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Hop Heads: Bend's inaugural COHO brewfest goes off with a bang 

Tyler West, brewer at Silver Moon, fills out a score sheet. Now that's what we call homework. You probably have an opinion about homebrew. You've

Tyler West, brewer at Silver Moon, fills out a score sheet. Now that's what we call homework. You probably have an opinion about homebrew. You've likely tasted some funky brown stuff your neighbor made that one time, or that your college boyfriend tried to woo you with once shortly before you split. Or maybe you're still one of those who think this sort of thing happens in bathtubs in rural Missouri, or some other far away back wood.

But I have tasted the fruits of some damn fine homebrewers and am prepared to say that, in Bend at least, it isn't just for bathtubs anymore. And if you haven't been exposed to this "little weekend hobby" - which is how my husband put it so many hundreds of dollars ago - you're not likely to stay uninitiated in this town.

That's because homebrewing has officially grown up around here. The throngs of Central Oregon hop heads proved that two weeks ago with the first APA/BJCP certified homebrew competition in the region. That little bit of alphabet soup just means national homebrew organizations sanctioned the event and nationally certified judges helped run the show.

The Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization, better known as COHO, put on this competition, deeming it the 2008 COHO Spring Fling. With it, homebrewing in Bend stepped out of the shadow of wildly successful microbrewing industry and into its own.

"I bet most people out there have a pretty archaic view of homebrewing," said Brett Thomas, president of COHO, and a man who keeps five to seven homebrews on tap in a converted deep freezer at all times. "But a lot of these people that we're dealing with have been brewing for years and years and are using equipment that is comparable to professional brewers, just on a smaller scale."

The Spring Fling was intended to just sort of chime out that homebrewing was alive and well in the Central Oregon. Thomas expected maybe 60 entries, mostly local, for the competition.

Instead, the clanging success of the Spring Fling is still ringing in the ears of event organizers and competition judges, or maybe that's just the sound you hear in your head after slurping down the 142 homebrew entries that ultimately flooded in from around the Northwest and the rest of the country. Entries came in from as far away as Massachusetts and South Carolina.

The 20 or so judges lucky enough to have sipped these entries for hour upon hour that day included local professional brewers such as Evan Taylor and Tyler West of Silver Moon and Mike White of McMenamins. The Northwest BJCP representative, Ted Hausotter, even made the drive from Baker City. Together with COHO members and other local amateur judges, these folks slogged through 26 entries in the American Amber and Pale Ale category alone.

"It was huge," said Thomas. "I never would have thought we'd have that many entries on our first go around."

At the end of the day, winners weren't just the bigwigs like Hausotter, who did manage to win Best in Show, but the little guys from Bend and Redmond who've been here all along, quietly buying supplies from The Brew Shop and brewing quality beers on their home modified equipment.

So the next time your neighbor offers you a homebrew, have a little faith. Around here, it's more than likely he actually knows what he's doing.

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