Last year I had the pleasure of attending the first annual Hogs and Hops (H&H) beer event and BBQ competition hosted by Fordham Brewery and Old Dominion under the shadow of their brewery itself. And it didn’t take but a couple of hours of sipping on a beer while walking through the rows of smokers, the aroma of hickory, apple and other smoke woods wafting in the breeze; for this to become my favorite annual event. Yeah, that’s right. The event struck a chord with me almost immediately.
And apparently I wasn’t the only one. Event founder Mark Hoffman organized what I’m sure he considered going into that Saturday to be a very successful event. Hogs and Hops was designed as a combination beer event and competition BBQ whose proceeds benefited the local FOP’s emergency relief fund. Twenty-four BBQ teams signed up to compete and advanced tickets sales were brisk, topping out at approximately 1000. So no doubt Mark was sure they had succeeded in generating a good buzz about the event. Then suddenly (and admittedly not so suddenly) something happened.
The day of the event walk-up sales quickly reached the advanced sales, doubling the crowd and causing the event to outgrow its venue in the first year, which resulted in the competition being moved to the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington. The crowd consumed 44 half kegs of beer and made it obvious that more beer trucks would be needed to alleviate the long lines (although to be fair, I didn’t think they were that bad). Not long after the event, Mark reached out to the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) and was able to get the event sanctioned as an official KCBS event, only the second such event in the state of Delaware. Governor Markell then signed a proclamation back in May designating Hogs and Hops as a Delaware State Championship barbecue event, again only the second in the state.
This Saturday, marks the second annual Hogs and Hops and the event looks amazing. The competition field has almost doubled to the event’s maximum (KCBS set the limit at 50), drawing BBQ competition teams from the Mid-Atlantic region and several from other parts of the US. Fordham and Old Dominion are again supplying the beer this year, tapping Rams Head Ipa, Victory Lager, Copperhead Ale, Spiced Harvest Ale, Wisteria Wheat, Morning Glory Espresso Stout, Double D Ipa, Gigi’s Farmhouse Ale, Monk Czeck, Oak Barrel Stout, Octoberfest and for the kids and designated drivers, Old Fashioned Root Beer. Because of regulations, the people’s choice award got shelved (hopefully only for this year), but VIP ticket holders will still get a chance to try competition BBQ in the form of food presented by Milford, Delaware competition team Mr. BAR-B-QUE.
But they aren’t the only team representing Delaware this weekend (some teams had very little if any website or social media presence so if I’ve inadvertently missed someone, I’m sorry). TFFBBQ (Wilmington), Big Bang BBQ (also Wilmington, last year’s H&Hs 1st in ribs and 2nd overall), Slower Lower BBQ (Milton), Pigheaded BBQ (Middletown), Gone Hoggin’ (Bear, who I’ll be rooting for because in their Bios they list their favorite competition food as “beer”) along with That Guy BBQ and Rub Me Tender BBQ (both from Smyrna) will be hoping to cook their way into H&H’s first Grand Championship. And why not? The highest scoring team from Delaware will be named Delaware BBQ Team of the Year by the Mid-Atlantic BBQ Association (MABA). On top of that, due to the sanctioning by the KCBS and Governor Markell’s proclamation, the Hogs and Hops winner (regardless of state) will represent Delaware at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational in Lynchburg, Tenn. Well not this year. And maybe not next year. Or the next.
See, as I said Hogs and Hops is the second KCBS event and the second Delaware State Championship barbecue event. The first is the Middletown BBQ Cook-Off which just celebrated its fourth year and attracts over 50 competition teams. Because of its solo State Championship status over the last three years (as well as this year, I guess they figured it wasn’t fair to do it this year since Markell signed the proclamation only weeks before the winner of Middletown was crowned) the winner of the Middletown Cook-Off was the undisputed representative of Delaware at Lynchburg. But starting next year, the winning teams from Middletown and Hogs and Hops will compete for the honor of representing our state. What will that competition entail? I don’t know right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involves some large chunks of meat and some smoke.
One person who is probably very aware of the situation is David Marks, owner of the Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant franchise and pitmaster for Wilbur’s Revenge BBQ Team, this year’s Middletown Grand Champion. Dave’s team will be on hand at Hogs and Hops and no doubt would love to walk away with a second Grand Championship, a claim to the undisputed Delaware BBQ Champion title (that doesn’t exist but it should!) and set the tone for next year’s round of competitions.
But he’s not the only big dog in the yard. There’s a lot of great teams in the field this year, including 3 EYZ BBQ (2012 KCBS and MABA Team of the Year, current MABA points leader for 2013 Team of the Year) led by Dan Hixon; two time Pennsylvania State Champions LO’ N SLO’ BBQ led by Tom Perelka; and Hawg Nation (Pennsylvania state brisket champions three years running and MABA Team of the Year for brisket in 2012) led by Michael Czajka.
So Saturday I’ll be strolling around rows of smokers again. The smell of smoke wood permeating the air (and my hair, it will probably take a shower or two to get it all out), sipping on a cold beer and discussing BBQ with some very knowledgeable competitive pitmasters (we’ve been asked to hold back from talking with the competitors this year until 3:00 due to the later turn in time from last year. I have a suspicion that the real party will start at 3:15). It probably would inspire me to do a little smoking myself on Sunday, if my smoker hadn’t nearly collapsed to the deck during my last smoking session.
But that’s another post.
Good luck to all the competitors on Saturday, I’m sure you’ll do Delaware proud. And to Mark, Fordham and Old Dominion Breweries, all the volunteers and sponsors; thanks again for putting on an amazing event. See you there!