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KARL’s 2013 Pro-Am Competition: A Tale of Chance, Tragedy and Triumph

It always amazes me when a seemingly straightforward story takes on new life and becomes entirely more meaningful once we take the time to look beyond the surface. Such was the case with our Pro-Am winner, Tim Taylor, and the tale of how his chance visit to a Karl Strauss restaurant saw him go from casual home brewer to having his creation judged on one the largest competitive beer stages in the world, and the near tragedy that weighed heavy on his heart throughout.

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Our 3rd Pro-Am contest was held in June of this year, receiving 41 entries from amateur brewers all across San Diego. The competition is a chance for us to have a little fun with the extremely active local home brewing community while ultimately showcasing the best of the best by collaborating with the winner to brew their recipe and enter it into the Great American Beer Festival‘s Pro-Am category. A panel of judges made up of our in-house Certified Cicerones, brewers, and local beer journalists Peter Rowe of the Union-Tribune, Candice Woo of EaterSD  and Brandon Hernandez  unanimously chose Taylor’s “Bleke Citroen”, a Belgian Pale Ale, as the winner.

The creativity and range of styles that we saw was really impressive,” says Matt Johnson, Head Brewer, Karl Strauss Brewing Company.  “The overall quality of the beers was outstanding


We also awarded second and third place honors for “Pickle Tickle”, a creative and addicting Pickle Saison, and “Coco Starkbier”, a tropical Coconut Dark Lager. But “Bleke Citroen” ultimately stood out for is complexity and drinkability. Packing heaps of spice and citrus flavors into a 5.3% ABV beer is no small feat, which is made even more impressive by the fact that it was only Taylor’s 4th original recipe…ever.

In fact, at the time he submitted, Taylor had been brewing for less than a year. His inspiration to experiment was there from the start, tweaking the recipe that came with his beginners homebrew kit to up the flavor and add additional ingredients. With such humble beginnings, it was by chance that he found himself at Karl Strauss in Carlsbad, coming across the signs advertising the competition.

I had a meeting with someone after work, right around the corner from the Carlsbad location.  She wound up running very late and by the end of the meeting, I was hungry.  So I decided to go to Karl for dinner and a couple drinks.  I saw the signs and knew I had some spare bottles at home.  I took a photo as a reminder.

Later that week an overheard conversation between patron’s in Pizza Port who were discussing their desire for a hoppy, full flavored sessionable beer became the foundation for what would ultimately become his winning recipe.

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A woman I work with always brings in lemons from her yard and I thought to myself that it would be cool to brew a beer with fresh lemons.  I went home and drew up a recipe for what I hoped was a West Coast Style hoppy session Belgian Pale Ale that used the lemons.  I had stashed away several ounces of Nelson hops, which are my favorite, and had been wanting to brew with them.   I wanted the hops to be the hero with the citrus noticeable, yet subtle.  I also happened to have a package of seeds of paradise laying around and thought it would compliment the hops and the lemons perfectly. I grabbed 2 lemons and got to brewing that weekend.

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Tragedy struck in the weeks between submission and the announcement of a winner. Taylor’s same coworker who had shared the key ingredient with him suffered a seizure from a brain tumor while on vacation and was forced to undergo the first of multiple emergency surgeries to try and save her life.

Just as she was coming out of her first surgery, news came out that I had won the contest.  She apparently was told soon after and it brought a smile to her face.  She’s one of those women that works so hard and is a natural leader, and I am so grateful to do right by her.

Thankfully, she is expected to make a full recovery and the brew has gone beyond being simply a beverage to mean something more, something special, for everyone involved. Culminating with Taylor brewing on the 7-barrel system at our La Jolla Restaurant with Karl Strauss Brewer Lyndon Walker.

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As soon as he arrived I knew I was in for it…  This wasn’t just a photo-op brew session!  We lugged several 55 pound grain bags through the restaurant and up the ladder to the mash tun.  Within minutes I was sweating.  Hard.  He did a great job of explaining things and I was up there stirring the grains around.  He expected me to help all the way, as I was hooking up hoses and switching all sorts of valves and levers.  Including cleaning up, which is intensive labor! Andrew and Melody stopped by and zested 95 lemons as Lyndon and I got the brew going.  After adding the lemons and the seeds of paradise, the brew house smelled like a can of pledge had exploded!

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In the end, it gives us such pleasure to be able to have been part of this experience, one which will be remembered by Tim and hold a special place in all our hearts as we’ve come to learn of the near tragedy and ultimate triumph of those involved. It is in these details, the casual connections and human passion to create, that elevates our humble beverage to heights beyond what it could ever be on its own. And that, precisely, is why we love it so much. Cheers!

You can find the Pro-Am “Bleke Citroen” collaboration between Tim and KARL that is being entered into the 2013 Great American Beer Festival starting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday August 28th in each of our Brewery Restaurant locations as well as in our Tasting Room. This is a one-time batch and is not expected to last long. Get out there and enjoy one before it’s too late!