NODDING HEAD, the tiny Sansom Street brewpub, brought home a gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this month, and this time it’s George’s Fault.
It’s also brewer Gordon Grubb’s fault, and ex-brewer Brandon Greenwood’s, too.
But in the days following America’s most important beer-judging event, Philly locals were pretty much in agreement that this honor truly belonged to the city’s beloved brewing guru, George Hummel.
Hummel, with his wife Nancy Rigberg, operates Home Sweet Homebrew, the beer-making shop just down the street from Nodding Head. Since 1990, the pair have provided ingredients and inspiration to scores of brewers, professional and amateur.
Tom Kehoe, the founder of Yards Brewing, for example, purchased some of his earliest ingredients from Hummel; other beerheads return to the shop for advice, especially on style (and, no, we’re not talking about untucked tie-dye shirts here).
It was a casual conversation about brewing techniques with Greenwood, Nodding Head’s first brewer, that led to the gold.
Hummel, who hosts and judges a variety of homebrew events, had wanted Nodding Head to brew a recipe based on the winning entry in a local contest. Greenwood balked but agreed to sit in with Hummel one afternoon while he brewed a typical five-gallon batch.
“He and I always had a thing going back and forth over beer styles,” Hummel said. “I’d critique his beers, he’d critique mine. ” Hummel jumped at the opportunity of brewing with Greenwood, who learned his craft in Scotland, because “he’s one of the most educated brewers I know. “
Likewise, Hummel impressed Greenwood with his own ingenuity: a converted picnic cooler used as a mash tun; an inverted garden sprinkler used to sparge, or cleanse, the spent grains.
The beer they made that day was one of Hummel’s mainstays, adapted from a recipe found in the pages of Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing”: Who’s in the Garden Grand Cru.
“I’ve torqued it so many times, it’s a different beer now,” Hummel said. It’s also a deceptively easy-drinking quaff, made with wheat and honey, then spiced with coriander and orange peel.
“It’s a beer that lovers of good beer taste and find that it has a lot of character,” Hummel said. “Conversely, I’ve heard women who say they don’t like beer taste it and say they love it. Even Coors Light drinkers like it. “
By the time Nodding Head got around to brewing a full-scale version of the recipe, Greenwood was heading to a new job at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre. (He recently resigned. )
It was left to Greenwood’s assistant, Grubb, to brew the batch, one morning last December.
“We made a lot of decisions on the fly, especially on how much spice to add,” said Grubb, explaining the difficulty of converting a five-gallon stovetop recipe into a seven-barrel (217 gallons) run.
And there was the matter of what to call it.
“When we were at the bar that day, the question came up, and Brandon said, ‘What will you tell people if this sucks? ‘ I told him we’d say it was George’s fault. And that stuck, mainly because the other suggested names were too disgusting. “
After a month or so of fermentation and conditioning, George’s Fault was finally ready to be downed.
“I was very impressed,” said Grubb. “Not only is it very tasty, but even though it’s 9.5 percent alcohol, it’s almost delicate. “
Not long after that first taste, Grubb and Hummel were sucking down beers at the annual Michael Jackson tutored-tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. One of them was Midas Touch Golden Elixir, the honey brew from Dogfish Head that had won a gold medal at the 2004 GABF.
“We just looked at each other,” Hummel said. “Gordon goes, ‘Our beer’s better than this. ‘ “
That settled it. Grubb put aside a keg for the judges and Hummel made plans for his first visit to the big festival.
You already know what happened. George’s Fault took first place in the honey specialty lager/ale category.
Second place went to Midas Touch Golden Elixir.
“That was the icing on the cake, just beating Sam,” said Hummel, referring to Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione.
Not that a gold medal is changing life at Home Sweet Homebrew. This week when I called Hummel, he was vacuuming the shop carpet, hoping Nodding Head gives him the heads-up when it taps the last keg of George’s Fault.
In other Great American Beer Festival news, Iron Hill Restaurant & Brewery’s Wilmington location was named large brewpub of the year. It won two golds and a bronze.
Here are all the local medal winners. Note: Not all of the winning beers are currently being served or distributed.
Dogfish Head Brewing, Milton, Del., silver, Midas Touch Golden Elixir, specialty honey ale.
John Harvard Brew House, Devon, gold, Devon Altbier, German-style brown ale.
Iron Hill, Wilmington, gold, Belgian Strong, Belgian-style strong specialty ale. Also, gold, Kriek de Hill, Belgian-style sour ale; and bronze, Ironbound Ale, American-style pale ale.
Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, gold, George’s Fault, specialty honey ale. Also, bronze, Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, German-style wheat beer.
Triumph Brewing, New Hope, gold, Honey Wheat, American-style wheat. Also, silver, Dunkel, European-style dark; and bronze, German Pilsener, European-style pilsener.
Triumph Brewing, Princeton, N.J., Czech Pilsener, Bohemian-style pilsener.
Dock Street Brewing, which helped launch the city’s micro-brewing revolution, is marking its 20th anniversary with specials around town this month. Tonight, a tasting at Bridget Foy’s (200 South St.). Dock Street, which formerly operated a Logan Square brewpub, now brews its Bohemian Pilsner and Amber Beer at FX Matt in New York.
Look for another odd brew from Dogfish Head to debut in Philadelphia at the Grey Lodge (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair). This one’s an African honey brew made with tree bark. The History Channel is expected to broadcast a documentary on the beer later this year.
Troegs Brewing’s Dreamweaver Wheat was so popular this summer, the Harrisburg brewery is now including it in its variety cases. And keep your eye out for Troegs’ insanely popular Mad Elf, the cherry-red winter ale. Bottles should be on the street in two weeks.
Tomorrow: The Craft Beer Movement, a tasting with beer critic Gary Monterosso, at Aleathea’s Restaurant at the Inn of Cape May, (7 Ocean St., Cape May, N.J.). While in town, stop in at Congress Hall (251 Beach Ave.) and sample its new Blue Pig Tavern Ale, brewed by Flying Fish. Beer-tasting, 2 p.m., $25, 609-884-5555.
Oct. 21-22: Five-course Oktoberfest dinner at the Farmhouse (1449 Chestnut St., Emmaus, Pa.), hosted by John Hansell, publisher of The Malt Advocate. 7 p.m., $75, 610-967-6225.
Oct. 22: Lehigh Valley Brewfest at the State Theatre (453 Northampton St., Easton). Free food and plenty of drafts from local brewers. Tipplers advisory: Keep an eye out for Fred, the ghost who reportedly haunts this historic former vaudeville theater. Beer pours noon-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m., $30, 610-252-3132.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Paulaner Oktoberfest.