Granby, Conn., Aug 2 – Six months after winning the coveted “Brew Master’s Choice” award at the first-ever one talented brewer is embarking on a career in craft beer elsewhere in the state.
Dana Bourque emerged as one of the most celebrated contestants at last year’s home brew competition, hosted by the Cambridge House Brew Pub of Granby. One of his beers won him the privilege of commercially brewing it alongside the pub’s professional brewer Chris DeGasero.
The two artisans spent the better part of the day hand crafting the award winning beer which will be available for pub patrons within the next two or three weeks. What makes this collaborative brewing effort so interesting are the business plans Bourque has in motion, he’s starting his own brewery in Bristol, Conn.
Firefly Brewing Co. is the state’s newest developing brewery, born from the homebrewing hobbyist community; the masterminds behind this future stop along the Connecticut Brewery Trail are the owners and operators of Brew Wine Hobby in East Hartford.
“It's amazing what can happen in less than a year's time,” said Bourque. “In the latter portion of last year I was still a humble homebrewer looking to win a medal here or there at competition. Eight months later I'm in the serious planning stages of opening a brewery.”
Collaborative efforts between craft breweries are not out of the norm and have resulted in some well received beers and happy consumers. While technically this beer is not a cross-brewery collaborative effort we may be seeing hints of things to come in the state’s craft beer industry.
“I've never worked with a guest brewer but I'm really amped for the opportunity,” said DeGasero. “I'm really looking forward to working with Dana because I can tell he really gets what the craft is all about. Anytime you get a group of passionate people together you're bound to come up with something interesting.”
“Collaborative brews are something I would love to see happen in Connecticut. It's a great way to build relationships between existing brewers, as well as develop and execute ideas that are too crazy for any brewer to want to tackle alone,” said Bourque. “It's also a great way to get the public excited about the state's beer culture and show everyone what Connecticut's greatest brewing minds can accomplish.”
But at the end of the day the attention of the two brewers remains focused on the winning beer at hand, Oakwood Ale, named after the street Bourque grew up on and first embraced his love of home brewing.
“Winning the ‘Brewmaster's Choice’ at the competition was extra satisfying in this particular case,” said Bourque. “We live in the age of Double Chocolate Imperial Bourbon-Aged High Octane Coffee-Espresso Stouts, with vanilla beans added in secondary, so to win a competition like this with an English Mild boasting 3.7% alcohol by volume meant the beer really stood out on its own merit rather than gaining points for having extreme appeal.”
The beer’s nuanced quality and potential for mass appeal did not go unnoticed by Scott Riley, owner of the Cambridge House Brew Pub.
“I chose Dana's English Mild because I thought we would be able to sell this beer in our pub to a wide audience which might help bring more people to love craft beer,” said Scott Riley, owner of the Cambridge House Brew Pub. “There were many good beers submitted by the home brewers who entered our competition and quite a few that were really exceptional for the style they were entered under. I really look forward to see what comes out of our next competition.”
Riley plans on hosting the second installment of the CT Beer Trail homebrew competition on Nov. 11, so anyone looking to follow in Bourque’s footsteps should start brewing now.
“Homebrewers are the heart and soul of the craft beer movement in this country. Without their enthusiasm for beer and drive to learn and teach others about the process, culture, and history behind the world's brewing traditions, craft beer would begin to grow stagnant,” said Bourque.
Today’s competition participants and garage based hobbyists may very well be tomorrow’s craft beer industry leaders. Both Riley and DeGasero also have their humble beginnings rooted in the homebrewing community. While the state’s craft beer industry has had a recent boom, events like the CT Beer Trail home brew competition may serve as proving grounds for the community’s future.
“Being a brewer isn't glamorous, it's not easy, but damn, it's rewarding if you're passionate about what you do,” said DeGasero. “Aspiring brewers need to have that fire; everything else comes in time after that. If you have that fire, keep it going, you'll make it.”