Tracy Rickels' homebrew takes prize

Hewitt man wins third place at American Homebrewers Association competition

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  • Tracy Rickels of Hewitt took third place in the Wood Aged Beer Category of the American Homebrewers Association competition in June.

In his first national competition, Tracy Rickels of Hewitt, took third place at the 39th annual American Homebrewers Association (AHA) National Homebrew Competition held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in June.

Rickels earned the award in the Wood Aged Beer Category, Belgian Style Quadruple Ale – Oak Aged.

“The American Homebrewers Association is thrilled to congratulate Tracy Rickels on his award,” said Gary Glass, director, American Homebrewers Association. “He beat out many outstanding competitors at the National Homebrew Competition—the world’s largest international beer competition—and that’s something to be extremely proud of.”

There entire competition had 8,618 entries.

While this was Rickels first national award, he has been competing and winning awards at regional competitions for the last couple of years including the annual New Jersey State Fair homebrew competition in Sussex, and the annual Homebrew Alley competition in New York City.

How he startedRickels started brewing back in 2000 when he was a college student.

"I have always been interested in cooking and chemistry," said Rickels. "One of the fun things about this hobby is that it includes elements of both. I enjoy being creative and like that I can also use science to help improve the way that beer is produced. My wife and I enjoy seeking out gastropubs and craft breweries to relax and try new beers so this hobby pairs up well with our social life."

Experimenting for a different tasteRickels likes to experiment with his brews.

"In addition to using lesser-known brewing ingredients like toasted oak, I also like to experiment with flavors from Jalapeno peppers, toasted coconut, different types of fruit, chocolate and cooking spices," he said.

Secrets to a good home brew?Just like many things, to improve at making home brew, Rickels said it takes practice.

"Practice, practice, practice," said Rickels.

He also suggests learning from others.

"Also, join a local homebrew club so that you can meet and learn from other experienced home brewers," Rickels noted. "I am a member of the Orange County Hoppers Club which meets in Pine Island, N.Y. It took a few years to learn how to make my first award-winning homebrew and a few more years to figure out how to make it consistently."

Of course there are also books and online forums on the topic.

"Along the way, I have read a handful of books and scoured many websites and brewing forums," said Rickels. "I’ve also brewed a wide variety of beers styles and have learned a lot of different techniques that I now use to help make my future batches turn out even better. One of the keys to making the wood-aged beer that I sent to the national competition was to strike the right balance between sweet and bitter flavors from the malted barley, alcohol, and yeast while also allowing the complex flavors from the toasted oak to be noticeably present but without dominating the overall flavor of this beer."

This really is science and cooking.

The futureRickels said he is always looking for ways to make his recipes even better.

"I plan to re-make a few of my favorite recipes to see if I can make the beer taste even better," he said. "I’m also constantly on the lookout for new trends in the brewing industry and like to test myself to see if I can replicate whatever the professional brewers are making, especially when I know that someone is doing something new that is creating a buzz in the craft beer industry."

Rickels will continue to enter local and national competitions with the goal of getting unbiased feedback about his recipes, always striving to make them better.

And, he would like to someday start his own brewery.

Rickels' award-winning brews aren't for sale just yet. Someday, though, if his dream of opening a brewery comes true, everyone would be able to enjoy his Belgian Style Quadruple Ale – Oak Aged. Maybe even one made with some fruit and chocolate.

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