There are the Dallas Carboys and Foam Rangers in Texas; the San Andreas Malts, Maltose Falcons and Sonoma Beerocats in California; the Wort Processors in Massachusetts, and Effervescent Perfessers in Michigan. No, they are not the teams in a new professional football league.
They are home-brew clubs and what they're doing is reviving the old American custom of making beer at home, as did their grandfathers and generations before all the way back to the Pilgrims, who are said by some to have landed at Plymouth because they were running out of home brew on the Mayflower.
There are now so many home brewers that when the American Homebrewers Association held the "Great American Beer Festival" in Denver several weeks ago almost 700 entries were received for the tasting to determine America's best home brew.
The festival, held at the Regency Hotel and sponsored by the AHA, combined the seventh annual Homebrew Conference and the fifth annual National Microbrewers Conference, pointing up the concurrent revival of small commercial breweries.
Microbrewers are small producers (10,000 barrels a year or less) such as Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam of California and Independent Ale in Washington, which got the revolution started in the 1970s, and New Amsterdam and William Newman of New York, Chesapeake Bay of Virgina Beach, Kessler of Helena, Mont., Samuel Adams of Boston and Reinheitsgebot of Plano, Texas, which have joined in the movement to provide distinctively flavored brews.
On the other hand, a "mega brewer," such as Anheuser-Busch, brews 10,000 barrels during one shift at one of its giant breweries. In fact, William Coors, chief executive officer for Coors, said at the festival that his brewery spills more than 70,000 barrels a year and that last year 13,187,000 barrels of beer rolled out of the Coors brewery -- the world's largest -- in Golden, Colo.
But millions of barrels of production and the microbreweries weren't the main topics during the first couple of days of the AHA conference; instead it was the competition among 693 home brews from the United States and Canada -- and how to make a prize winner.
Engineers from Hawaii, good old boys from Arkansas, lawyers from Boston, cowboys from Idaho, ex-hippies from California and veterinarians from Virgina were just some who went to seminars on fermentation and yeast cycles, high-gravity brews and getting legislation passed to authorize brew pubs in their states. But don't think all was just talk about worts, pasteurization and the benefits of a healthy yeast.
Microbrewer William (Bo) Lyon, banker, manufacturer, former mayor of Fordyce, Ark. and one-time congressional candidate, slapped labels of his "White Tail" beer on the rumps of willing women to promote his new rice-enhanced brew.
David Bruce, who talks and acts like Dudley Moore, wore a frog costume and hopped into a luncheon where, as guest speaker, he discussed his chain of profitable brew pubs (where the drink served is brewed on site) in London. Bruce's pubs all have animal names like Frog and Firkin, Flounder and Firkin, and Pheasant and Firkin. (A firkin, by the way, is a British unit of measure about 1/6 of an American barrel or about four gallons.)
And AHA president Charlie Papazian, dressed in tuxedo, top hat, white shoes and red socks, rode into a banquet one night on the back of an elephant and waved at his flock of home brewers from atop the beast while they chanted "Foam! Foam! Foam!" to the gods and goddesses of brewing for another good year of fermenting. Nobody ever accused home brewers of being boring or predictable.
However, there was the serious matter of determining who makes the best home brew in the country.
After two preliminary rounds, five judges weary from three hours of marathon tasting earlier that evening sat down, nibbled on bread and sipped water to freshen their tired palates, and waited while Grosvener Merle-Smith, AHA vice president, brought out a box of numbered brown and green bottles representing the top brew in 15 categories (running from American pilsners and steams to European lagers and British bitters, and including porters and stouts, meads and specialty beers).
For each brew, judges filled out individual score sheets on the appearance, bouquet/aroma, and flavor of the beer. These categories were further subdivided to allow scoring on the clarity, color, hop/malt balance, body and aftertaste. Not unlike judges at a wine tasting, each would hold a glass of brew up to the light, swirl it to check for clarity and color, and bring it up to his nose to smell the aroma.
"Good clear color," said judge Fred Eckhardt, a Portland, Oregon writer, when he lifted a lager to the light. "It's sharp . . . a beautiful and clear amber . . . I like it; it looks clean."
Eckhardt, who wore a blue T-shirt that says "Listen to your beer" lifted his glass to his ear. Eckhardt is a bit of an eccentric who says it's possible to detect qualities of a brew by listening to the bubbles in the glass.
An hour later, while listening to the soothing strains of a harp playing old Welsh and English ballads, the judges had narrowed their choice to a porter (a dark ale that has a delicate, almost chocolate-like taste) and framboise (a soft raspberry-flavored dark beer).
"It's hard to argue with a good porter," said judge Pat Baker, a Westport, Conn., merchant and writer. His fellow judges seemed to agree. Without taking a vote, they all eventually came around to agreeing with Baker.
"This porter has a woody character," Baker said when the judges had all decided it was the best home brew of the year. "It has a tone to it that isn't too big. It doesn't overwhelm you. The framboise was an excellent beer with a raspberry maltiness and crispy taste. But at the end, we were backing away from the framboise. The porter was the right one for us."
While the home-brew competition was going on with only judges and AHA officials allowed to observe, British beer expert Michael Jackson was in another banquet room conducting an international beer tasting. Several hundred people sat around circular tables while waitresses carried in trays of exotic beers from the South Pacific, Belgium, England, Australia, Scotland, Switzerland and Germany.
It should probably be mentioned that several at the international tasting already had sampled English beers at a noon luncheon, judged a semifinal round of home-brew competition after dinner, and were now sitting down for the third "official" drinking event of the day. It's not certain how many had also stopped by hospitality suites earlier in the day to sample from kegs that microbrewers had brought to introduce their beers.
The definite favorite of the evening was a Belgian cherry-flavored beer, Lindeman's "Kriek," which surprised everyone who hadn't tried it. It was a rich, dark-colored beer topped off with a hint of fresh cherries without being too sweet. It was delicious.
At the home brewers' banquet the next night, the category winners in the home-brew tasting were announced and the creator of the favored porter, Russell Schearer, was named "AHA homebrewer of the Year." Schearer, 27, is a computer analyst who had already taken away two first- and two second-place ribbons earlier in the evening.
Schearer brewed his winning porter last fall and let it age in his parents' basement in Boulder. Porter is one of a few beers that improves over time. He still has a few bottles, which he will save for Christmas and special occasions.
"I'm a little more than a hobby or weekend brewer," Schearer said. He wants to line up some money soon to open a "micro." Winning "Homebrewer of the Year" may help him get started.
But Schearer wasn't always successful at home brewing.
"The first time I made home brew, I was 17. I had listened to my grandfather tell me about how he used to home brew. I wanted to try it so I went out and bought some yeast. But it was the wrong kind.
After he had finished, he bottled his first samples and put them in his bedroom closet.
"One night, when evereyone was in bed, the bottles started to explode. It sounded like a shotgun. 'Boom! Boom! Boom!' I didn't know what it was until I smelled the beer and saw the foam."
"That was my first experience. I think I've learned a few things since then," he said.