Competition Corner: Joe Formanek

March 10, 2005 at 10:50pm

Author(s): Al Boyce

Welcome to Competition Corner! In this feature, we seek out award-winning brewers from around the country and ask them their strategies and techniques for brewing great beer and winning contests with them.

The fifth brewer in our series is Joe Formanek - a member of the Urban Knaves of Grain and the Boneyard Union of Zymurgical Zealots homebrew clubs. Joe has been a serial winner of the Midwest Homebrewer of the Year award, taking home the trophy in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Where do you live?
Bolingbrook, IL

Are you married? Do you have children?
My wife's name is Cathy, and I have two children, Veronica (4), Hannah (2)

What is your occupation?
Research Scientist at an international food company

How long have you been home-brewing?
18 years

Do you belong to a beer club?
Yes, I belong to the Urban Knaves of Grain (UKG), Du Page County, IL, and the Boneyard Union of Zymurgical Zealots (BUZZ) - Champaign, IL.

Why did you start home brewing?
My BS degree is in Microbiology - I've always been a "foodie", and this was just putting my knowledge to good use.

Do you do extract, partial-mash, all-grain, or some combination?
All grain 95% of the time. For a few bigger beers, I use a little DME kicker on occasion.

Do you think one brewing style (above) has an advantage in competitions?
All grain - due to the control that the process allows the brewer

How big is your average batch?
5 gallon

What are your favorite styles to brew?
American styles - American Ale, IPA

How many batches do you brew per year?

How long have you been a BJCP beer judge, and what is your certification?
11 years, National. [Editor's Note: Joe recently became the Midwest Regional Rep for the BJCP].

How you think being a judge has influenced your brewing?
Judging gives you a greater understanding of brewing styles, as well as greater experience in seeing where things might have gone wrong.

Why do you enter competitions?
To get feedback on by brews - and for the ribbons!

On average, how many competitions do you enter per year?

On average, how many beers do you enter in any single competition?

What are some of the competitions you've won?
BOS - Spooky Brew, St Louis Happy Holiday's, Drunk Monk, BOSS, Febfest, Brewer's Dream, Boneyard Brewoff, etc. I had a 2nd BOS at the Dixie Cup in 2001

Of which wins are you most proud?
Probably the latest one - the Drunk Monk - due to it being my home club, as well as it being very large (550 entries).

What traits of a competition encourages you to enter?
Local, proven track record, good prizes, good club to support, nice ribbons/awards, 2 bottle entries, $4-$6/entry

What traits of a competition discourages you to enter?
3 bottle entries, more than $6.00/entry, too distant, poor track record

How do you choose which competitions you enter?
I pretty much enter the same ones year after year.

Do you find that some competitions are easier to win than others?
Yes, those in the Midwest are a bit easier to win. Regionality of judging styles, I believe.

What characteristics of a competition make it easier to win?
Size (smaller), location (Midwest)

What characteristics of a competition make it harder to win?
Size (larger), distant competition

Which competitions are your favorite?
DMC, BUZZ, Spooky Brew, Happy Holidays

Why are they your favorites?
Good clubs, good friends, fun to go to judge too.

Do you make changes in your recipes or techniques based on the feedback you get from competitions?

What type of feedback is most helpful to you?
Very specific

What type of feedback is least helpful?
Generalizations about how this isn't quite right, or something of that order.

How do you develop winning recipes?
Utilize feedback from competitions and club members. Also rely on my experience of beer styles and my brew system.

How are ingredient choices important in making award-winning beers?
Need to use fresh hops, good reliable malt (Mich Weyermann, Dingemann's, Cargill, Mid American, Crisp, and other british malts).

How closely do you attempt to adhere to BJCP styles in brewing your award-winning beers?
As close as possible.

How do you feel about the practices of going "over the top" of the BJCP styles in order to win competitions?
I do try to go towards the top end of the style. It helps the brew stand out.

How is treating your brewing water important?
Activated carbon filtered Chicago water works well for most of my brews. I use RO water for styles requiring soft water

How is mashing important in making award-winning beers?
Gotta have the right temps and thickness to get proper results!

Which brewing techniques are most important in making award-winning beers, and why?
All grain all the way for the control, Good mash temp control for consistency, Good sanitation technique for obvious reasons

How are primary and secondary fermentation times and temperatures important in making award-winning beers?
Want just long enough primary time to complete fermentation and allow yeast to crash out to avoid autolysis. Times and temps depend on style being brewed. Secondary can take from 1 week to 1 year! Cellar temps (~67F) for ales, 36-40F for lagers

How are lagering times and temperatures important?
Need to lager sufficiently to allow brew to "mellow". Cold lagering (36-40F) is best for most styles.

What's your "secret" to winning homebrew competitions?
Using equipment that I am familiar with and knowing its capabilities!

What other tips or advice would you offer to a brewer who would like to win competitions?
Become a BJCP beer judge - this will help your understanding of styles greatly, and you will be able to experience the style (how and how not to make it) more fully.

Would you please share with us one of your most successful recipes from the competitions you've won?

Old Grandma's Amber Ale
by Joe Formanek

Won BOS at 2005 Drunk Monk Challenge (~550 total entries)
A very similar recipe has taken gold at the Nats in 2002 and 2004

OG: 1.068
FG: 1.016
IBU: 31
SRM: 16
ABV: 6.9%

For 5 gallon batch

8# Muntonís Pale 2 row
1# Weyermannís Wheat
3/4# DMC Caramunich
3/4# DWC Carapils
1/2# Cargill Special Pale 2 row
1/2# DMC Caravienne
1/2# DWC Biscuit
1/2# DWC Aromatic
1/8# DWC Special B

All whole
1/2 oz Centennial (10.0% aa) - 60 min boil
1/2 oz Centennial (10.0% aa) - 10 min finish
1 oz Willamette (5.0% aa) - 10 min finish
1 oz American-style Homegrown (?% aa) - 10 min finish
1 oz Centennial (10.0% aa) - Dry hop in secondary
1 oz Willamette (5.0% aa) - Dry hop in secondary

White Labs WLP002 British Ale

Filtered Tap water + 1 tsp gypsum per 5 gal

1 tsp Irish Moss (rehydrated) last 15 min of boil

Standard infusion mash: 4 gal
173F water - add grain
157F - 60 min til converted
170F - 10 min mash out
Sparged with 3 gal 170F water

75 min with hops and Irish Moss additions.

Previous Competition Corner interviews
Jamil Zainasheff- August 2004
Curt Stock - March 2004
Jeff Swearengin - May 2003
Steve Piatz - January 2003