21st Amendment "Brews Like an Egyptian," Grabs Two Golds at GABF

Rooftop Barley
Rooftop Barley
  • Rooftop Barley
    Rooftop Barley
    Rooftop Barley
    Rooftop Barley

An Italian guy and an Irish guy who own a San Francisco brewpub decide to make Egyptian beer. What do they get? A gold medal from the Great American Beer Festival.

Actually, make that two gold medals: One for HQT, an Ancient Egyptian Ale, and one for Amber Waves, an American Style Amber.

Nico Freccia and Shaun O'Sullivan, co-founders of 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco, took home two gold medals from last month's Great American Beer Festival (GABF), held in Denver. Of the 83 categories of beer judged at the annual event, 21st Amendment's HQT captured the Gold in the newly-created Indigenous Beer category. 21A pub-favorite Amber Waves surfed to the top of the American Style Amber/Red Ale category, one of the categories that receives the most entries at GABF.

HQT was a type of beer brewed in ancient Egypt, which is credited with being the birthplace of brewing. So, how does one pronounce HQT? "Heck if I can say it," said Freccia, to which O'Sullivan replied, "I think you mean 'heket.'"

The Egyptians made the beer in clay pots using local ingredients including raw barley, honey and dates, but no hops. To start the fermentation, they tossed in a bit of Emmer wheat bread leavened with local yeast cultures. The resulting brew was a staple of the ancient Egyptian diet. In fact, it was given to workers in vast quantities - up to a gallon or more per day - to sustain them.

21st Amendment followed the ancient Egyptians' recipe as faithfully as possible, even going so far as to grow heirloom English Pinnacle barley and Emmer wheat in old barrels on the rooftop of their San Francisco brewpub. They harvested the barley and wheat, then germinated it and dried it in the oven. According to Freccia, "We would have roasted it over hot rocks like the Egyptians did, but all the hot rocks in San Francisco were already being used by the spas."

When a couple of buckets of fresh dates fell into Freccia's lap, he presented them to 21A's head brewer, Zambo, who incorporated them into the Egyptian brew, along with the barley and wheat, some local organic honey, and spices carefully selected at the San Francisco spice market. Staying true to the original recipe, he added no hops.

GABF judges appreciated the resulting elixir enough to award it a Gold medal. Curious beer drinkers on the East Coast will have a chance to pass judgment on it soon at 21A events in New York and Washington, DC.

Like many of 21st Amendment's beers, Amber Waves made its debut at their San Francisco pub, where brewers get to test their concoctions on willing patrons. "Amber Waves has been popular with our fans at our pub and we're happy it appealed to the GABF judges as well," said Nico Freccia. Amber Waves incorporates five different caramel malts to impart complexity, adding a little honey-like sweetness, as well as dark, roasted caramel flavors. To give it an aroma and finish that transports one to an orange grove, 21st Amendment's brewers used All-American Centennial hops. The beer has an ABV of 5.8% and 31 IBUs.

"It's incredibly gratifying to win the American Style Amber/Red Ale category, which is one of the top five most popular categories across the country with beer lovers," said Brewmaster Shaun O'Sullivan.  "But winning the Indigenous Beer category was the big prize. We just can't resist a good challenge."