Last Tuesday, six of DC’s best homebrewers squared off in Meridian Pint’s Home Brewers’ Match Up Final Showdown, which pitted the winners of six qualifying competitions against one another for the chance to have their recipes brewed by DC Brau. In the end, Brian Barrows and Mike Reinitz came out on top. We’ll be bringing you a conversation with the Showdown winner, Brian Barrows, in short order, as well as news of the release of DC Brau-brewed versions.
Like any good brewer, Mike Reinitz is meticulous with his methods and materials. The bags of malted grains resting on the shelves in his second bedroom-cum-fermentation room are airtight and neatly stacked. Each of the three taps protruding from his kegerator is immaculate and bears a label with his home brewery name, Reinitzgebot. When asked about the finer details of his winning robust porter with chocolate, he immediately pulls up the recipe on an iPhone app. It’s surprising to hear, then, that he added cracked cocoa nibs to his carefully crafted recipe “spur-of-the-moment”. He stumbled across the spare nibs – left over from a previous beer – when assembling his grain bill and decided to “thrown them in the mash tun, see what happens”.
This turned out to be a serendipitous choice. Chocolate Rain was a crowd favorite at Meridian Pint‘s Final Showdown, where seventy-five members of the public helped an expert panel choose among the six qualifying beers. When all the votes were tallied, Mike was disappointed to place a very close second – until DC Brau co-founder Brandon Skall announced that the top two scores were so close that the brewery would brew up batches of both. Soon, DC’s bar-goers will be able to drink his beer.
It’s Reinitz’s biggest win in his 5 years of homebrewing, not that he competes all that often. Typically, he brews only three gallons at a time and rarely repeats his recipes; that way, he can constantly be brewing something new and interesting, like the vanilla rum raisin stout I recently tried or the lambic now aging in an old wine barrel donated by his wine-making father. The majority of his output goes to Brewers United for Real Potables (aka BURP), the DC area homebrew club, and appreciative friends. Collecting medals just doesn’t interest him, but this competition’s prize drew him in. “Having the beer brewed [by DC Brau]”, Mike says, “means a lot more than having a ribbon on my wall.” So he got to work.
Reinitz started out with a robust porter base: heavy doses of two-row and Munich malts, supplemented by equal parts Chocolate, Crystal 40, and Crystal 80, as well as a small amount of black malt and the aforementioned cocoa nibs. With five minutes left in the boil, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder was added. Kent Golding served for bittering and Willamette for aroma, together weighing in at 35.0 IBU. The yeast – White Labs 001, a clean ale yeast that adds little in the way of fruity esters – brought the original gravity of 1.069 to a final gravity of 1.014.
The recipe evolved over subsequent brewings, right up to the final batch. Based on feedback from the qualifying round and his own tasting notes, Reinitz reduced the black malt, as the cocoa nibs already “helped to dry the beer out a bit” and provide “maybe even a little astringency”. Reinitz prefers his beers with a bit less fizz, but the Pint’s Tim Prendergast suggested that he up the carbonation a hair to make it more consistent with the typical American taste. Even the ABV got a slight bump, from an initial 6.7% to the 7.3% seen in the Showdown.
The result is an inky brew capped with a mocha-tinged mousse. Sweet, milky cocoa dominates the nose with a few citrus notes from the hops, but the taste is bitter dark chocolate and dried fruit. Despite coating the mouth on first sip, it dries out quickly, thanks more to the black malt and cocoa nibs than any hop bitterness. Its carbonation is subtle and delicate, almost velvety, allowing the flavors to hang around long enough without overstaying their welcome. Reinitz balances boozy heft and dry delicacy with a master hand.
While he’s thrilled with the win, Reinitz isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s got a mango-passionfruit wheat beer conditioning and a Kolsch in the works for BURP’s German-themed meeting. There are the occasional classes he teaches at the Washington Wine Academy, the beer-tasting Meetup group he hosts, and the consultation gigs he has with area restaurants looking to improve their beer programs. And then there’s work: in addition to his day job as a software engineer, Reinitz will soon be picking up hours at 3 Stars’ new homebrew shop. Next time you stop by to restock, make sure to congratulate one of DC’s firmest believers in “the homebrew gospel.”