When home brewers Ken Heiss and Gregg Kelley found out specs of a beer they would brew for a local competition, the road ahead didn’t seem easy: They were directed to create a ‘historical style’ beer, and do so using ginger and chili.
Because those ingredients were so distinctive, Heiss and Kelley (who had been randomly paired together from their home-brewing club) decided on a pre-Prohibition-style lager, “nice and light,” said Heiss, 39, of Floral Park. Heiss has been a home brewer for 10 years — three of those as a member of the Long Island Beer & Malt Enthusiasts.
To experiment before the actual brew, Heiss made tinctures with both ginger and Arbol chilies, then gradually added both to another lager: Coors. “I was really amazed,” Heiss said, that the flavors worked together so well.
The team brewed their own lager in Heiss’ garage using two-row barley malt, with some flaked maize to emulate the pilsner style. They also used Saaz hops, and fermented the beer for a month before adding the tinctures in — a bit overzealously at first, said Heiss, who had to bring down the heat level the night before competing by adding back some unspiced lager.
The beer won the LIBME competition. “I’ve judged thousands of beers and you just know when everything is working,” said Andrew Luberto, president of LIBME, which has about 700 members Islandwide. “There is a great synergistic balance, and the ingredients elevate each other and work in harmony.”
Two years later, Blue Point Brewing agreed. Last week, the as-yet-unnamed beer was chosen by Blue Point to brew and bring to the Great American Beer Festival in October this fall for that event’s Pro-Am Competition, a contest that highlights professionally brewed beers based on home-brew recipes.
Two years ago, another LIBME-generated beer, Muscat Love Tripel — brewed at Great South Bay Brewery — took home the gold. “I got the same feeling [tasting Heiss and Kelley’s beer] that I got tasting Muscat Love,” Luberto said. “It was just like, ‘this is dynamite.’ ”