Tamarac, Fla. - A year ago, Russ Brunner's home-brewed stout was something he and his beer geek friends sipped at meetings of the Fort Lauderdale Area Brewers club.
All that changed last fall when Brunner entered his stout into the Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest. Shortly after sending off his beer, he saw the word "Boston" on his caller ID.
"There's absolutely no way," he remembers saying to himself. "It's a bill collector. But I answered it anyway and it turned out to be Sam Adams."
Brunner made the semifinals and eventually took one of two top prizes for what is now called Russ Brunner's American Stout. His mug is on every bottle, part of a limited-release six-pack in stores now featuring two bottles of Brunner's stout, two bottles of Illinois resident Cesar Marron's winning Gratzer and two bottles of Pineapple IPA, from Sam Adams employee homebrew winner Teresa Bury.
It's one of the most prestigious home brew contests in the country. Brunner also won $5,000 and trips to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver and the Sam Adam's Boston brewery.
"The trip to Colorado we would have never been able to afford," says Brunner, 38, who works in the city of Pompano Beach's fire prevention office. "You come off the plane and there's a guy with a black Lincoln Town Car."
Hard to believe that Brunner only started home brewing four years ago after he tried St. Bernardus Abt 12, which has been brewed in Belgium since 1946.
"It's a big beer," says Brunner, turning on his best beer geek vocabulary. "It's highly carbonated, which sweetens the alcohol. There are notes of dark fruit and chocolate. It's just an amazing beer and I couldn't believe the flavor of what was made with just a few ingredients."
Until this big Belgian, Brunner was strictly a light lager consumer of Miller Lite and Yuengling.
These days, one bedroom of he and wife Liz's apartment has been turned over to brewing. "Now she's got the bug. She's making ciders and mead."
Brunner makes everything. "I don't have a set style," he says. "What we have on draught today at the house of Brunner is English mild, an American IPA, Scottish 80 Shilling, English porter, Belgian strong dark ale, an Irish red and a cider that my wife made."
Look for Brunner's stout in better beer and liquor stores. For information on the Samuel Adams Longshot American Homebrew contest, click here.