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County Fair Winner John Bergman Shares His Passion for Home Brewing

With the fair just over, participants in the Homemade Beer and Wine category share the joy of creating one’s own product, while encouraging others to enter next year.
Fair judge Mike Bersten gives John Bergman two first place finishes for his homemade beers. Photo courtesy of Mike Bernsten.

Part of what draws people to county fairs is being able to see what people have personally created or grown. Whether it is canning homemade jam, displaying an intricate quilt, or making pie from scratch, there is something distinct about sharing homemade goods. This sentiment was not lost on this year’s Homemade Beer and Wine competitiors.

John Bergman, winner of the homemade beer segment of the fair, was a first-year participant who entered the competition with his wife's encouragement. “My wife enters quilts into the fair. She suggested I enter some of the beer I have been brewing," he said. John explained how he started on his path to home brewing because of his daughter’s fiancé. "He started doing it and it sounded like something interesting to do, so I decided to try it. It is easy enough and it is interesting to make your own beer. It comes out good or better than what you buy.”

John's home brewing is something he enjoys with his family, “My son is going to college so it is something he and I do together at home. My wife doesn’t help with making it, but she enjoys drinking the beer. My daughter and her fiancé are really into it.” In fact, his future son-in-law has helped him get started on the right track. “The two recipes that I did were from him. He had made the beer from scratch. He entered these same two recipes in Vermont where they lived and he won a local award for those.”

John explained why being part of the fair is so significant, “My wife likes to do it for quilts and one thing she likes is she gets feedback on how she did with her quilts and on what new things she needs to try. She is a perfectionist and she wants her quilts to do better in the competition every year. It (entering the fair) is very simple to do and costs a few dollars. Fairs help the community bond together.” In the Homemade Beer and Wine category participants received feedback from the category’s judge and co-chair in the form of personal rankings against other competitors.

Mike Bersten, a professional winemaker since 2002, has judged the Homemade Beer and Wine category at the fair for the last five years. Bersten said, “I look at color, body, aroma, texture, and overall flavors. It's a 100 point scale. Each category is 10 points. I'm looking for flaws in color, aroma, and bacteria spoilage. There are varying degrees of flaws. Just because there's a problem doesn't mean I'll discount it completely."

This same philosophy of not needing to be perfect to be a winner is supported by the two co-chairs of this category while selecting the “Chairman’s Choice” award winners. Janice Alosi specified that her co-chair Gregg Bonturi, looked for personal preference as opposed to overall quality during his selection, “Mike judges the product. Greg picks a beer and a wine he liked. It didn’t matter which awards Mike had done. Judging stuff as far as a standard of the product that’s one criteria, but when I get to judge as a chairman it is a product I like, even if it got third place.”

This distinction can be seen as Armond Mesa’s Red, Zinfandel was selected as the Best of Show, but his Cabernet Sauvignon won the Chairman’s Choice in the wine portion of the event. Both wines received first place finishes.

After all the hard work, John Bergman finished up the county fair with two first place finishes. Of these, his Jet Black IPA won the Chairman’s Choice for beer.

Happy with the results, Bersten explained that being able to produce and share homemade products is a pleasure, “It is the same thing as someone who likes to cook and share food with friends." Like cooking, it is both generous and creative. "If you make a stable and tasty wine you can store it for a long time. You can pull it out 20 years later and share it," Bersten added. 

Now familiar with the process, Bergman said it is not that hard to brew your own beer, “You can go online or to a home brew store to buy kits and everything is there for you, all the ingredients. There is a recipe to follow. The closer you follow it the better it will turn out.”

If you are a first-time beer or wine producer and interested in participating in the 2018 fair, it is easy to start making plans now. Alosi explained, “If someone is really serious about entering beer and wine next year I would go online and see what the categories are so you can plan for it now."

Co-chair Alosi also encouraged first-timers to give it a try, reminding brewers and winemakers that when the  2018 San Benito County Fair premium book comes out, they'll have a jump on the competition. 


For more information on participating in next year’s fair, call the office at (831) 628-3421 or email them at

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Becky Bonner (bjbonner22)

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.

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