While there were not a lot of entries in the homemade wine and beer competition at the 2023 San Benito County Fair, it was a case of quality over quantity, as three of the six beers won first-place honors. One of the three was also awarded Best of Show.
With the beers, it was immediately apparent from the labels that designated beer styles that all six had been brewed by the same person. When the names were revealed at the end of the judging, that person turned out to be Adrian Masoni, a physical therapist and the volleyball coach at Hollister High.
After the judging, I spoke with Masoni, who told me he began making beer after being gifted a home brewing kit, and his natural scientific curiosity quickly kicked in.
“I started by following the directions to a T,” he said. “All of a sudden, it sparked this interest in me, and I said, ‘Well, what if I do this or use this other ingredient?’ I started reading books, and I went online to some forums to learn all the tricks.”
Since then, Masoni has brewed around 15 types of beer, five gallons at a time, mostly to share with friends. He has, however, also been successfully entering his beer in competitions all over the state, placing third with his Saison in the California State competition in its category.
“A lot of my beers I make because I have friends that are into them,” he said. “For example, I have a friend who is really a stout person, so I decided to make them one. It was a lot of fun, so now I am getting into stouts.”
Two of Masoni’s beers, a Belgian strong ale and a stout, did not get an award. Masoni had anticipated this, saying that he thought both beers might not have aged well and were past their prime. The other four beers are reviewed below.
Judging the competition for his third year, Chuck Frowien has had a significant impact on the county’s beer scene. Besides working with his brewmaster, Frank Sanchez, at Grillin & Chillin Alehouse in Hollister, he helped introduce craft beers to Hollister.
“I remember 12 years ago when we brought it in to sell,” he said. “In those days, if you were selling beer, it was Bud Light and Coors Light. That’s not the case today—now you see people living and breathing beer, making their own. It’s fun to see them experiment, and sometimes they make some great beers.”
While Frowien was the sole judge for the competition, he was advised by Joe Postigo, owner of JMP Construction Services and the CEO of the Vache Society, a loose gathering of local wine aficionados.
“It’s an exciting experience to be here to judge all these different beers and wines,” Postigo said. “I am still learning a lot about it, but I have high hopes for the local beer and winemakers here.”
I was given the chance to taste along with Frowein and Postigo, and the three of us discussed each one. It was a blind tasting, with the names of the entrants hidden until the judging was finished. Three bottles of each of the beers and two bottles of the wine had been submitted. One bottle of each was opened. The beer was chilled, and the wine was served at room temperature.
The sole wine entry was a 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, which did not take an award. Postigo said the aroma of this wine was slightly off-tune, and he thought it was aged slightly past its prime. “It is a good try,” he said, “but there are some things to improve on, I think.”
The wine had good color, Frowien said, but he thought that the taste should have been a bit bolder. I thought it was a bit light for a cabernet, a wine that I expect to be a little earthier and tannin-driven.
“It is an everyday wine,” Postigo said. “It would go with barbecue or a stew. You could take it to a friend’s house and enjoy it in that atmosphere. And you could just enjoy it with your family, and that is a win right there.”
At the end of the tasting, Frowein assigned the awards without further consultation.
“This was actually a very interesting tasting,” he said. “I was surprised by the quality of some of these beers. But with only one beer maker and one winemaker, hopefully, down the road, we can get more people in the county bringing theirs in to be judged.”
The Best Beers of San Benito County Fair Wine and Beer Competition
Light Lager – The taste and aroma of this Mexican lager were both very good, according to Frowein, who also detected a sweet note to the beer. It was not as clear as he would have expected from a lager, and the carbonation was a little slight. I enjoyed this one—I thought the clean aftertaste made it a perfect beer with food. Frowein awarded this beer third place.
Imperial Stout – This beer had a dark caramel aroma that was not overpowering. Frowein said he thought this beer worked out very well with tones of vanilla, coffee and orange peel in the taste. He described it as “Starbucks in a cup,” and said he thought it was more of a Porter than a stout. For me, it lacked the heaviness of a stout, and I enjoyed it because of that, not in spite of it. Frowien gave this first place in its class and considered it for best of show before awarding that honor to the Belgian ale.
IPA – Masoni calls this his Hazy Juicy IPA. Winning first place in its class, for me, it was a tough choice between this one and the Belgian ale for best of show. Frowien said he would not consider this to be a hazy, but complimented it on its beautiful aroma. The carbonation was more distinct than in some of the other beers and the slight catch of bitterness in the finish was nicely done.
Belgian Witbier – Entered in the Belgian and French Ale category, this beer took first place and best of show. Frowien detected notes of clove and banana and thought the degree of clarity was what the lager should have had. He described it as reminiscent of a Russian River style beer. “This is not my favorite style of beer,” he said, “But this is exactly what they are supposed to taste like. I tasted a little bit of almost bubble-gum like flavor that I really enjoyed and I thought it finished well.
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