Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Derek Gilbertson's Award Winning Homebrew

Winning the Best of Show award at this year's Midwinter Homebrew Competition could have proven fatal for 37-year-old Oshkosh Homebrewer Derek Gilbertson. “I damn near had a heart attack when I saw my name at the top of the results page,” Gilbertson says. You would think he'd be getting used to this kind of thing by now. Gilbertson has been entering his homebrewed beer in competitions for the past three years and in that time has managed to pick up his share of awards. His most recent award, though, is easily the most coveted of the bunch.

Derek Gilbertson making beer in his backyard.

Gilbertson's "Fuzzy Wuzzy" Barleywine, named as a salute to his dog Ginny, was chosen as the best beer from a field of 293 beers at last month’s Midwinter Homebrew Competition. The competition was sanctioned by the American Homebrewers Association and sponsored by the Beer Barons of Milwaukee homebrew club. It's among the largest regional competitions in the nation. This year's event brought in beers from 41 states and was judged by a panel that included 20 certified beer judges.

Gilbertson's best-of-show award and Fuzzy Wuzzy barleywine.

Gilbertson describes his winning beer as having "A really malty backbone with a nice, pine-resin note on the back end from the hops. You also get a little heat in there from the alcohol." The beer was over a year in the making and finished at 10% ABV. It's the sort of strong beer that Gilbertson has come to be known for among the family and friends he regularly shares his output with. "I like making big beers with bold flavors," he says.

In six years, he's come a long way from that first brew of his made with a Mr. Beer Kit. "It was terrible," he says. "I walked away from it saying I'm never doing that again. Then I was telling a friend of mine and he said I needed to go get a real beer kit with good ingredients. I got my first real kit at The Cellar (an Oshkosh homebrew shop) and that one turned out pretty good. So I thought I'd give it another try. After that, I just kept at it and started coming up with my own recipes. I fell in love with it."

Along the way, he began enlisting the help of local experts. Gilbertson met up with Shane and Laurel Coombs, the husband and wife team who operate Rushford Meadery & Winery in the Town of Rushford. The two of them also happen to be certified beer judges. "I started taking my beer over there and asking them to be brutally honest about it," Gilbertson says. "My friends and family would all tell me they loved the beer, they've all been really supportive, but that's not the same as having someone who can really pick it apart. Shane and Laurel helped me a lot with their feedback and suggestions."

That ethos of working with what you have at hand continues to inform Gilbertson's love of beer making. He still sources his ingredients at The Cellar and brews on a cobbled-together system that includes a 20-gallon kettle and a propane-fueled turkey fryer. He's made his home serve as an oversized fermentation chamber, using its varying temperature ranges to influence the flavors produced during the fermentation process. "I'm continually moving different vessels around the house," he says. "It started off as a little hobby and now we've got fermentors everywhere." Gilbertson has dubbed his home brewery Easy Rider Brewing. "Because I also love riding motorcycles," he says..

Gilbertson is preparing to take his hobby to the next level. "I'm going to start doing some national competitions next year," he says. His friends and family have encouraged him to go pro. "They keep telling me to open a brewpub," Gilbertson says. "I do parties a lot in the summertime where I'll smoke a bunch of brisket and have everybody over for barbecue and homebrew. We get together and have a good time." Which is exactly what successful homebrewing is really all about.

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