I started homebrewing in January 2011 and in July 2013 I entered my first homebrew competition. That same month, a near-death experience changed my life forever. I broke 25 bones down the right side of my body and collapsed my right lung. Two weeks later, when I was discharged from the hospital, I came home to my first homebrew award in the mail. In that moment, I knew life was short and I wanted to turn my passion for brewing into potentially opening a future brewery. Having had a few hobbies that I eventually lost interest in, my wife Elaine immediately brought me back to reality. While she always supports my goals and dreams, she did not want to embark on this massive journey before knowing that brewing was a long-term passion of mine that I would want to turn into a business. She gave me two goals to accomplish: 1.) Become a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certified beer judge and 2.) Receive an AHA/BJCP sanctioned homebrew award in every US state.
After attending an eight-week BJCP study course, I passed the exam in 2014, becoming a BJCP recognized judge. That following year I judged many competitions and eventually became a BJCP certified beer judge in 2015. Studying for the BJCP exam opened my mind to a wide variety of beer styles and while I prefer making wild, outside of the box concoctions, there is true tact required to make a beer precisely to style. Studying for the exam also ignited my craving to learn more about the art and science of brewing; aspiring me to become a Certified Cicerone and take commercial brewing classes.
While the BJCP exam was very difficult and required a great deal of study time, receiving a homebrew award in every state would prove to be the most time-consuming and labor-intensive of the two goals. Since 2013, I have received 92 homebrewing awards from 49 states with 36 different beers. There have been some obstacles while working toward achieving this goal: Many competitions do not allow out-of-state residents to participate. Some competitions have a theme, limit the number of participants, limit the styles accepted, and some states only have one competition per year. I highly recommend entering local or out-of-state homebrew competitions. While I truly appreciate feedback from friends and family, sometimes I worry that they are just being kind. Judges’ feedback really allows me to receive impartial opinions, comments, and suggestions about my homebrews. I have also had some truly memorable, once in a lifetime opportunities from winning homebrew competitions. One competition awarded me the opportunity to brew my recipe with one of my favorite breweries– Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was such a great experience scaling my homebrew recipe up from 5 gallons (19 L) to a 5-barrel batch on Odell’s pilot system and then serving my recipe at the 2015 Arizona Strong Beer Festival in Phoenix, Arizona.
It has been quite a journey entering so many homebrew competitions. When I was in the thick of it, I felt like I was at Scotzin Brothers (Lemoyne, PA Manager - Brad Moyer) buying homebrew equipment and ingredients every other day. Now that I am in the home stretch, I can’t get over how truly blessed I am to have such an amazing support system of family, friends and most importantly, my unbelievable wife. Without her constant motivation, love, and support, I wouldn’t even be close to half the man/brewer that I am today.
While the shiny awards and beautiful ribbons are nice, the feedback and advice from novice, certified, and nationally ranked judges is invaluable. That combined with constantly educating myself and learning as much as I can about brewing has ultimately helped elevate my homebrewing.
New Hampshire is the last state remaining until we complete our goal. Once we achieve a medal in every state my wife and I plan to open a brewery in Central Pennsylvania called Wolf Brewing Company.
To learn more about Derek’s homebrewing journey and track his progress, visit www.wolfbrewingco.com.Editor's Note: Congratulations are in order to Derek, who has now completed his goal and medaled in all 50 US states!