Only one beer nabs our “Brewer’s Pick” at the Lancaster Iron Brewer Homebrew Competition, and this year it’s an up-and-coming style that’s exciting brewers and drinkers alike: the tart Gose.
Brewed by Mike DeGrace of Red Lion and named Saskia, the winner is an old-style German wheat beer that’s refreshingly dry with some lactic sourness plus a hint of coriander and minerality from Celtic sea salt at the finish.
“This is an exceptional style that’s still very unique and hard to find,” said Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant Lancaster Head Brewer Chad Rieker. “We wanted to experiment with that and put it on tap.”
Saskia is an old reference to a Saxony woman and is in keeping with how Mike names his beers. He likes to relate them to lore from the area where the brew originated, and this mysterious woman is making her presence known in today’s beer scene.
“Gose is a very traditional German style, and I aimed for that authenticity,” Mike added. “What makes it special and a little different is the coriander. Plus, I used a Hefeweizen yeast to give it my own signature, yet not be too out of character.”
Chad says Mike is a “top notch” solid brewer. “He’s a quiet guy, kind of modest. But he knows what he’s doing.”
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The Iron Brewer Homebrew Competition is just three years old and sprung from Chad’s relationship with Lancaster Homebrew. The yearly contest shines a light on the thriving and thirsty community in that area. Clearly it was a good idea: the first year attracted 70 contestants and this year more than 180 tasty submissions passed over the Beer Judge Certification Program experts’ lips.
Collaboration went one step further in 2015 when Chad reached out to friend Rod Smith, co-owner and head brewer at nearby Columbia Kettle Works, to plant the idea that they brew the winning beer there. This is surely a testament to what makes the Lancaster area a destination for beer lovers: the relationships between pro brewers.
“The Iron Brewer ultimate prize is to brew on a big system,” Chad explained. “But the contest is also about community. When I reached out to fellow craft brewers, they didn’t hesitate to say ‘let’s do it.’ They’re nice people and great families. You’ll find [Columbia Kettle Works’] co-owner Bill Collister’s son behind the bar here in Lancaster.“
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Mike confirms brewing on a big system is “awesome. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade so I’m totally into anything that’s hands-on. It makes it a little more exciting to see it on a bigger scale. Plus the workmanship that went into the equipment is amazing.”
Beer is a family affair for Mike and his wife, Amber, a food and drink writer and blogger who has a particular affinity for all things beer. Mike credits Amber as his craft beer influence and for putting him on the path to homebrewing success when she gifted him a kit six years ago. That changed his palate and created an award-winning hobby, one he’ll no doubt pass along to their kids Asher, 6, and Lotus, 5. Both enjoy helping measure and weigh out the grains when there’s brewing going on at the DeGrace home.
When pressed for a favorite style of beer, Mike hesitates. “I’m constantly trying something new, so I don’t have a particular beer or style that’s a favorite. Lately, I’ve been gravitating toward sours so I’ve been drinking Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale. We also always have Tröegs Perpetual in the house—an exceptional value and a fantastic IPA. One of my favorite Iron Hill beers is the Munich Dunkel. I really do like to try everything.”
The real winners are Iron Hill and Columbia Kettle Works fans who’ll get to sip Saskia at both locations starting at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 27. Whether you belly up in Lancaster or Columbia or are a homebrewer, a proud beer geek or just curious, you’ll be ordering seconds of this year’s Iron Brewer winner.
With 11 locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, there’s an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant near you. We specialize in handcrafted beers and fresh, from-scratch New American cuisine. Monthly releases vary by location, so scout out our beers on tap and visit us soon.
Content provided by Dish Works author Nina Malone. Photo credited to Columbia Kettle Works.