Special Hoperations

Established 2010


Robert Hilferding wins NHA Homebrewer of the Year

As many of you already know, Special Hoperations own Robert Hilferding was named the National Homebrewer’s Association 2014 Homebrewer of the Year.

Robert won Best of Show at the National Homebrew Competition, among 8,172 entries, with his Way Off Kilter Scottish Ale. Below, he answers a few questions about the beer, the competition, and how he got started brewing.

Congratulations, Robert!

Tell us about your award-winning beer. Without giving away your trade secrets, how did you come up with the recipe?

Robert Hilferding – I brewed a Scottish Ale/60 Shilling beer called Way Off Kilter. It’s malty with a medium low body and a low ABV. I use a Scottish Ale yeast which provides a slight smoky taste and a light fruitiness. The recipe was an online recipe modified for my system and the weirdness of Zephyrhills water.

How did you find out that you won the National Homebrew Association Homebrewer of the Year?

RH – On Sunday after the event, I noticed that Facebook has a cryptic post, “Congratulations to Robert Hilferding for BOS of AHA.“ I yelled to Terry how shocked I was that the poster would prank me on Facebook! I looked at the American Homebrewers Association website and, sure enough, it was real. Honestly, it still has not sunk in.

What was the process like as your entry progressed through the rounds?

RH – The first step was a “lottery” to determine if I could submit any beer and if so, how many. The lottery came back and the entries were limited to four beers.  I had to choose a regional judging site from 12 different sites and shipped the bottles to the Nashville judging site. There two of the 4 entries received a certificate and the Scottish won a blue ribbon.

At that point I had to send 3 more bottles to the final round in Michigan. Also required was uploading the recipe, and submitting a photograph.

Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been brewing, and what got you started?

RH – On Christmas day 2012, I opened a present from my son, Gregg. Inside was a 1-gallon “brew your own” beer kit. I remember thinking to myself that this was way better than socks or a necktie and gave it a go.

Two weeks later I bottled 7 bottles of American Pale ale (and spilled two more on the floor because I kept forgetting to shut off the feed line.) I don’t remember if the beer was that good, but to me at the time it was AWESOME! The only issue – it was a lot of work for a few bottles of beer.

I decided that I would like to try it again and turned to the internet to find a local home brew store. I walked out of the store ready to make my first 5 gallon batch, Kelly’s Belgian Wit, from an extract kit. I followed the directions, which were more extensive than the first kit, and got drinkable results. I was hooked and hooked hard. It’s been financially downhill ever since! Last year I brewed 190 gallons of beer. No all of it made it to bottle or keg.

What advice do you have for other prospective competition enterers?

RH – My advice to everyone is to enter every contest possible. While there are some variations in judging (Way Off Kilter has received very spotty results), very soon a pattern will develop that you can use to improve your brews. Then go to the club and ask for help  to solve any issues. Compete and repeat. The beer will get better and better.

Another thing to consider – Beer competitions are based on compliance to particular styles. To maximize the chances to win, I stay with styles that are more rigid and less free-style. Styles 20 to 23 are wide open to interpretation where a style like 6 – Light Hybrid Beer has rigid “rules” and commercial examples.

The other thing I like to do is research. When brewing a particular style, I will go and try as many of the commercial examples as I can find. While it is hard work, somebody has to do it!

Honestly, how cool is it to be the National Homebrewer of the Year?

RH – It is cool, sure. It is also humbling and overwhelming. I consider this a win for Florida Beer and a win for Special Hoperations.

Mead Intraclub Competition

July 27 is the Special Hops Mead intra-club competition. The competition will include all of BJCP categories 24, 25 and 26.

You only need to enter a minimum of 12 ounces, in any configuration of bottles. The dropoff location is Southern Brewing and must be turned in by Saturday, July 26.

Fill out the registration form to enter.

Competition Winners

Walk on the Wild Side

Dan Raynes
3rd Place Best of Show – Gary the Cat Rulez #1
Gold – Florida Weisse
Gold – American Style Sours
Silver – Belgian Style Sours
Silver & Bronze – Other/Specialty Sours

David Gilbert
Bronze – Belgian Style Sours

Greg Brown
Bronze – Specialty Sours (mead)

Pro-Am Beer Project

Matthew McKinnon
Best of Show - Sometimes You Don’t
Gold – Specialty – Sometimes You Don’t
Silver – Specialty - Peppy Peach

Allan Myers
Gold – Stout - Por Mi Amigo
Gold – Fruit - Cherry Blond

Robert Hilferding
Bronze - American Ale – Flat Tire
Bronze – Stout - Twist & Stout

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