Local Tamarac Homebrewer Only Floridian to Win Gold at National Conference

Russ Brunner, right, picking up a medal at the Miami Coconut Cup homebrew competition. After this, he went on to win big at the national AHA conference.
The City of Brotherly Love became the City of Homebrewers this past weekend, when over 3,400 of the hobbyists descended upon Philadelphia for the 35th Annual National Homebrewers Conference. This yearly event is the pinnacle of competitive brewing, where homebrewers vie for bronze, silver, and gold medals in 28 beer, cider, and mead categories.

The aim of the conference, hosted by the American Homebrewer's Association, is to award the top prizes to beers that hit the style marks as close to perfect as possible. How does that work? Each beer category has a list of acceptable aromas, flavors, and characteristics, governed by the AHA and the Beer Judge Certification Program. A 'European Amber Lager', for example, will have a "Moderately rich German malt aroma" and "Some toasted character from the use of Vienna malt. No roasted or caramel flavor."

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For each of the 23 different beer categories, medals are awarded for the top beers. This year, we have to send out a huge congratulations to Russ Brunner of Tamarac, for securing 1st place, and the gold medal, for his beer in the 'Scottish and Irish Ale' category.

As the only Floridian to win any of the medals in any category, we wanted to know a little bit more about the experience, the process, and the goals of this now nationally recognized homebrewer.

Clean Plate Charlie: How does it feel to be the only Floridian home brewer to win a medal at the contest this year?

Russ: I feel extremely lucky. I know of at least a few dozen Florida home brewers that are consistently brewing better beer than me, due to the beating they keep giving me at local competitions. The popularity of the hobby has sky rocketed in just the two or three years I've been involved with it. The maximum number of entries was limited to 750 for only eleven judging centers; that's 8,250 entries total and all of those entries were booked in just a few short hours. I was lucky enough to get one of those spots to even be able to participate. Such a small number of us were able to enter and even less than that made it through regional judging in the first round. Only ten Florida home brewers made it to the final round of judging and somehow my beer made it to the medal round. My secret strategy was...don't tell anyone....was to not win the Power Ball jackpot, on purpose, and save my luck for the final round of judging.

That seemed to work out, though we question your tactics. What can you tell me about the brew, the malts and hops used?

The beer that won was a Scottish Export 80. It's a moderate gravity Scottish Ale that has a nice flavor of malt going on with just enough hops to balance it out. This is the only time I have ever followed another brewer's recipe to the "T". It's simply the recipe directly out one of the top home brewing books; Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew by Jamil Zainasheff. It's a recipe that I thought resulted in a really tasty beverage and luckily the judges thought so as well.

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