Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge
By Eric Walters from Tap That AZ Podcast
What is the most crucial ingredient in beer? Water. What is the scarcest resource in the desert? Water. Hmmm. That can create quite the quandary. Maybe not today but someday soon the desert might run out of water. Say what!?!? Yeah, it’s possible. But not if the great folks who put on the 2017 Pure Water Brew Challenge can help. Through scientific processes that I have zero comprehension for they basically take recycled community wastewater and make it into safe drinkable water that it cleaner than an episode of Full House. But getting to people to buy into this? Yeah, that can be quite the challenge. But wait! What if they made that super clean water it into beer? Alright, I GUESS I’ll try it if I HAVE to.
For the Pure Water Brew Challenge 26 Arizona breweries stepped up to see who could make the best beer using the water. Brewers were given free-range as far as what type of style they brewed so when it came down to it the types of beers ran the gamut; everything from pilsners to stouts and everything in between. Some of the brewers involved even stated that this is the cleanest water they’ve ever worked with.
I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest judge to Tucson for the official judging of this challenge. I’ll admit I was a little nervous. I know my beer but as a judge?!?! They’re going to leave up to a jabroni like me to decide which of these beers were deemed the best? I had a few concerns. First, these guys worked really hard making these beers and my lack of professional beer judging doesn’t really create a level playing field. Second, not that I mind but am I going to be drinking 26 beers and if so I am sure that the level of intoxication that I will inevitably experience by the time I get to number 26 will slightly skew my polished amateur judging abilities. However, they had that all taken care of: I would be paired with a certified beer judge and I only tasted/graded one category of beer so officially I only tasted three beers. Whew! An Uber from Tucson to Phoenix would have cost me $146.28 which is approximately the same cost of a round trip flight to Denver. I choose Denver.
I was paired up with Ray who has been a certified beer judge since 1993. He coached me on the typical process. First we pick a style (we chose the Czech-style). Next we each taste, smell, look at, and basically grade the beer based on the style guideline provided. We do this all on our own at first to avoid any suggested opinions. Finally we compare notes, come to a consensus rating on each beer and then choose the winner in our category. Ok, I can handle that! We chose the Czech-style category. To be honest (and trying not to brag) I actually did much better than I had expected. The observations and notes that I made were very similar and in some cases spot-on with Rays. I started to daydream: the likes of Stone and Dogfish Head are going to start flying me in as the tasting expert to critique and grade all of the new cutting edge beers. Then the rest of world will hear about my grand tasting ability and the next thing you know I’m getting into a wrestling match with Anthony Bourdain on the streets of Madrid because everyone now declares ME the world’s foremost expert on tasting and pretty much anything cool. I figured I didn’t that kind of drama in my life so I brought myself back to the present.
We tasted an ordinary bitter, a blonde, and a pilsner. All three beers were good but there was a pilsner that was heads-and-tails the clear winner. The next round was the final round in which all of the beers from all the style categories were judged for best overall. And guess which beer won….yep, the pilsner I got to taste and judge. And so that concluded part one of my exclusive VIP tasting off one time beers that will most likely never be made again. Or was it? As I was about to leave they let us know “There is still a lot of unopened beers in the cooler back here if you guys want to try something you didn’t get to taste”. Well it would have been rude to say no.
The next weekend was the big announcement: the winners of the Pure Water Brew Challenge. Dragoon Brewing Company was the first place winner with their Clear Water Pilsner and Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company was the runner up with their Pure Water Double IPA. Crooked Tooth Brewing Company rounded out the awards with the People Choice with the Tamarind Sour Brown.
This completion was unique in a few ways. Just the nature of the water source was unprecedented and I am excited to see how this technology is going impact the world in the coming years. It is truly ground-breaking. Also, it is rare to have a competition in which only Arizona beers are involved. Arizona is on the path to becoming a top craft beer destination. Events like this will push us to become even better and set ourselves apart from everyone else.