History Of The Big Batch Brew Bash

By John Donaldson

The BBBB was born during the dwindling moments of the KGB's Annual Christmas Party at St. Arnold Brewery one cold evening in December 1995 (Incidentally the first few years the Christmas Party was a strictly KGB affair, but that's another story). As I was preparing to leave for home I spotted a buddy by the name of Rob Brown, who had started working for St. Arnold a few months prior. Rob had been hired to get an old dilapidated bottling line, a 1940's vintage contraption previously owned by Dr. Pepper and others, up and running. Rob was also a KGB member, having joined our ranks a few months before starting at St. Arnold. He roommated with a guy named Bruce Murray, who at that time was the club's first elected Commissar Brewski and proud bearer of the "Golden Carp" (A sweet looking tattoo positioned on his calf which he insisted was really a Golden Trout, but we all knew better). Bruce was one of the first in the homebrew community to become acquainted with the folks at Houston's newly opened microbrewery through his work and interest in beer. He had also helped Rob land his job at St. Arnold.

Anyhow, as I was about to leave St. Arnold's after polishing off an untold quantity of beer, I haphazardly mentioned to Rob it might be fun to hold a homebrew competition at the brewery, and if St. Arnold was interested, perhaps have them involved at some level. I suggested that we hold this competition on just one style of St. Arnold's choosing, and if they really liked the winning beer's recipe maybe they would even make a commercial version. Rob thought it was a great idea, and was optimistic that Brock and Kevin would be enthusiastic about doing something with us. We left it at that and promised to get in touch with each other later in the week.

The next few weeks Rob and I must have made 30 or more phone calls working out the details. What we ended up with was pretty close to what I had hoped we would do. We agreed that the competition would be free, it would be held at St. Arnold's, it would involve a single but different style each year, and the KGB would be responsible for organizing the event. We managed to also come up with a way to offer some really great prizes to the top winners, including an invitation to return to St. Arnold as "Brewer for a Day" to the 1st Place winner. During that time, DeFalco's also accepted our invitation to become a full sponsor thus making the chain complete.

At that time Ron Hamm and I were consulting with one another on just about anything and everything that had to do with the KGB. Ron was the club's newsletter editor and computer extraordinaire and had offered to do the flyer. He was nearly finished with it but we still hadn't come up with a name for our event. We'd been so busy working out all the other details that we had neglected this one very important part. Finally, running out of time, Ron called me up one day at work during a particularly busy moment, and said I had to come up with something quick so we could start making announcements. I pretty much brusquely told him I was too busy at the moment, but I was confident he could come up with something good if he tried! As you well know, Ron came up with a real tongue twister of a name, The Big Batch Brew Bash. I liked it immediately. The fact that it was hard to say made it all the better.

Of course simply having couple of good sponsorships along with a flyer and some seemingly good ideas, was no sure formula for avoiding disaster. We still had to somehow get people to brew their entries, then get them to show up, and finally pull this thing off on the day of the event. There was no blueprint on how to do this, and to make matters worse, very few of us in the KGB had any experience whatsoever organizing a production of this type. I especially fretted as time drew closer, seeing as I was the head organizer, the judging organizer, and the new Czar to boot. I have to admit, there were moments when I wondered what kind of awful mess I’d started. It was scary yet exciting all at the same time!

As it turned out the first BBBB was all in all quite successful. We had thirty plus entries, a huge turnout of folks (I'd guess close to 200), and the competition went off with no major hitches. Included in the judging panel were nearly all of Houston's professional brewers (seven or so brewpubs were around back then), plus numerous other top level judges. And as many know by now, Brock and the St. Arnold gang liked the winning entry brewed by the Foam Rangers' Sly Bastards so much they even began brewing it commercially shortly thereafter! You know it as St Arnold's Winter Stout. In the subsequent years we've managed to fine tune the BBBB here and there. It’s become a BJCP/AHA Sanctioned event, entry totals have increased, we added the prestigious Heavy Hitters Award, and the Brew Stop has joined as a valued sponsor. And even though the BBBB has never quite grown in girth like that of many other competitions, I've always been particularly proud of its special status. We're free, we focus on just one style per year, and we give away great prizes! I don't know of anyone anywhere who can honestly make such a claim. Hopefully, with the continued help of St Arnold's, DeFalco's, The Brew Stop and an ardent legion known as the KGB, this will be true for years to come.