Boston Brewing Company’s LongShot Contest Winning Recipes

Homebrew competitions — many brewers have entered their beers in contests of all sizes, in locales all around the world with the hopes of earning some feedback on their brewing techniques, for the thrill of a little friendly competition and, of course, the potential for homebrewing glory. Homebrewing events take place all year round, but only one competition sponsored by The Boston Beer Company, brewers of the Samuel Adams family of beers, entices homebrewers to compete for a chance to see their beers brewed on a commercial scale and sold on store shelves across America next to their other favorite craft brews.

First started in 1996 as the Samuel Adams American Homebrew Contest, LongShot is a competition organized as a nod to Boston Beer Company (BBC) founder Jim Koch’s homebrewing roots. He brewed the first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in his kitchen in 1984, which went on to become one of the most prominent beers in the American craft brew renaissance of the 1980s and 90s. Today Samuel Adams is one of the largest craft brewers, brewing more than one million barrels of beer a year. LongShot was established as Koch’s way of showing the beer-drinking world that homebrewers can make some world-class beers.

“Having been involved with both homebrewing and commercial brewing for almost thirty years it was very clear to me that the line between a talented homebrewer and a practicing commercial brewer was arbitrary and invisible,” Koch said of LongShot’s origins. “I started as a homebrewer. I imagined beers that I wanted to drink and made them — and other people wanted to drink them, too,” Koch said. And that hasn’t changed.  “That’s frankly how it (BBC) succeeded,” he said.

The Rules

LongShot is judged in stages in an attempt to fairly evaluate each entry based on the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines. Koch and the panel of expert judges then taste the winning beers from those semifinals and choose what they believe are the four best beers — including the contest winner, which can be a challenge.

“It’s always very hard,” Koch said of judging. “The final round of beers is always very good.”

The brewers of those four beers are invited to attend the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Colorado to find out who will be the winner. During the festival, Samuel Adams also invites the semifinalists of their own employee homebrewing competition, and GABF tasters vote on those beers to decide the winner of that contest. The winner of the consumer competition and the winner from the employee contest then collaborate with Sam Adams brewers to brew their recipes on a commercial scale.

The Brewers

So what does it take to win the LongShot? The stories of the winners included in the 2008 variety pack show that there are different paths to homebrewing greatness, but all paths point to a commitment for brewing great beer.

California-based brewer Alex Drobshoff bested the more than 1,300 entries with his recipe for Traditional Bock. He started all-grain brewing in 1997 and is a member of the Mad Zymurgists homebrew club, based in the tri-valley area of California as well as being active in the Draught Board, one of the oldest homebrewing clubs in the US, and Club DOZE (the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts). He developed his bock recipe to quench a thirst for the traditional beers of Germany.

“I have a lot of respect for the beers of Germany if for no other reason than their history,” said Drobshoff. “I’ve heard stories from people who traveled to Germany about how beer was closely tied to the culture and how wonderful the beer is. However, this was always followed by people saying that the exported beer is never quite the same as it is in Germany.” And since a trip to Germany wasn’t an option for him at the time, he decided to make the journey in his homebrewery.

Drobshoff’s bock recipe took some time to develop. Because of his homebrewing setup’s limitations he could only brew his bock, a lager, during the cooler months of the year. He perfected the brew over the course of two winters before he felt it was ready for competition, later deciding the beer was ready for the LongShot after winning a few blue ribbons in other competitions. He spoke with humbleness about his win.

“Homebrew competitions are more for the feedback from experienced judges to help improve your process and choice of ingredients and less about winning — although winning is nice,” he said. “I was working as a BJCP judge at the LongShot competition in San Francisco when I got the call from the Sam Adams rep to let me know that I was a finalist. It was a very emotional time for me and it took a while to really grasp what was taking place. I had just won my first Best In Show and I was pretty overwhelmed.”

He said the recipe was developed to stay true to the style, although he chose to use Canadian two-row malt rather than Pilsner malt.

“There are many ways to arrive at a similar beer but this recipe seems pretty robust,” he said.

Carissa Sweigart, a national sales representative for Samuel Adams, had only been brewing for a few years after coming to work for the company when her Cranberry Wit won the 2008 employee competition. This was her first time entering a homebrewing competition. She said she developed her beer’s recipe both because she loves the particular Belgian style of beer on which it is based, and to give a nod to her days growing up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

“I wanted something that reminded me of my hometown,” said Sweigart. “So I wanted to do a witbier with cranberry.”

She downloaded a recipe for cranberry wit from the Internet and tweaked it to get just the flavors she wanted. The one big obstacle? Getting the cranberries.

“I definitely made this beer using trial and error,” she said. It was March and she couldn’t find any fresh cranberries. The solution was using cranberry juice from the grocery store. “I brewed it once and crossed my fingers. Then I added the cranberry right before I bottled the beer. I added a little bit and tasted . . . then added a little bit more and tasted. I didn’t want to do a flavoring because I thought it would get lost in that witbier.”

She also chose to add cinnamon and some grains of paradise for a result that is, as she describes, a pink beer with lots of aroma.

“I opened the bottle and I was like, ‘wow this might have a chance,’” she said.

Also in the variety pack is winner Mike “Tasty” McDole who took home the top honors for his Double IPA. Inspired by his love of hops and Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, McDole’s recipe called for seven types of hops, which translated into six pounds of hops per barrel.

“Vinnie (Cilurzo) gave out the recipe at the 2004 National Homebrew Conference,” McDole said, which gave him a starting point. “I started to modify it and make it more to my liking, adding more favorite hops. As if five hops weren’t enough, I went with seven,” he said, laughing. It is stronger than most beers (9.5–10% ABV), which he said makes it pretty hard to dry out. His biggest obstacle was getting control over the fermentation by using healthy yeast, good oxygenation methods and focusing on water chemistry.

A 12-year homebrewer and member of the DOZE club (like Drobshoff), McDole started entering competitions in 2002. He said one strategy for winning is entering in a few different categories. But the most important method, of course, is brewing your best beer.

“I had three beers in the best of show round for the West and two of my beers made it into the final four. There’s obviously a lot of luck placing in a homebrew competition, but to get there you have to make your own luck by making tasty homebrew,” he said.

The Experience

Aside from the fame and accolades, the winning LongShot brewers said the competition was inspirational and rewarding.

“The homebrewing community is a very supportive group and I got congratulations from everyone,” said Drobshoff. “The Sam Adams employees went out of their way to make us feel like part of a big family. Just the fact that they sponsor this contest is a show of support that reaches across the lines between homebrewing and commercial brewing.”

“It’s one of the best wins of my life,” said Sweigart. “Brewing beer is an amazing science and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from homebrewers at Sam Adams and at the GABF, so I’m very excited and I’m thinking about making my garage into more of a mini homebrew shop.”

“It certainly has been an honor to win,” said McDole, also praising the Samuel Adams brewers. “They have just been great and helpful, always keeping me in the loop. They really respect the idea and the process of homebrewing.”

And back in Boston, Koch said the LongShot competition has been a fun experience for the company as well.

“I’m certainly proud of all the LongShot beers that have come out,” said Koch. “Although they weren’t my beers, we were proud to make them.”

Alex Drobshoff’s Traditional Bock

(5 gallons / 19 L, all-grain)
OG=1.068  FG=1.014
IBU=28  SRM=16  ABV=6.6%

6.5 lbs. (2.9 kg) 2-row malt
6.5 lbs. (2.9 kg) Munich malt
0.75 lbs. (340 g) crystal malt 90 °L
0.1 lbs. (45 g) chocolate malt
6.75 AAU  Hallertauer hops (1.5 oz./43 g at 4.5% alpha acids) (60 min.)
Wyeast 2206 (Bavarian Lager) or White Labs WLP820 (Oktoberfest/Märzen Lager) yeast in a 2-Liter starter.

Step by Step
Dough in at 118 °F (48 °C) and rest for 10 minutes. Rise to 131 °F (55 °C) for 20 minutes, 149 °F (65 °C) for 30 minutes and 158 °F (70 °C) for 20 minutes. This could be done with a single infusion mash at 149 °F (65 °C) just as well. Sparage for 45 minutes collecting 6.5 gallons (25 L). Boil for 90 minutes adding the hops after the first 30 minutes. Expect 5 gallons (19 L) at the end of boil. Cool to 55 °F (13 °C), transfer to your fermenter, aerate and pitch yeast starter. Ferment 10–14 days at 55 °F (13 °C) then let the temperature increase to 60 °F (16 °C) for three days. Rack it off of the yeast into a keg to finish lagering for 4-6 weeks.

Extract option:
Reduce the pale malt and Munich malt to 9 oz. (255 g) each. Add 4.5 lbs. light liquid malt extract and 4.5 lbs. Weyermann’s Munich liquid malt  extract. Steep crushed grains in 3 qts. (2.8 L) of water at 150 °F (66 °C) for 45 minutes. Combine “grain tea,”  Munich liquid malt extract and water to make 3.0 gallons (11 L) of wort. Boil 60 minutes, adding hops at times indicated in the all-grain recipe and pale liquid malt extract for final 15 minutes of boil. Cool, transfer to fermenter and top up to 5 gallons (19 L). Pitch yeast. Ferment, at 70 °F (21 °C).

Carissa Sweigart’s Cranberry Wit

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG= 1.046  FG= 1.011
IBU= 22 ABV= 4.4

4.5 lbs. (2 kg) of flaked wheat
5 lbs. (2.3 kg) of Belgian Pilsner malt
1 oz. (28 g) Sterling hops
1 oz. (28 g) Golding hops
0.25 oz. (7.1 g) bitter orange
0.5 Tb. cinnamon
1 tsp. coriander
0.35 oz. (1 g) grains of paradise
0.66 gallons (2.5 L) Ocean Spray cranberry juice
Wyeast 3944 (Belgian Witbier) yeast
Wyeast 3463 (Forbidden Fruit) yeast

Step by Step
Mash flaked wheat and Belgian Pilsner malt in 2.5 gallons (9.5 L) of 150 °F  (66 °C) water for 60 minutes. Sparge four times with a 60 oz. pitcher, (approximately 7L total) with
170 °F (77 °C) water. Bring wort to boil for 20 minutes then add sterling and golding hops. Two minutes later add a tea bag of biter orange, cinnamon, coriander, grains of paradise. Cool wort to around 70 °F (21 °C) and pitch yeast. Transfer into primary fermenter and let sit for 14 days. Siphon beer directly into sanitized keg and add 2.5 liters (0.66 gal.) of Ocean Spray cranberry juice (add juice and taste). Also add 2 tablespoons each of potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite (for stabilization). Bottle and age for three to four weeks in cool corner.

Extract option:
Substitute flaked wheat and Belgian Pilsner malt with 1 lb. (0.45 kg) pale malt, 1 lb. (0.45 kg) wheat malt, 1 lb. (0.45 kg) wheat dried malt extract and 4 lb. 2 oz. (1.9 kg) wheat liquid malt extract. Steep crushed grains in 3 qts. (2.8 L) of water at 150 °F (66 °C) for 45 minutes. Combine “grain tea,” dried malt extract and water to make 3.0 gallons (11 L) of wort. Boil 60 minutes. Add hops and spices at times indicated in the all-grain recipe. Add liquid malt extract for final 15 minutes of boil. Cool to 70 °F (21 °C), transfer to fermenter and top up to 5 gallons (19 L). Pitch yeast. Ferment at 70 °F (21 °C).

Mike “Tasty” McDole’s Double IPA

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.095  FG = 1.020
IBU = ~100  SRM = 7.4  ABV = 10%

Based on the Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny The Elder, this recipe has two hop additions (Northern Brewer and Cascade), a higher starting gravity and a 153 °F (67 °C) versus 151 °F (66 °C) mash temperature. 

16.0 lbs. (7.3 kg) American two-row malt (2 °L)
1.0 lbs. (0.45 kg) Briess Cara-Pils® malt (2 °L)
0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) corn sugar
0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) crystal malt (40 °L)
0.5 lbs. (0.23 kg) wheat malt (2 °L)
9.75 AAU Chinook pellet hops (0.75 oz/21 g at 13% alpha acids) (Mash Hop)
23.4 AAU Warrior pellet hops (1.50 oz/43 g at 15.6% alpha acids) (90 min.)
13 AAU Chinook pellet hops (1.00 oz/28 g at 13% alpha acids) (90 min.)
9 AAU Simcoe pellet hops (0.75 oz/21 g at 12% alpha acids) (45 min.)
11.25 AAU Columbus pellet hops (0.75 oz/21 g at 15% alpha acids) (30 min.)
6.75 AAU Northern Brewer pellet hops (0.75 oz/21 g at 9% alpha acids) (15 min.)
13.2 AAU Centennial pellet hops (1.25 oz/35 g at 10.5% alpha acids) (1 min.)
12 AAU Simcoe pellet hops (1.00 oz./28 g at 12% alpha acids) (1 min.)
8.63 AAU Cascade pellet hops (1.50 oz/43 g at 5.75% alpha acids) (0 min.)
30 AAU Columbus pellet hops (2.00 oz/57 g at 15% alpha acids) (dry)
13.12 AAU Centennial pellet hops (1.25 oz/35 g at 10.5% alpha acids) (dry)
15 AAU Simcoe pellet hops (1.25 oz/35 g at 12% alpha acids) (dry)
White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast

Step by Step
Mash at 153 °F (67 °C) for 45 minutes or until conversion is complete with a 1.3 quarts (1.23 L) of water per pound (0.45 kg) of grain. Raise the mash temperature to 165 °F (74 °C) and hold for 15 minutes. Sparge for 45 minutes with 170 °F (77 °C) collecting 6.5 gallons (24.6 L) of wort. Boil 90 minutes adding hop additions per schedule. Chill the wort to 68 °F (20 °C) and rack to the fermenter. Pitch an appropriate size starter and aerate. Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C) until 90% complete. Then add the dry hop and slowly raise temperature about one degree per day to 72 °F (22 °C). After 7 to 10 days, rack the beer to a keg or bottling bucket. Carbonate to about 2.5 volumes.

Extract option:
Replace the pale malt with 9 lbs. (4.1 kg) light dried malt extract. Steep  the crushed grains in 3 qts. (2.8 L) of water at 153 °F (67 °C) for 45 minutes. Combine the “grain tea,” dried malt extract and water to make 6.5 gallons (25 L) of wort. (You must do a full-wort boil to get the  proper hop utilization). Boil 90 minutes, adding hops at times indicated in the all-grain recipe. Chill to 68 °F (20 °C) and transfer to the fermenter. Aerate well and pitch the yeast. Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C).

Issue: March-April 2009