It takes a special sort of person to homebrew, the sort Matt Gelsthorpe described as "fiercely individualistic" and "a little weird."
In addition to his day job as a beer buyer at the Boise Co-op, Gelsthorpe is the organizer—or the disorganizer, as he put it—of the Fifth Annual Organic Homebrew Challenge, which went down June 30 at Visual Arts Collective.
Either 62 or 63 beers—Gelsthorpe lost count—were entered in seven categories that certified judges and the public swilled and then commented on.
The largest number of entries were in the organic category. Seventeen brewers brought their best organic robust porters to the competition, which included a solid smoky porter with strong chocolate notes and one with a sweeter flavor, like a porter mashed up with a barley wine.
Gelsthorpe said that creativity is at the heart of the competition.
"Homebreweing gives you an opportunity to be more creative, because you don't have a market to be concerned about," he said. "What happens if it goes wrong? You dumped $40 down the drain? Who cares? But if it's a success, then you learn something invaluable."
The Organic Homebrew Challenge also gives brewing novices a good place to start.
"This is one of the best avenues for people interested in brewing because of the feedback," Gelsthorpe said.
One previous winner of the challenge has gone on to professional brewing, and another is currently in school to do so. But strangely enough, Gelsthorpe said that most of the people who have won the competition in previous years don't return.
"There is about a 30-percent turnover rate," he said.
Gelsthorpe said that this is the first year that the public and judges agreed on the top three beers, though they ranked them in different orders. This is also the first year that a woman entered the competition.
In the end, Steve Dockter's "What's in Dana's Fridge" was given top honors for organic porter. The People's Choice award went to Ryan Collings for his Big Roast Organic, better known as Beer No. 123. Collings also took home the Best in Show award.
Those interested in getting involved in next year's competition can get info at local brewing shops, or through a brewer's club like Snake River Brewers.