Like so many of us, Paul Verbeek found idle hands in COVID lockdowns were best occupied with that most productive and rewarding of pastimes – homebrewing.
But for someone with a self-confessed “competitive streak” it was not just an opportunity to do more of what he loved best when there was little else to do, it was also vital time to fine tune those skills that had already seen him score a second place in the 2019 NSW Amateur Homebrewing Championships and a state finalist spot in Coopers’ Master of the Brewniverse competition.
In turn, Paul’s been on somewhat of a hot streak ever since with a couple more second places – at Vicbrew 2021 and Melbourne Brewers Beerfest 2022 (both for his British Brown Ale) – and now most recently winning home brew club the Merri Mashers’ IPA Competition and achieving “easily the biggest highlight of (his) homebrewing journey”. The prize for winning champion beer was a commercial re-brew of the recipe at Deeds Brewing and the result – the 7.3% Karl’s Big Day Out – ended up as a Deeds taproom and packaged beer release that is still currently available in both.
“I love sharing my beer (so) I was happy to take on the task,” Paul told Beer & Brewer as he recounted how the beer was first brewed at the request of his mate Karl for his 50th birthday party. “I knew the power of Galaxy hops and decided to mix it up with a hop I hadn’t tried before – Azacca. It seemed like they’d be a good match.
“A touch of toffee malt for sweetness, corn sugar to stretch the ABV, and I like to add equal parts rolled oats to corn sugar to give the beer back some of the body and mouthfeel the corn sugar takes away.
“The beer was very similar to a previous IPA recipe (of mine, so) I was just really experimenting with Azacca. (It’s) homebrewing 101: don’t change too many things at once, because if your beers off, it’s hard to pinpoint where you went wrong.”
The beer Paul made for the party – then called Karl’s 50th Special – was 8.0%, so he adjusted the grain bill by dialling back the oats and corn sugar so he could enter it as a standard American IPA in the Merri Mashers’ 2022 IPA Competition.
“I’ve always had a competitive streak and loved the idea that I could officially know how good or bad my beer was rather than just relying on people’s opinion. I think competition has also made me a better brewer – trying to nail all those style points is not easy.
“I had toyed with the idea of gypsy brewing to get my beer out there on a commercial scale. (But) now I had won a prize to give me a similar experience without all the cost and red tape.
“A few days after the competition I became a member of Merri Mashers and managed to repay my dues by scoring one point (for third place for an Oatmeal Stout) at the Westgate Brewers’ Stout Extravaganza to get Merri Masher’s over the line for Club of Show.”
Following his IPA competition success Paul teamed up with Deeds brewer Emily Usher to brew one of two 1,900 litre batches of Karl’s Big Day Out at the Glen Iris brewery.
“It was great seeing all the ingredients true to my recipe – right down to the exact branded malts – go into making (it).
“I helped with milling the grain, measuring ingredients, adding hops, removing the spent grain, and performing pH and gravity tests. Emily was great at explaining the process of commercial brewing and getting me involved. The only time I really had no idea was transferring the wort – levers were being pulled here, there and everywhere!”
Emily told us: “Translating a home brew onto a commercial brewhouse can bring some challenges in scaling up a recipe. One of the main factors we had to adjust was the hop additions in the kettle, as the utilisation is higher on a commercial brewhouse, resulting in higher alpha acids. Paul seems to have a great set-up at home and uses CO₂ on his finished beers, but packaging on a commercial scale in cans should make his beer fresher for longer. Karl’s Big Day Out turned out as a great West Coast IPA with classic dank bitterness that Paul should be proud of.”
Paul’s top tips for American IPA competition success
“Have you ever drank an IPA, then had a double IPA and thought ‘wow’? Brewing your American IPA as close to a double IPA as possible will help it stand out from the rest. My champion beer was 7.3% and absurdly bitter with big hop aroma and flavour.”
Fresh is best
“When I placed second with my American IPA in 2019, I scored 81 out of 100. Because (of its success there) it went on to the Australian Amateur Brewing Championship about a month later and I just entered exactly the same beer from the same batch which was bottled at the same time. It scored 72 out of 100 and the sad thing was had it scored 81 again I would have tied for first! IPAs deteriorate quickly, so if you’re entering a competition, brew an IPA so it’s ready a few days before submission entries close and as last minute as possible.”
Oxygen is your enemy
“When I arrived at Deeds with a sample of my beer, (senior brewer) Ned (Bowring) said ‘the way you packaged this beer, that’s probably what got you the win’. I use a pressure fermenter, not so I can pressure ferment, but so I can perform a closed transfer from fermenter to keg. I then use PET bottles for competition with a carbonation cap and flush the bottles with CO₂ before another closed transfer from keg to bottles. There are plenty of videos on YouTube about this. Oxygen is hard to avoid altogether in homebrewing, but take whatever steps you can to minimise your beer being exposed to it.”
It’s all about the hops
“Keep your malt bill simple as too many specialty malts can distract from the hop flavour. Magnum is my go to bittering hop – so smooth and reliable. Hop bursting (no bittering hops) can work, but I find bittering hops add a dimension to the bitterness, as well as saving you money by boosting IBUs. This means you can add the big flavour and aroma hops like Citra and Galaxy later or exta post boil to maximise their potential without counting on them for bitterness.”