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James Schirmer holds the tap handle bearing his likeness, the big prize after winning a national beer homebrewing contest. His prize brew will be bottled and sold (and on tap) across the country starting in February.

James Schirmer holds the tap handle bearing his likeness, the big prize after winning a national beer homebrewing contest. His prize brew will be bottled and sold (and on tap) across the country starting in February.

Tops In Hops

La Verne senior research associate James Schirmer’s homebrew is judged to be the best among nearly 1,000 entries in a national competition.

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  • November 4, 2012

Even if he was wearing a lampshade on his head, James Schirmer is probably the last guy you’d pick out of a crowd as a national champion brewer of beers.

Schirmer, senior research associate in the University of La Verne’s Academic Affairs Office, looks way too young and fit and trim to be a beer aficionado. No scraggly beard, no belly lapping over his belt buckle, no tattoos. But taste is all that matters in the booming homebrew industry, and Schirmer’s batch of Beerflower Wheat got it just right in a recent national contest conducted by Samuel Adams.

“This is pretty amazing, and I never imagined it would get this far,” said Schirmer, who shared top prize with Connecticut resident Zack Adams at the 2012 Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest. “I entered this contest a few years ago and was thrilled to get a free T-shirt. This time, it was a very proud moment for me, especially being up on stage with Jim Koch, who started this whole thing with Samuel Adams.”

James Schirmer was the only homebrewer pouring at the Great American Beer Festival earlier this month in Denver.

Schirmer’s Beerflower Wheat beer will be brewed, bottled and marketed nationwide by Boston Beer Co., bottler of Samuel Adams, in a specially marked six-pack. His was selected as the best from among more than 1,000 entries. Schirmer, who began his homebrewing in 2007, was presented with a tap handle bearing his likeness at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver on October 12.

Schirmer’s is also a Great American Success Story. Starting from square one with nothing but a thirst for knowledge, Schirmer cut his own path to perfection. Now, five years later, he is a decorated brewmeister. It was during a visit with his brother Ted in North Carolina a few years back that he was enlightened about the virtues of craft beers.

“I tried several beers and I said, ‘Wow, these are really good,’ ” Schirmer said. “After the trip, I went to different stores and I couldn’t find anything that was quite like what I had tasted. So then I looked into homebrewing.”

Schirmer said he could find only one local store, in Upland, that had homebrewing equipment, but he didn’t yet know what he was doing. He visited online homebrewing forums, he even bought a book, “Homebrewing for Dummies,” but still struggled.

“Finally, I said, ‘I’m just gonna try it,” he said. “I made a batch and it was terrible. It was drinkable, but… The next few batches got better, but I still needed help. I found a local brewing club and started getting together and sharing ideas and techniques and I learned a lot. At one of the first meetings I went to, the others tried a pale ale that I brought and they said it was really good. So I knew I was on the right track.”

Schirmer got the idea for his winning blend from his mother-in-law, who drank an interesting-looking, hibiscus concoction when they would go for Mexican food.

“I thought she was just drinking fruit punch,” Schirmer said. “But she let me taste it once and I thought, ‘Wow, I bet I could use hibiscus in a beer,’ so I scaled it up for a beer recipe. The wheat was light enough to get the fruit out there and to show the hibiscus’ personality.”

The judges loved it.

Samuel Adams’ account of the contest describes Schirmer’s Beerflower Wheat as “an ideal balance of smooth, sweet malt flavors with an exotic kick of citrus and herbal notes. Brewed with hot summer weather and fun gatherings in mind, this American wheat beer pours a dark amber color, and imparts a light floral and sweet aroma with the delicate flavors of hibiscus. Beerflower Wheat is a medium-bodied brew that finishes crisp and refreshing on the palate.”

Schirmer’s brew will hit the store shelves in February, part of the Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest Variety Six-Pack.

Schirmer says that while his recent success has given him more confidence in his brewing techniques, he’s still a little overwhelmed by the notoriety that has come with it.

“In Denver, I was the only homebrewer there pouring a homebrew,” he said. “Some people wanted to take pictures with me. It was amazing. You never know how far something is going to go until you do it. I almost equate this to Mrs. Fields selling her cookies. You just start baking cookies and pretty soon, everybody wants to buy them.”

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