I’ve been to homebrew competitions. I’ve also been to more than my share of beer tastings. Beer pairings? Yup, I’ve been to those, too.
One event that includes all three? That was a new one for me.
For the Love of the Craft (FLOC) was held on November 18 at the White Meadow Lake Country Club in Rockaway. It’s a homebrew competition by day and a beer pairing dinner by night. The twist is that the participating homebrew clubs each collaborate with a pro brewer to design and brew a beer for the event. Then Chef Chris Masey, well known for his ability to cook for—and with—beer, conjures up his kitchen magic.
I had a few questions for Nell Conway, who handles public relations for the event and is an integral part of it. Here’s what she had to say.
JERSEY BITES: How did the event start?
NELL CONWAY: The event was founded in 2015 while Chef Chris Masey and Nell Conway were working together at Nicole’s Ten Restaurant in Randolph, New Jersey. Nicole’s Ten, or 10n, had been the home of MASH (Morris Area Society of Homebrewers) meetings for about a year, during which Nell and Chris became truly inspired by the passion and creativity shared amongst the home-brewing community. The club approached 10n to host their annual Motown Mash Homebrew Competition and Nell and Chris wanted to take the average competition experience to the next level with hosting a celebratory dinner to follow the competition awards ceremony. The dinner would bring a creative twist to the average beer dinner by adding an element of surprise to the food, beer and experience while showcasing the incredible talents of the brewing community of New Jersey.
Whose idea was it?
This has been a collaborative experience from the very beginning. The concept, name, experience, food and beer have always been a collaboration between Chris Masey, Nell Conway, MASH, additional homebrewers and pro brewers.
Does Chris make the menu to match the beer or is it the other way around?
It starts with the homebrew clubs. At a club meeting they work together to decide on a recipe for the beer. All that Chef Chris asks is that each club brews a different style. The homebrewers then approach a brewery of their choice and continue the collaboration process with an official brew day. From there, Chris receives the ingredients and recipes of the beer and then works with Nell to conceptualize a dish. The first draft of all food recipes take into account the clubs & breweries personality and stories shared from the brew day. The food recipes are finalized when we receive the beer itself and fresh local ingredients the week of the event.
To get the homebrewer’s perspective on FLOC, I tapped Karl Weiss, who is the president of MASH. Club members met with the brewers at Twin Elephant Brewing for a brainstorming session, which resulted in a wide range of ideas. “Ultimately we realized that we wanted to focus on local ingredients,” Weiss said. In the end they decided on a saison, which included malt from Deer Creek Malting in Glen Mills, PA, honey from Eco Bee Supply, which has hives along the Passaic River, over 100 pounds of cranberries from Samson’s Fruit Farm in Hammonton, NJ, yeast from East Coast Yeast, and nugget hops from Rutgers Farm Extension.
“Scott McLusky, TEB’s head brewer, came up with the recipe that MASH brewers then fine-tuned,” Weiss explained.” A few weeks later about 10 club members gathered at the brewery to help out in the brew session. The opportunity for homebrewers to brew on the pro equipment is really the best part of the collaboration experience.” Club members also enjoyed how Chef Chris complimented their creation with a duck Sloppy Joe that played on the beer’s cranberry addition. “It was hard to tell where the flavors from the dish stopped and the beer began” was how Karl felt. I don’t think I could argue that point.
The food was served family style on long rows of tightly packed tables which was intentionally done to promote dialog among homebrewers, pros, and beer fans. For me, FLOC was a little sweaty, a little raucous exuberance, and a lot of education. It personifies what craft beer should be. Yes, we should take it seriously, but not so much so that we can’t have a little fun, too. I would love to see more events like this one pop up around the state.
Keep an eye on their website for next year. In the meantime, you can get a taste of the beers at Poor Henry’s in Boonton or visit Sona 13 for Chef Masey’s beer-inspired dishes—and a great beer list as well.
Here’s a list of participating homebrew clubs and the breweries they worked with:
- Garden State Home Brewers and Flounder Brewing
- Woodbridge Homebrewers Ale and Lager Enthusiasts Society (WHALES) and Cypress Brewing
- Morris Area Society of Homebrewers (MASH) and Twin Elephant Brewing
- North Jersey Homebrewers Organization of Practicing Zymurgist (NJHOPZ) and Czig Meister Brewing
- Sussex County United Brewers and Alchemists (SCUBA) and Jersey Girl Brewing