The beginning of the rainy season with the beginning of the World Cup discouraged the crowds at the 1st Homebrew Korea SMaSH Off, but it didn’t dampen spirits. Just the opposite. The mood was fun and party-ous as a dozen fine homebrew beers were passed around and judged. I wasn’t one of the judges, just a mooch.

But they needed moochers! After the lunch was served and winners were announced, sampling was open to the public. But I think the brewers wanted more than sampling because there was a nice tub o’ beers with a few kegs still on the side that were ready to be drunk, and the contestants didn’t want to lug all their stuff back home.

The winner had a floral hoppy beer with a full bitter edge. Rob Titley’s special beer that was for exhibition purposes only (not competition) used five different hops and five or six malts. The aroma was like walking drunk through a tulip field with a manly bitterness that decided to sit down on my tongue and stay awhile. The third place contestant, I think the only female contestant, made this style that had a strong pine sap flavor, like walking through the Christmas tree farm and sawing one down. It was not unpleasant at all. When she won, people asked her how she put together her beer. Considering this was a woman who made her own competitive beers, I wish I had asked her a more crucial question.

“Are you single?”

(not for me, of course, but that would be good info for some lucky person)

The homebrew crowd is a boisterous and friendly clique. You really should hook up with them. The next SMaSH Off will likely be in early October. So now you have time to plan.

Read Homebrew Korea’s account here.

Pasta Sauce Contest for Little Travelers

There was no rain on Sunday, and the Pasta Sauce Contest got packed. Just pay W10,000, and you get pasta, two rolls and your choice of two sauces from almost twenty contestants. I was one of four judges, along with Anne Ladouceur (Korea4Expats), Garrett Edwards (Tartine) and the legendary Suji Park (Suji’s). We were given numbered paper cups with the individual sauces, along with spoons and some water or whatever drinks we wanted (Alley Kat, please). With so many entries, I knew I had to work hard to keep track, so I took out my notebook and numbered it, making sure each entry had two lines for notes. Since the contestants put so much work into their entries, I was detailed with each sauce–not writing whether it was good or bad, but describing it in little detail, like the sauce’s color, its aroma, the flavor, the seasoning, the skills it showed.

I felt like Tom Colicchio.

There was one entry that came by and said they didn’t put everything in their cup and returned with some homemade sausage in there. The sauce was fresh and bright, and it had two things that always get me excited with tomato sauce–fennel and fresh basil. And they showed some good knife skills on the basil. But the consensus was that it wasn’t seasoned enough (read: salt), especially the meat product. It would have easily won if not for that, but I still pushed for it to make it to the top four. Many of the sauces would have performed strongly if the contestants tasted them and adjusted the seasonings a bit. But I did give points to any sauce that showed any creativity or skill. Suji and I both were impressed by the small brunoise of carrots in one, and I think it was a finalist partly because of that.

A bold bolognese tasted much like Wendy’s chili, and I liked it a little more the more I tried it. On pasta, it would be pretty close to a Cincinnati chili. It got second place.

First place almost didn’t make it to the judge’s table. We were winding down our tasting and doing our first round of picks when we asked the organizer, Jamie, if we had tried everything. We went down the numbers that were missing, and Jamie went around to see if they were there. She came back with two. One was the only vodka sauce entered. If I was entering, I would have done my soju sauce, which is practically the same thing. A vodka sauce is a strong sauce to enter into a competition. It has the qualities people love most about pasta sauce–acidic bright tomatoes, garlic, cream. The only turn off is that it’s orange-pink. And that’s why that even though it won, the winner’s sauce was hardly touched by the crowd. They didn’t announce the winners until 7, when it was almost over, so that the other sauces could get a chance for public consumption. The woman who made the sauce sat there meekly and, in my mind, a little sad. I left before the winners were announced, but I made sure to go by and tell her that we really enjoyed her sauce.

That was a truly great event. If anyone else out there needs a food competition judge, remember I take copious notes and that I’m very good at mooching.

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