Vince Capano
is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award  from the
North American Guild of
Beer Writers.  

Vince's column is now
a regular feature of
Maibock, Not Yours
Many people like to pair beer with food but for me beer goes best with my one guilty TV viewing pleasure – Monday
Night Raw.  The flagship show of the professional wrestling’s WWE is still going strong after decades on the air.  I’m a
long time fan reaching back to the years when I couldn’t drink legally though I have to admit that then, like now,
having a few well chosen beers makes every match seem like a championship showdown.  And that’s not a stretch
since there are plenty of titles to go around.  Over the course of watching “sports entertainment” I’ve seen many a
“superstar” battle for titles like Intercontinental,  United States Tag Team, Hardcore, Light-Heavyweight, European,
World Tag Team, Women’s, Divas, and World Heavyweight.  The one missing from the list – The Interglacial Super
Gigantic Supreme Championship – is not won in the ring.  No, that’s the unofficial title given to the winners of my beer
club’s most recent home brew “showdown”.  The competition style was maibock;  a style that had never been
attempted before in the club’s long, glorious history.  And even more historic, this battle of the brewers was going to
feature another club first – me. Yes, I entered a beer in the fray.

If you’ve been following Adventures in Beerland you might remember I’ve only brewed once before and the
experience was not fun.  Terms like stressful, intimidating, and worrisome are more accurate descriptions.  Still, with
that first brew I had broken a personal insurmountable barrier; it was my Chuck Yeager moment.  Making that first
home brew gave me an intoxicating feeling of accomplishment not to mention the intoxication from drinking the fruits
of my labor.  To make a second one for a competition was even more exciting and more intoxicating (as it should
since the maibock had a higher ABV).  

Like prior ones sponsored by the DB15 beer club, this competition was open to anyone, member or not. There was
only one stipulation.  Everyone had to use the same recipe with identical ingredients purchased from U-Brew, the top
homebrew supply shop in the area.  The reasoning was simple. If everyone begins at a level starting line the
competition becomes a true test of brewing skill.  Now if you’re wondering exactly why I entered it wasn’t just the equal
starting point.  I did it for the people; succumbing to the pleas and entireties of beer drinkers around
the nation.  My heart was simply too big to ignore their cries.  Ah, well there was one other reason.   The club’s Vice-
President made a heartbreaking personal plea asking me to participate.  He said that so few people entered there
would be no contest if I didn't participate.   And, as he explained, “I don’t want to upset the serious brewers who
entered by bringing in someone who knows what they’re doing, so I’m asking you.”  Don’t worry; taking a hit for the
team is one of my specialties.

This brewing experience was fraught with as many mishaps as before.  It’s not that I didn’t learn anything the first
time; it’s that my errors were now different.  Who knew there are over three million possible things that could go
wrong, give or take a million or two.  It seems my second biggest blunder was putting the yeast in at too high a
temperature.  That happened because I didn’t follow the instructions.   When it said to “pitch” the yeast I chose to use
my knuckleball delivery from the full windup instead of gently pouring the stuff into the pot.  But my real undoing, a
classic blunder to be sure,  was temperature. How was I supposed to  know the wort had to be below 75 degrees for
the yeast to work properly?  I just pitched away and besides, it looked like 75 degrees and not the 96 it actually was.

Yeast (and lots of luck) can work magic even when treated poorly.  I had heard many a home brewer say that and
now I was going to find out if that cliché was true.  As an added precaution I said a little prayer to Ninkasi and Siris the
Mesopotamian Goddesses of Beer.  I also tried several other religions just to be safe. With that, I gently placed the lid
on my five gallon bucket.  All seemed in order.

Days passed yet no bubbles appeared in the airlock.  Why wasn’t fermentation going on?  Was I making non-
alcoholic beer?  I was tempted to add a bottle of Jim Beam to the bucket to be sure it had some alcohol content and
then as a bonus I could then say, with a small degree of honesty, I had made a bourbon barrel aged beer.  Saner
thoughts prevailed however; I opted to take a quick swig or two or three of old Jim instead.  Then, about half way
down the bottle inspiration hit – go to U-Brew for help.  

U-Brew’s genial proprietor Dan Soboti asked me a series of questions, the most telling being “don’t you remember
anything I taught you?”  We brainstormed multiple solutions (he rejected my foolproof remedy – dump it all) until Dan
figured out the problem was a loose air lock.  I had somehow lost the device’s small black gasket that made for a tight
fit in the lid.  I immediately asked to buy another lid with airlock.  Dan simply gave me a replacement gasket.  This guy
should never run for political office, he’s too honest.  He also gave me another packet of yeast.  I was back in the
beer making business.

My bottling went smoothly except for…. ah, never mind…. It went smoothly.  I was ready for the competition.  The
showdown was to take place at the club’s regular Sunday meeting, 4 PM, on the second floor of the Gaslight Brewery
in South Orange, NJ.  I dutifully handed four bottles of the fruit of my labors to the event’s steward and headed to the
meeting area.  The judging was to be totally fair and impartial.  Everyone present, brewer, non-brewer, member, non-
member, or any combination therein was a judge in a blind tasting.  I was a bit taken aback by the blind tasting aspect
since that rendered meaningless the, shall we say, inducements I had given out to corruptible members.  My bribery
plot, like my beer was destined for failure.   My only hope was that by some miracle or miscounting of the votes my
beer would not to finish tenth in the nine man field.

Club members were evenly dived into four groups of five at a table.  Each person received nine beers in small clear
plastic cups logically numbered 1 – 9.  They were then asked to rate each beer on a scale of 1 (terrible) to 20 (great)
based on how close it came to the official style guideline for maibock.  Take a sip, evaluate, discuss, and rate; a
simple process.  Well not that simple if the last time the club had a home brew competition was any indication.  That
day the discussion at one table became quite heated over a particular beer.  The entire room was startled when we
heard a loud voice say “This beer number 8 is total crap.  Whoever made it should be embarrassed.  Why is this junk
even in the contest? It could kill someone.”  This was not some rant from a tightly wound, always angry soul.  No, it
had come from one of the most respected and accomplished home brewers in the group, “Captain Mike”.   Mike was
universally acknowledged as one of the nicest people on the planet; he never ever was known to  even raise his
voice no matter what the circumstance.  He was tranquility personified.   But it seems that when someone crosses the
line by offending the love of his life - beer- then even Mike’s saintly nature had a breaking point.

Several people told him to relax.  One asked if he could finish Mike’s other beers if he got a heart attack and had to
leave.  Then one of the club’s Cask Commissioners stepped in – “Mike, please remember the person who made this
could be sitting right next to you.  Just be a bit more kind and constructive.”  Mike fought to take control of his
emotions while mumbling “it still stinks”.  Finally when the dust settled it was time to announce the results and identify
the brewers.  

“And the worst beer of the day, beer number 8,  finishes dead in the voting last by a mile.   
It was brewed by…….”
Well tell us……maybe the guy left early….. hope he doesn’t get into a fight with Mike
…. “the beer was brewed by…….
Captain Mike”.

Silence.  Then more silence.  The rest of the results were read but no one was really listening.  We were looking at
Captain Mike, hands covering his bent over head.  There wasn’t much to say.  That was the last time we ever saw
Mike at a meeting.

I had the distinct feeling that at today’s meeting my beer would be greeted with more than a few Captain Mike like
comments.  The only difference between that infamous meeting and this is time I would know who everyone was
talking about.   Thanks to my Boy Scout training I was prepared to fire back with equal vigor.  I had written a 14
page document listing all the reasons my beer had come out so poorly.    And to my credit, nowhere in that extensive
document did I ever blame myself.   

The votes were secretly tabulated in the bar’s back room (hey, we are in New Jersey).  Finally head judge Dan Hodge
slowly moved to the front of the group, results in hand.  The assembled group deeply involved in the usual end of
meeting bottle share remained oblivious to the drama.  Fortunately Dan, a member of the highly regarded Essex Pipe
and Drum Marching Band had just returned from a parade and had his bagpipes with him.  It only took his whispered
threat to play four choruses of Danny Boy to get everyone’s rapt attention.

Dan began- “In last place with a score of 123 points was beer number 3 brewed by….. wait, it wasn’t me.  I wasn’t
last.  Heh, heh, how bad must that guy’s beer have been.  Dan worked his way up the list and still no mention of me.  
Could it be my beer was so rotten it didn’t qualify for any place no matter how low?  

Dan was now up to fourth place, the first loser.  Still not me.  
Here comes third place……. “The winner of the bronze medal in our maibock competition is…..”
“Wait, Dan can you please repeat that?” I shouted.
He did.  I asked again.
“Pay attention, I said it was you  twice already.”
“Are you sure”
“Yes, now go get your medal.”  

I don’t recall who won first or second or any other place, but it didn’t matter.  I darn sure knew who won third place.  I
proudly wore the medal for the rest of the meeting and for the next several hours of celebration downstairs in the
pub.  And being the nice guy I truly am, I did not turn away anyone who asked for an autograph.

Later on as I gazed at my gleaming medal it struck me that it would look even better welded dead center on a WWE
championship belt.  It would then be the first and only true Interglacial Super Gigantic Supreme Championship Belt in
existence .  I could wear it every Monday night (not to mention the other six days a week) watching the warriors of the
squared circle battle it out on Raw.

Memo to WWE Chairman Vince McMahon: Do you have a spare belt lying around?  I promise to put it to good use.


click to contact vince
April 2015