Gary Hetrick lifted the glass toward the light and gently swirled the dark liquid.
Lowering the glass to his nose, he savored the rich aroma before drawing in a mouthful of the drink.
“It has a very nice body,” he said, pondering the beverage’s aftertaste. “And the clarity is there; it’s like a garnet.”
Hetrick spent Sunday afternoon savoring mouthfuls of alcohol. This was not wine, though - it was beer that had been brewed and fermented in homes throughout North Idaho.
On Sunday, the Panhandle U Brew Society (PUBS) sponsored its fourth home-brew competition at the Schoonerville Saloon in Hayden.
Onlookers shot pool and ate barbecued chicken wings while Hetrick and five other judges considered about 65 different beers, meads and sparkling ciders.
For those who enjoy brewing beer at home, the competition offered a chance to see how good their concoctions are.
“The head retention is excellent on this one,” Hetrick said, the white foam clinging to the side of a glass filled with dark lager beer.
Home brewers try to emulate European-style beers: flavorful, rich-bodied drinks made of barley malt, hops, yeast and water.
Hetrick, owner of Pioneer Brewing and Supply Co., said big American beer companies often are more interested in making money. Instead of using only barley malt, they add less-expensive rice and corn.
“If I drink a domestic beer, it just tastes like water,” said Bruce Carey of Coeur d’Alene, who entered his chocolate porter in Sunday’s competition.
Carey has been home-brewing for about four years and enjoys being able to create his own recipes just as a cook would. A chocolate-roasted barley was the key to his entry.
“I used to drink domestic beer more for the buzz than the taste, but now I can honestly say I drink this beer more for the taste than the buzz,” he said with a smile.
Home-brewing a batch of beer takes about three weeks. It takes two hours to brew the stuff, two weeks to ferment it and another week to carbonate and condition it, Hetrick said.
For about $80, a beginner can buy a home-brewing kit that makes 5 gallons.
Among the 15 categories in Sunday’s competition were Belgian-style specialty beer, stout, light lager and Scottish ale.
The beers in each category were judged on clarity, bouquet, balance and “mouth-feel,” among other things.
“Mouth-feel” refers to the body of the beer, Hetrick said. A light lager is expected to tread lightly on the palate while a porter or stout leaves a heavy, full-bodied feel.
Also, “we’re looking for a balance between the maltiness and the bitterness the hops produce,” Hetrick said, explaining that a German lager should have a maltier tinge.
Both Hetrick and Carey consider themselves “hop heads,” meaning they prefer the bitter beers heavy on the hop side.
Most importantly, the beer should not taste sour or medicinal, Hetrick said.
Three judges from Spokane’s River City Brewers helped judge Sunday’s competition.
To prevent the entries from going to their heads, they sipped only about 2 ounces of each, with soda crackers and water to clear their palates.
Besides, “you don’t need to drink it. You can spit it out,” said Carl Hein, president of the Spokane group. “Unless you find a good one.”
But as the judging progressed Sunday afternoon, there didn’t seem to be much spitting.
“That’s for wine freaks,” Hetrick said. “Beer is for drinking; wine is for spitting out.”