Monday, May 05, 2014

Recap of 2014 Big Brew Day at Calder Plaza

Written by  Angela Steil
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A cool and blustery day descended upon dozens of homebrewing teams as they huddled around steaming mash tuns while concocting the ‘Beer City Brown’ at Calder Plaza Saturday, May 3rd. The event is called Big Brew Day and was started by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) after May 7th was announced before congress as being National Homebrew day in 1988.The AHA then took it upon themselves to start an annual Big Brew Day on every first Saturday of May. For the sec ond year in a row, Grand Rapids participated in this event.Just as they did the previous year, Siciliano’s stepped up to sponsor the Grand Rapids Big Brew Day. Siciliano’s donated the ingredients and provided the recipe needed to create 48 all grain batches, as well as offered bottled water for brewing, a wort chilling station that cooled up to six kettles at a time, and platform carts so brewers could move their equipment across the plaza safely and quickly. 
The event, which was free and open to the public, started at 9am and went until 2pm. Guests could mill about and taste beer from the various homebrewing teams and ask local Michigan brewers about their craft and process. Most of the groups had brought brews from their past batches (because of course as tasty as the Beer City Brown sounds that won’t be ready for at least another couple weeks) and were pouring out 2oz tasters to show the locals their best work. I was lucky enough to catch up with a few of these local homebrew teams.

My first stop was at Patriots Brew Club of West Michigan because they were so jolly and inviting as I walked by. “Come in! Come in! Grab yerself some beer!” I of course then glided my way up to the bar after that and spoke with the friendly gents for some time as I sipped on two of their brews. The AA Apple IPA was the big push for the Patriots so no matter who came up they offered that one first. I gulped down this hazy and honey colored brew and noted the alarming acetic acid taste. Though acetic acid is ‘technically’ an off flavor, the use of it in this brew was absolutely charming and I could not imagine the beer without it. It had a tangy and refreshing quality and strong notes of pear and it was so bright and juicy that it actually felt as though I was taking a bite into a pear as I was sipping. The beer had only a whisper of a finish. It was like there was a burst of acidity and flavor, but as soon as I swallowed it disappeared and all that was left was the faintest sense of the acetic acid like qualities. Actually, the brief finish and hint of acid made it moreish and I can see this brew getting thrown back real quick despite its high 9.0% ABV. 

The second brew from the Patriots was their “I” Imperial IPA. This one was clear but still honey/ light amber in color and had very aromatic hop notes that leaned more towards pine tree than anything. It was perfume-y and I wanted to stand there all day and stick my nose in the glass but I had to move on. The brewing team obviously wanted to have an emphasis on essential oils instead of alpha acids because after taking a sip the brew was very malt forward. It tasted of hot wort and lightly buttered biscuit. The hops came back in the game again in the finish but the malt was still the prominent feature. Overall, a solid brew that I would certainly drink again. Stonehouse was another intriguing stop along my beer route. I walked by because of their crazy homebrew setup and took photos as I spoke with the IABH Brew Daymastermind behind their equipment. 

The gentleman in charge of constructing this setup also explained to me that the girlfriend of a team member created all the artwork for the Stonehouse homebrew group and it was prominently displayed behind the makeshift bar. This was a serious operation and they took great pride in their work. I was also pleased to hear from the brewers that they appreciate the ecstatic response from their fans (guests were dashing up constantly telling them how much they adored their brews), but they wouldn’t push to create a brick and mortar brewery just yet. They have a big focus on quality and Stonehouse seems to feel that the constant pressure to open a brewery in Michigan as soon as you have a decent brew is the wrong way to approach the almost oversaturated craft beer market. Stonehouse is methodical when thinking about the bigger picture and I truly admire that.

Before I took off I was offered a taste of their Imperial Nut Brown (a southern English stylebrew) which was hazy and the color of milk chocolate. In the nose I detected banana and a cake-y malt character, and multigrain bread notes in the flavor. It was certainly sessionable and an easy drinker.

My last stop of the day was at the booth for the Big Lebrewskis. Obviously they had an amazing name and their bright yellow shirts caught my attention. I tasted one of their beers which didn’t have a specific name but was labeled as being a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. It was actually quite clear and brown in color with a smack of raisin notes in the nose and in the flavor profile, along with muted bready qualities. The mouthfeel felt thin and the attenuation level seemed higher than many Belgian Strong Dark Ales I’m used to, but this made for a less sippable and more quenchable beer. The main spread on their table though was the mead and I was silly to not try any because I struck up a conversation with one of the brewers about the recipe for the event, which I have listed below.

On that note, I will leave you with this recipe so you can brew the ‘Beer City Brown’ during your next home beer adventure if you weren’t able to participate in the Big Brew Day festivities. I was happy to have been in the presence of these great brewers and to share their concoctions and conversation, and I look forward to attending again next year.

Beer City Brown Recipe
  • Batch size: 5 gallons
  • Total grain: 10.75 lbs.
  • Anticipated OG: 1.059 Plato: 14.61
  • Anticipated SRM: 22.9
  • Anticipated IBU: 41.8

Grain Bill

  • 8.5# Briess 2 row pale 79.1%
  • .75# Kiln Coffee Malt 7.0%
  • .5# Briess Caramel 120 4.7%
  • .5# Briess Caramel 80 4.7%
  • .5# Briess Victory 4.7%

Hop Strikes

  • .5oz Columbus @60
  • 1oz US Fuggle @5
  • YeastFermentis - US-05 American Ale

Mash Schedule

  •  Heat 4 gallons of mash water to 180 degrees before doughing in
  •  Target mash temperature is 155 degrees
  •  Mash for 1 hour
  •  Heat 4 gallons of sparge water to 178 degrees
  •  Fly sparge for 1 hour
  •  Collect 6 gallons of wort pre-boil
  •  Boil for one hour.
  • •Expect 5.5 or 5.25 gallons in the fermenter.
Angela Steil

Angela Steil

Angela Steil is a Certified Cicerone® who returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan after spending three years studying in New York City and Los Angeles. Engaged as a writer in the beer world, Angela is an educator for those who wish to know more about all things beer, and coordinates beer and food pairings and dinners premised on sensory reward for the adventurous and curious. She is a producer of the finest pairing of all: quality beer and conversation. 
Angela is currently studying for the BJCP exam and Master Cicerone exam from which she expects to advocate and educate for the craft beer community internationally. Besides beer, she enjoys burlesque shows and comedy of all varieties. And cats. 
You can check out more of her work at