In 2010, Ted Ortiz Y Pino bought his first home brew supplies, and he’s been hooked ever since.
The Georgia resident’s fruit sour beer brewed him a slot as one of two finalists in the Make the Cut Homebrew Challenge at 14th Star brewery in St. Albans this month.
On Friday, Feb. 17, he’ll make a 100-gallon batch of the beer at the brewery, which will showcase it on tap at some of Vermont’s most notable restaurants and bars.
“It’s a little surreal to know that my beer will be served next to some of the best beers in the world,” Ortiz Y Pino noted last week in his apartment’s kitchen, the base of his operation. “That’s a really amazing feeling.”
Seven years ago, he didn’t know this is where his interest would take him. Now, he said he’s happy to know he must be doing something right.
Ortiz Y Pino has worked on perfecting a fruit sour concoction for a while. A couple years back, he earned first place with the same beer in an Arts Riot homebrew competition in Burlington. At Make the Cut last year, the beer notched seventh place.
After taking constructive criticism from the contest’s professional judges, he went back to his kitchen to experiment — a crucial aspect of the homebrew process, he added.
“Sour beers are either hit or miss,” he said, noting not everyone is a fan of the beer type, known for its funky taste.
So, the homebrewer set out to create a taste that he enjoyed, in hopes others would, too.
When experimenting, a batch was too sour, not sour enough, had too many hops or a combination of many things. Each time, Ortiz Y Pino went back to the drawing board.
The Georgia man, who describes himself as a do-it-yourself type of person, enjoys deconstructing the beer and its process. When he finds something that works, it’s usually by accident or trial by error, he added.
While some homebrewers buy a premade kit that includes necessary ingredients and a strict list of instructions, Ortiz Y Pino noted he wouldn’t gain any knowledge from a process like that.
For him, the secret’s in the research: A bookcase filled with homebrew books lines the wall of his apartment.
The success of the beer he entered this time, he said, is due to his research on using probiotics, which have bacteria that make lactic acid. With a notable acidic taste, his beer appealingly pairs sour with citrus.
Using a small zester, Ortiz Y Pino teases the skin of clementines, oranges, grapefruit and lemon by hand, adding the peels to his brew.
According to 14th Star brewmaster Dan Sartwell, these four zests are what give the drink a unique and interesting taste.
The sour ale is refreshing, he said, and a great summer beer, too.
If Ortiz Y Pino beats out finalist Chris Kesler’s New England IPA, a 30-barrell batch of the fruit sour will be canned and debuted at Burlington’s Vermont Brewers Festival in July.
But first, customers at hot spots like Waterbury’s Prohibition Pig and The Reservoir, Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and Burlington’s Farmhouse who order Ortiz Y Pino’s brew will also receive a half-pint of Kesler’s IPA and a voting ballot, Sartwell explained.
“It definitely gives homebrewers an outlet to see how their brews stack up,” the brewmaster said of the third annual competition.
Ortiz Y Pino likes to watch people’s reactions as they sip his creation.
“Just kind of experiencing my beer through other people’s eyes,” he reflected.
Understanding his brew and the beer making process is a science — a field familiar to Ortiz Y Pino.
A scientist for BLA Partners, formerly Burlington Labs, Ortiz Y Pino embodies the scientific mindset necessary to delve in and deconstruct any problems that arise when he’s in the kitchen.
To him, it’s just his personality of always wanting to understand things better.
While his knowledge of homebrewing has increased over the years, so has his relationship with 14th Star. A regular customer there, Ortiz Y Pino has watched the brewery grow from a small garage to a larger, well-known facility that serves what he believes to be some of the best beers in the state.
To be somewhat parallel to that cultivation, he said, has been a wild ride.
“In some ways, it’s like a dream come true,” the homebrewer said before pouring a small dose of his sour ale into a glass. “But it’s also very humbling, too.”
Make the Cut is a collaboration between 14th Star, Winooski’s Beverage Warehouse and Farrell Distributing. More information on the competition can be found at www.makethecut.beer.