As I wound around corners on Rt. 2 in Massachusetts heading towards Gardner, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have made friends with several homebrewers who are brewing excellent beer, but I’ve never actually attended a homebrew festival or competition before, let alone been asked to be a “guest judge” for one. I decided, as I drove up the little gravel driveway at the Garnder Deer Club that I’d just be open-minded and hope that the rain held out.

Organized by Dave Higgins and his comrades from Wachusett brewing, this was the festival’s second year. Busy staff members in bright orange shirts worked to set everything up. A ring of tables held brews of all shapes and sizes, some in bottles, some in kegs, and some in innovative delivery systems (including one that was made by a former cabinet maker and housed in a rubbermaid garbage can)…

There were two prizes to be had – a people’s choice award (people could vote using blue marbles that they received at the festival’s entrance – and a “best in show” chosen by the guest judges.

A great group of Homebrewers in Gardner!

A great group of Homebrewers in Gardner!

For us, the judging was arranged in flights – so there were 4-6 beers in a heat, and one was selected to move onto the final round. There were probably about 25-ish beers to try, so we had a good job ahead of us to pick our favorites.

We had some really innovative and interesting beers, and all of it was high quality! I’d like to call out a few that were memorable: A Tripel made with black cherries, a coconut IPA, an impressive, I-can’t-believe-its-a-homebrew Belgian Ale, a raspberry cider, a smoked red ale, a Chocolate Raspberry Porter and the best Watermelon ale I’ve ever had.

The judge’s “best in show” ended up being the Belgian Ale with the Watermelon and Chocolate Raspberry as close runners-up. The crowd favorites were the black cherry belgian (1st) and the raspberry cider (2nd).

I got a chance to talk to some of the brewers, and got encouraged and inspired by their creativity. What a great way to remind myself that there are tons of great things going on in the backyards, kitchens and cellars of ordinary folks (if you can call these brewers ordinary, that is!). A cheers to all the brewers who participated. I might have to drop by a few more of these fests in the future. You’ve inspired me!