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Published October 21 2012

Ale to the chief: Fargo pair’s home brew declared ‘President of Beers’

FARGO - Tom Roan and Nancy Bowser’s brews have won beer contests before, but never one like this.

In a recent blind taste test organized by a Portland, Ore., alternative weekly newspaper, a home brew concocted by the Fargo couple was proclaimed the “President of Beers” after beating out 49 other beers from throughout the country.

The paper, the Willamette Week, published an article about the contest in its Oct. 3 issue.

For the taste test, staff chose one commercial beer from each state. Not the “best” beer, according to the article, but one that best represents its state.

North Dakota posed a problem: The state didn’t have a commercial craft brewery. In fact, it was the only state in the country that didn’t, until last week when Edwinton Brewing Co. opened in Bismarck.

So in July, the paper’s staff started reaching out to various home-brewing contacts in North Dakota to figure out how best to represent the state.

They were eventually directed to Fargo’s Prairie Homebrewing Companions, a club Roan and Bowser joined in 2000.

While everyone in the club participates in brew contests, Roan and Bowser have found particular success lately, and were chosen by the club to represent North Dakota in the contest.

The couple decided to submit their Beaverbear Barleywine, made from North Dakota barley and several different varieties of hops. A dark and malty brew, they hoped it would best embody North Dakota characteristics.

Roan and Bowser shipped the beer in glass bottles with masking-tape labeling to Portland and went back to their regular lives.

Then in mid-September, the couple got a call saying their barleywine had won the taste test and finished four points ahead of second place, the largest margin between any two beers.

“It was a little breathtaking,” Roan says of finding out. “It’s a little beyond your grasp.”

“These are iconic breweries. It’s such an honor,” Bowser adds.

As the winners, the weekly flew the couple to Portland this month to be the guests of honor at a party revealing the results.

Organizers wanted the party to reflect the winning beer’s state, so North Dakota was obviously the theme of the night. A state flag was prominently displayed, Bowser says, and pictures of famous people from North Dakota were hung on the walls.

Food served at the party was supposed to be dishes unique to North Dakota, which included tater tot hotdish and Jell-O salad (much to the delight and amusement of the guests, Bowser recalls).

When people arrived at the party and discovered the winners were not only home brewers but from of all places North Dakota, their reactions were pretty similar.

“We were shocked,” Martin Cizmar, editor of the weekly, wrote in an email.

What’s on tap

for the future?

Bowser and Roan started home brewing together in 1996. They gained plenty of experience tinkering with new recipes and trying different techniques, and they attribute that knowledge to their success in the taste test.

But with a beer that’s supposedly better than national favorites like Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams and New Belgium, why not take the next step and go commercial?

“Of course, everybody that’s home brewed for a certain amount of time has thought about it,” Roan says. “It would have to be a consideration. We’ve thought about it.”

But the process is complicated and difficult to get started, they say, which is the reason they haven’t done so already and why there were no other commercial breweries in North Dakota.

“In my opinion, the laws that we have don’t allow for someone to start a brewery very easily,” Roan says.

“I’m not sure how much the lending institutions are willing to front the money,” Bowser adds.

For now, the two are content going back to entering in their usual contests and brewing up new batches of beer.

But they seem to hint that they’re not completely ruling out a future that includes commercial brewing.

“I can’t say the right situation would never come,” Roan admits.

For beer fans in Portland and Fargo and everywhere in between, that’s encouraging news.


Taste test winners

1. North Dakota: Tom Roan and Nancy Bowser’s Beaverbear Barleywine

2. Delaware: Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA

3. South Dakota: Crow Peak’s Pile O’ Dirt Porter

4. New Hampshire: Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog Ale

5. Florida: Florida Beer Co.’s Swamp Ape IPA

6. Illinois: Goose Island’s Demolition

7. Oregon: Deschute’s Black Butte Porter

8. Virginia: Starr Hill’s Dark Starr Stout

9. Maryland: Flying Dog’s Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale

10. Arkansas: Diamond Bear’s Pale Ale

Taste test organizers from the Willamette Week chose 50 beers for consideration – one beer from every state. Beers included were chosen because they most represented their home state. For example, Minnesota’s entrant was Summit Brewery’s Extra Pale Ale, which placed 39th, while South Dakota’s beer was Crow Peak Brewing Co.’s Pile O’ Dirt Porter, which came in third.

Each beer was assigned a random movie name for anonymity purposes. Then, during a single afternoon in September, the beers were tasted by a panel of writers from the Willamette Week and other beer samplers and writers from the Portland area.

Each beer was given a score of 1-100 by the testers, which were then averaged out to determine the winner.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535