Someone posted this picture on Facebook and we simply had to find out who this Bjørn Erik Gjesdal who competes in the Los Angeles County Fair Homebrew Competition is.
Through the power of SoMe, we found our man in minutes and an interview was quickly agreed.
Tell us how you ended up in LA.
I was actually born in LA. My father moved from Ålgård and eventually ended up here, but I spent ages 7-14 and 19-21 in Ålgård. I loved it there and still hold Norway very dear. The way things are going here though, I may be back before I expected.
When did you take up homebrewing?
I started homebrewing in early 2015 and competing in 2017.
What kind up equipment do you brew on?
On the hot side of brewing, I mainly just use a single 10 gallon Blichmann Boilermaker kettle with a BIAB bag.
Other than that, I love kegging. I made a «smart» keezer – a kegerator, but made out of a chest freezer – that I can talk to when I’m lonely, or to update the digital tap handles that I made over wifi, change the lighting effects, read the line temperature, etc. I maintain a database of brews through a website that I made where I log each batch – this makes it easy to generate a handle with a simple voice command, based on what’s «on tap» and the associated data. I guess I have too much free time.
How to you control the fermentation temperature in sunny California?
I use an immersion chiller to cool (which takes forever in the summer), but I ferment everything in a small refrigerator in order to keep things under control. In the winter, I actually may utilize a heating mat wrapped around the carboy to make sure the beer warms for a diacetyl rest, etc. I also like standard glass fermentation vessels so I can see everything and push the beer around with co2 to minimize oxygen exposure.
What’s the homebrew scene like in LA?
The homebrew community in the LA area, as well as many other parts of California is fantastic. I consider myself very lucky to be able to participate in what’s probably the most active and competitive time and place to be homebrewing, here in California. I won’t say LA specifically, since San Diego is the capital. Especially as my favorite styles to brew and drink are all IPAs – that and sours. Though there are great clubs all over the place, it’d be sort of strange to pick one at this point, and I guess I’m used to being a lone wolf. That said, of course I’ve relied heavily on the talent and beer available around here to improve.
I am an AHA member and I would like to try judging at some point, but I wouldn’t feel too comfortable judging anything other than IPAs, which I’m always trying to compete in these days. They’re what I personally know the best and enjoy the most, so I’d feel pretty confident judging those.
So what is this LACF Homebrew Competition were you did so well?
LACF is one of my favorites, being one of the bigger local competitions, and the Maltose Falcons are of course a respected club. It’s always fun if you can represent your local area too. Last year’s 2017 LACF was maybe my second or third competition and really helped ignite my competitive spirit in homebrewing. I entered the same batch of IPA twice and picked up a silver medal in the IPA category out of 20 entries and a gold as a «West Coast Extra Pale Ale» out of 15 entries. It went on to the BOS (best of show) and got 2nd place out of 278 beers. Along with this same recipe, but not batch, getting 2nd in the National Homebrew Competition qualifier a month or so earlier out of 45 IPA entries in Sacramento, I was hooked. In this year’s LACF, I got gold WCXPA again along with gold IPA, the silver and bronze pictured for my DE pils, and bronze for my pale ale.
Do you often compete and what else have you won?
Yes, I do compete a lot, especially in 2018. I’ve entered about a dozen AHA competitions so far this year, and have 5 or more big ones on the horizon. Rather than one specific competition, I’m definitely most proud of the gold streak I have going lately in the 21A/American IPA category – 8 wins in a row, one for each competition I’ve entered this latest recipe into including 2 best-of-shows for pro-am qualifiers and my 2nd MCAB qualifier in the 21A category this year. Of those 8 competitions, some were smaller than others; including one where I was finally able to take 1st 2nd and 3rd place for IPA, locking out the category – albeit with only 7 IPA entries total. However, there were also competitions in the streak with 44 entries, one with 35 or so, 23, 22, 26, and a few other unknown, so I know the odds aren’t exactly in my favor.
Other than those 8 latest, I also took 2nd place at the CA State Fair out of 63 IPAs this year with an older recipe, which also took gold out of 37 IPAs at QUAFF’s AFC competition in San Diego to start the year off. My session Rye IPA got a BOS recently as well. I managed to get the top 3 American IPA spots out of 30 IPA entries in Baltimore – at a uniquely cool competition allowing more than 1 entry in the same category, for example my 3 different American IPAs. A Double IPA beat me for the gold in the overall IPA category, so I won 2nd, 3rd, and HM (Honorable Mention, 4th of sorts) there. This new recipe is better though.
Anyway, as a result of the 2 pro-am wins, I also had the privilege recently of brewing 3.5 barrels of this latest recipe in collaboration with local university Cal Poly Pomona and their brewing program at Innovation Brew Works, as well as two 10 barrel batches with Transplants Brewing Co – both places with minor tweaks. The Transplants version will be served at both Transplant’s and the pro-am booth, and will compete at this year’s Great American Beer Festival coming up in Denver, CO. I’m hoping that with enough focus and dedication I can eventually solidify my presence with The Bjørn Identity – my name for my American IPA in competitions – even if some big names in the local scene say it’s a crap-shoot category.
We thought you only brew lagers?
I actually rarely brew lagers. The German Pilsner that I entered in this year’s LACF – the photo you noticed on Facebook – was my third time out of 140 batches or so. It’s the same batch entered into both categories in the photo, by the way. To be honest, I mainly brewed those 3 to see if I could and how they’d place in competitions, as I was tired of hearing that IPAs are technically easy, that hops hide flaws in a beer, and so on without seeing for myself. I still don’t buy it. As far as I’m concerned, layering in desirable hop character is just an additional set of techniques and/or skills that require at least some appreciation of hops, but what do I know. Of my 140 batches, I’m guessing at least 80 or 90 were standard West Coast style IPAs, usually using just one hop variety. The rest are either double/session/rye/hazy IPAs, except for maybe 10 pale ales and 6 or 7 sours.
What are the current homebrew trens in LA? Is it all West Coast IPA, or have they been overtaken by NEIPAs and sours?
Sour beers are definitely popular but I think still pretty niche, unfortunately. Up until very recently it was West Coast IPA heaven here, but the hazy/NEIPA beers have apparently won the majority these days, both with consumers and perhaps even on the homebrew level – though it’s too soon to say. Even the upcoming GABF has more hazy beer than anything else. To give you an idea of my preference, my hazy IPA which I’ve brewed about 5 times is called PanderBjørn. To be honest, I’m not personally too familiar with many homebrewers around here, but it looks pretty healthily balanced to me in the average competition based on entry numbers. I’m glad everyone’s not a die hard hophead like I am at least – that’s good for beer.
Are you keeping up with beer trends back home in Norway, such as farmhouse brewing with kveik?
I know embarrassingly little of what’s going on in Norway’s beer scene, unfortunately. I’ve been quite focused lately on my hoppy beers, related techniques and the local competitions. I want to get into sours more, but I’m too focused right now on IPAs. I’d love to brew with kveik one day soon though, perhaps when competitions die down for a month or two this winter. I’ve been excited to see what that stuff can do.
What are you tips for beer loving Norwegians who find themselves in LA? Which places should they not miss?
The first that come to mind are Transplants Brewing Co, Beachwood, and Cellador Ales. The Stone tap-room in Pasadena is my home away from home though, and between the four you should have some nice variety. I’m not the guy to talk to about hazies though.
Can we have the recipe for one of your LACF beers?
How about the 2nd place BOS IPA/WCXPA from 2017 LACF? My latest IPA I think I want to keep under wraps for a bit.
10 lbs/4.54 kg (95.8%) Pale American 2-row
7 ounces/198 g (4.2%) Crystal 15
White Labs WLP001 in a 2 liter starter
SRM: 3.9 (EBC: 5.9)
OG/FG: 1.05 / 1.0095 (77% efficiency, 81% attenuation)
ABV: 5.10% – 5.35% (depending on formula)
IBU: 170+ calculated (yeah right)
Single-infusion mash (BIAB) @ 149 F (65 C) using 8.25 gallons (31.23 liters) reverse osmosis water treated with 8 gr. gypsum and 2 gr. calcium chloride. Target ~ 5.2 mash pH. Mash out at 168 F (76 C) for 10 minutes, remove bag and add First Wort Hops. 90 minute boil. 1 tsp Irish Moss @ 15 minutes left. Ferment @ 66F (19C) for first 2-3 days, eventually raising to around 71.5F (22C), a few degrees per day.
100 gr. Citra – First Wort Hops(!)
30 gr. Citra – 15 minutes left in boil.
170 gr. Citra – 0 minutes left in boil. Cool to below ~170F (77 C) within 5 minutes or less – if you can’t, add at around 175F (80 C) or so. Cool to pitching temperature as soon as possible.
50 gr. Citra – Dry hop after high-krausen starts falling, around day 2 or 3 depending on yeast and pitching practices.
100 gr. Citra – Dry hop after FG is hit for 3 days (I start around day 7)
Cold crash, preferably avoiding oxygen suckback for ~ 24-48 hours before siphoning to keg using CO2 and force-carbonating. Cheers!
Cheers for that Bjørn, and please bring some of your beers next time you’re in town!