena:

Kelsey McNair:
This award-winning North Park brewer pulled a guest shift with Ballast Point Brewing Company’s specialty brewer Colby Chandler to create his San Diego County Session Ale at Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company.

Alex Tweet:
Colby Chandler also helped out with this brewer’s Indra Kunindra India-style Export Stout: the Madras curry, coconut and Kaffir lime-laced winning entry from a 2010 homebrew competition sponsored by Holiday Wine Cellar.

Jason Fields & Kevin Sheppard:
This duo teamed up to brew a Cherry Chocolate Stout at Stone. The bittersweet concoction was packed with so much chocolate that an initial test batch sent the brewery’s system into sugar shock.